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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Repost - The Love You Think He's Given

Here's a Valentine's story I wrote several years ago.

The roses came Valentine's Day morning. Pink and white, peppered with sprigs of baby breath. Dyan gave the deliveryman a tip, and he winked with a smile.

"Lucky guy."

"Nope," she returned the smile. "I'm the lucky one."

That got an appreciative laugh before the man bounded down the stairs. Dyan closed the door, laid the box down and went fishing for a vase. There were three to choose from, but she settled on her grandmother's old ceramic vase with the bas relief of roses all around. Gram had passed the vase on to her mother, her mother to her.

Memories were held within that simple container. The first flowers Dyan ever picked grandma had arranged in this vase, a satisfied smile tugging at her mouth. Then she had looked down at her beaming granddaughter and said, "Well, that's just lovely..." words which meant so much to a five-year-old. In later years, Daddy's tri-annual twelve white and pink roses would sprout from that vase on Mama's birthday, their wedding anniversary and especially Valentine's Day. Her mother arranged them lovingly on each occasion, then planted long, sloppy kisses on Daddy's lips.

"Not in front of the girl..." her father would admonish, but with the lightness of heart of someone surrounded by those he loved.

"Well, Dyan's gotta learn about love somewhere," her mother would counter then smile at her only child. "Might as well be us."

It had taken a while to learn the lesson. Hard learning, as her mother would say. But she had learned finally.

"Why you let him talk to you that way?" her mother had cornered her in the kitchen after one of Jason's outbursts. This one at Thanksgiving over two years ago. Way after Daddy died, otherwise Jason would never have even thought about cussing her out in front of company.

"Dyan, does he hurt you?" her mother asked as Dyan took the sweet potato pie out of the oven. Store bought, as was most of the baked goods in the house, but Dyan always warmed them over. There wasn't much time for baking between work and house chores.

"No, Mama...he doesn't hurt me. He’s never lain a hand on me. You know I know better."

That was the first time Dyan's mother had looked at her as though she were lying. She hadn’t been, though.

Not then.

Because the first slap had actually come about a week later. And Dyan wondered how in three years love could turn and vows be forgotten. Jason had apologized with red roses the next day. And Dyan had found a vase for them...the crystal one Jason had picked up in an upscale Michigan Avenue shop. He wouldn’t have his flowers put in anything else.

"I didn't mean it baby, you know I didn't. It's just I get so stressed out...things get too hectic down at the store." Jason was one of the top salesmen at Electec's computer store.

"Yeah, baby I know," she whispered as he held her, trying not to hear the word Fool! echo in her head. Because her heart still throbbed for him.

They were high school sweethearts. Just like her parents had been. He had been on the swim team, and she had been the girl's basketball captain and president of the science club. They had been voted "Cutest Couple", had been each other's prom date. Had known they were meant for each other since sophomore year. She couldn't have been wrong. Jason did love her. The slap was stress, not bound to happen again.

The slap didn't happen again. The next time it was a twist of the arm that nearly broke it. A sprain that required a sling.

She told her mother she had caught her sweater in the door crack and that in walking away her arm was yanked back. Her mother just hrummphed and shook her head. "One day, day..."

Jason had actually yanked her arm because she had questioned him about not pursuing his degree like he had promised before they were married.

After that, she learned not to confront him. To never sass. Learned how to comfort him quickly before things got out of hand.

Strangely, her concessions to Jason carried over into her job, her friendships. Like she didn’t know that she was supposed to have a say in anything.

She tried to pretend nobody knew. And her friends pretended they didn’t know, either. As though everyone had entered a silent pact not to talk.

But her mother had refused to join the deception. Her mother had never kept silent in all her life. A big-mouthed woman with her own opinions. And somehow, Daddy had appreciated that in her. As he had in his little girl, too.

"Your father never laid a hand on me," her mother blurted out, kneeling in front of her petunias only days after the last incident. Dyan knelt beside her, helping out. She blinked in surprise at the anger in her mother’s voice.

"He knew I'd take a hot skillet to him if he ever tried. I thought I taught you better, Dyan. I'm telling you now...if Jason ends up killing you, I'mma kill him and smile all the way to prison, even to the electric chair if need be."

"It's not like that, Mama," Dyan had tried to defend herself. "Jason loves me. It's just that things have been hard lately..."

The spade in the older woman’s hand attacked the earth as though it was taking down an enemy. Dyan didn't need to ask whose face was in the dirt.

Her mother stopped, still kneeling, looked at her daughter. Dyan hadn't expected to see tears forming.

"And you waiting for things to get good again? Let me tell you something, the true person is the one you see when times are hard. That's when the mask come off. What you got is a coward who can't fight life, so he’s fighting you. And Dyan, you got to remember, you're a fighter. At least you used to be. And you gotta be again. Fight for your life Dyan because girl, one day he'll wind up killing you. Dyan, he don't deserve your love and the love you think he's giving you isn't worth a copper nickel." Her mother had turned back to the petunias.

And Dyan had turned away.

Her mother spoke again, her voice directed to the flowers.

"You don't think things got hard for me and your father? You were just a little girl, but there was a whole year your father was outta work, and was only getting unemployment. Do you know, that man bought me one pink rose and one white rose out of each of them checks. I used to tell him that it was a waste of money, but he would just smile and say that he just wanted me to know that I was loved." A tear dropped into the flower bed. "And I miss him Dyan. I miss that sweet man. Just like I miss those roses. Dyan, don't you see, you're worth pink and white roses, but until you know that, you'll never get them."

That had been last spring. Dyan remembered her mother's words on her drive home that day. They seared into her in a way no other words had. And she would remember them later the next week when Jason raised his hand to hit her yet again, this time because she had turned down the television volume during a basketball game. This even after he had promised he would never again touch her in violence. And something finally snapped in her. Because she wanted someone sweet enough to send her pink and white roses, to plant sloppy kisses on her lips. To never raise a hand to her.

The anger propelled her fist into his gut with a force of strength she thought she'd lost. Her Daddy had taught her how to do that in case someone ever tried to attack her on the streets. She watched in satisfaction as Jason doubled over, then looked up at her in amazement.

"What the...?"

Dyan hadn't waited. She ran to the kitchen, pulled a knife from the drawer. Came back to the living room where Jason had recovered enough to stand upright.

"Get out! Now!" She held the knife tightly, ready to lunge if necessary.

"I'm not leaving! You must be crazy!" But his eyes didn't waver from that knife.

Dyan skirted around him for the phone. Picked it up, cradled the handset between her cheek and neck, with her free hand hovering over the dial.

"Your choice, Jason. You get out, or I call the police and I'll have you arrested."

He tried charming her. "Ah c'mon Sweetie, you know I didn't mean it. It's just been a bad day." He started towards her, arms out in capitulation. She swished the knife in the air and he jolted to a stop.

"You can take your Sweetie and stick it up your ass! Get the hell out of my house!" The voice was so strong, she almost didn't recognize it as hers.

She divorced him a month later. As quickly as she could.

In the succeeding months, he tried to get her back. Sometimes he would send a dozen red roses. She would toss them away. She hated red flowers. The last time he tried, she went and got the crystal vase from the closet, smashed it in the kitchen sink. And it had felt good.

Now she opened the note to the pink and white roses and smiled.

Baby girl, just letting you know you are loved. Happy Valentine's Day. Love Mama.

Dyan smiled, looked up at the pink and white roses in grandma's vase. And knew that she was deserving of them and the love that came with each tender bud. That she had always deserved them. And that she would never let herself forget that again.


Sharon Cullars Coffee Talk at 2/14/2007 05:50:00 PM Permanent Link     | | Home


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