Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Gift

By Keith Lee             Copyright 2010

In my house we never throw away old roses. We tie them up by the stems with a piece of thread and hang them upside down so that when they dry out the leaves and petals hold on to some color and don't drop off. You can keep them for many years that way. I think it is an old Gypsy tradition. Little by little they lose a leaf or you find flakes of old decayed color on the counter, but for the most part they keep their shape. They just wither with time. The color loses its luster but what you get in return is the deepest maroons and aged whites from a flat appearance. Spots of black play the remaining color giving it depth. You can see the coarse wrinkles in each fold giving it unexpected texture. Not the youthful surprise package you received many moons ago, but I somehow find these fading illustrations of affection more meaningful over time. 

Affection [uh-fek-shuhn] - a gentle feeling of fondness or liking 

In my house we never throw away old roses. Valentine's Day is the big day for roses. It has become the perfect gift for the day. Giving a  rose is somehow the way we are supposed to show affection. Like a rose is going to sum it all up in one day out of 365. Remember when you were a kid and you went to the store to get those cheesy box of cards that say "BE MINE" or "FOREVER YOURS". I used to really be annoyed with this chocolate-infested holiday. Actually, I didn't hate the cards or the day. I just felt left out. It is easy now to look back and think about how the decisions I made back then triggered the results. But when you are living it, denial is a bitter and ineffective medicine. Anyway, I felt like the biggest loser on this particular day seeing all the flowers, candy, and cards being passed around. I participated, but it takes more than one day of the year to show that someone special how you really feel. How else are they supposed to feel back.

Longing [lawng-ing, long-] - a yearning desire

In my house we tie the roses up by the stems with a piece of thread and hang them upside down so that when they dry out the leaves and petals hold onto some color and don't drop off. I really knew how to save up all that introverted emotion. Somehow even though I didn't have a girlfriend, I became the go-to guy for all the hook, line, and sinkers that would make the modern day Romeos sound as good as they looked. Eventually, however, the boneheads would have to use their own brains. Lucky for them that love in youth is primarily based on the physical. But for some, not even this was enough.

That reminds me of a friend of mine in high school. He would be the last person I helped in the Love Department. We liked the same girl and he convinced me to help him win her over. He insisted that it was for her own good, being that she was too impressionable and would be soon taken over by the jock types. We had to make a stand. I have never been a team player but played along. I decided to treat it as if I were talking to her myself. Cyrano de Bergerac did it, so why couldn't I? Of course, I never read his full story so I didn't really know how Cyrano's ended. Still, I would give my friend advice on what to say and how to counter and interpret her sarcasm.

I even helped him pick out a gift for her. He was frantic and completely brain dead. It was so simple to me. A gift should say how you feel. I briefly thought about picking out a real piece of garbage that would send her to the jock side yelling "GO TEAM GO!", but  I didn't. I picked out the trinket of affection and handed it to him. Naturally he didn't get it. It had clock on it that didn't work. It didn't have to. Time here meant anytime, day or night. There was a key attached to it. What was it supposed to open? Your heart. It is funny because I haven't seen that image in a long time until about a month ago. It is funny what value we put into an object rather that just saying how we feel.

She told him she loved it, and like that it was over for me. I grew up 20 years that day. Crushes are nothing more than an infatuation kids get on the playground. I didn't know this girl and she didn't know me. I didn't know me. I just knew who I wanted to be. I stopped watching MTV and got a guitar. I dressed how I felt by wearing my name on my sleeve. From that time on, I never looked at a girl's face I found desirable without wanting to get to know what moved her world. There is more to a rose than her appearance. Smells, taste, and touch are amazing, but learning what kind rose she is and where she likes to grow is just as intoxicating.

Oh, Lover Boy didn't get the girl but that story has a happy ending. Juliet became a strong and independent woman that holds her own banner. Romeo learned to speak his mind with an ounce of heart, and Cyrano learned to use his own voice.

Intimacy [in-tuh-muh-see] - an intense feeling of deep affection

Little by little the roses lose a leaf or you find flakes of old decayed color on the counter, but for the most part they keep their shape. It took me a long time to realize that the meaning of intimacy did not necessarily coincide with sex. I still challenge that theory from time to time, but real intimacy comes with an inner emotion that is complex to describe. It isn't that primal urge that drives us to the bars or the real meat markets (which for those keeping score, is of course the grocery store) looking for that physical connection. Intimacy is something that develops between two people over time. Chasing that feeling down led me to the high dollar trap of gift giving. But I found that trying to buy your way into someone's heart, through their pants, is shallow and keeps you wandering. You get what you pay for, but like Chinese food, an hour later you're still hungry and looking for more. I now know the art of intimacy by simply holding the woman I love and having a deep conversation. It is the best foreplay around.

Heart [hahrt] - (1) A hollow muscular organ that pumps the blood through the circulatory system by rhythmic constraction and dilation. (2) the heart regarded as the center of a person's thoughts and emotions. esp. love or compassion.

You can see the coarse wrinkles in each fold of a old rose giving it unexpected texture. I have been getting better and better about giving my heart. When I was younger the only chocolates I received on Valentine's Day were from my dad. It use to embarrass me because I got locked into the whole male/female role playing game. Plus I thought he just felt sorry for me. I thought that way until I had kids. Now I do the same thing and try to make the day special for my little ones. Still, up until a couple of years ago I had a hard time giving my son flowers or teddy bears. One year on this special day of flower-giving as we were picking out some roses to give to their mother, I decided to get each of my children one white rose. White in the rose world means love. I thought my daughter would be the one to flip out over it, but it was my son that became attached to this little sign of affection. He carried it around with him for a week.

After about three weeks I took them down to the river with their roses. I told them it was time to give their heart away by letting the rose petals float away and find someone else. We usually don't throw out roses but I decided it was time to show the kids how to give and let go. We pulled the petals off with the "he loves me, he loves me not" words of anticipation. My son had one petal left that he wouldn't let go of. He said it was for him. So I told him to put in his pocket. I followed them as we went back to the car. I saw the white petal leave his pocket and I choose not to say anything. I looked back at it as we walked along and it looked out of place but magical on the woodland floor. When we got back to the car he started looking for it. He got worried. I asked him what he had lost. He told me he lost the "he loves me". I laughed to ease his stress and told him that he didn't need a flower to know that I loved him. He said he knew that but it was pretty. Again, I am amazed at how much thought we put into a small object. Every year since that time I buy both my kids a rose. I'm still a man like my son will be one day, but we both think roses are pretty.

Love [luhv] - an intense felling of deep affection

An old rose is not the youthful surprise package you received many moons ago, but I somehow find these fading illustrations of affection more meaningful over time. 

It is easy to fall in love. It is hard to stay there. The fantasy is that love is this fairy tale ending that brings in only happiness. Let me burst that idealistic bubble for you. Love ain't always pretty boys and girls. I have cleaned up enough messes in my life between emotions, family disputes, diapers, sleepless nights, sicknesses, dust bunnies, and day old dishes to know that love isn't always appealing to look at. I have clothes that still have spit up stains on them from when I burped my babies.You do it because you care. But there are wonderful happy times that make it all worth doing. It is a constant struggle to push and pull forward together that makes love the institution that it is. Truth, honesty and trust are tested daily.

I remember the first year my wife and I started dating. Every night felt like a party. Probably because it was. My head still spins when I look back at all the the events we went to, all the bars we closed, all the sunsets we watched, and all the mini skirts. Yes, I loved to watch her walk across the room... both ways. I couldn't get enough of her. That was falling in love. 

Playing house is something else entirely. Falling in love can get in the way of what I like to call coexisting. You can only live your life but you have to take into constant consideration the thoughts and feelings of your your partner that you chose to spend your life with. Two minds never think alike.

I have heard it said that you should never judge a book by its cover. Love has a pretty alluring hard cover that makes you want to take it home and rip into it. Every page when you start smells so fresh and new that you can tell what kind of paper the story was printed on. It starts off with an adventure that keeps you guessing and you can't wait to turn the next page. But Love is a hard read. The story takes so many twists and turns that you have a hard time believing your reading the same book. The main characters struggle and you wonder if they'll pull it together or go off and live in separate novels. But if you are a strong reader and you don't loose interest easily, you begin to really get into the sometimes spiraling roller-coaster. You start rooting for the characters and you learn that falling in love now becomes being in love. 

When I watch my wife glide across the room now her strut doesn't just have the seductive meaning it did so many years ago. It has much more purpose and confidence now that I know all about her. I know where it all comes from. She can still make heads turn as she walks through a room even though she is older now. I can see the lines in her face that she sometimes tries to hide. I know that they are there. I can see the gray hairs starting to emerge on the sides of her head just above the ears. The light red hair she has hides it most of the time but I know it is there. I can't help but think I am partly responsible for the wrinkles and whitening red flair I feel in love with. Her body has changed. She has had two kids. She has given birth to my kids, our children. Those stretch marks she has I know I am responsible for and I love them. There forever and she did it for us. You can't get a tattoo that says that.

Wanting has become knowing and beauty is in aging. We are still working on our happy ending. Maybe one day we will find it, but I don't consider an ending to be happy. So I'm pleased in the push and pull of everyday life together. She is the one that taught me how to preserve a rose. I'm just passing that knowledge on to you. Don't feel alone this Valentine's Day. I'm thinking about you and I didn't forget. I remember all my family and friends. In our house we never throw away old roses. They may wither with time but the meaning never loses its luster.


AZviaTx said...

Keith, I told you I'd be keeping my eye on you! The Gift is one of the most beautiful stories I've had the pleasure of reading in a very long time. I work in a cool used bookstore in Mesa, AZ so I have access to a large volumne of wonderful stories. And I read many of them. Many. Many. Are you a published author? I would honestly enjoy reading a book written by you. Keep up the writin and the photography. And the love of your family that you so willingly share. Having lost my dear grandmother one month ago, and being caretaker for my own mother, family is the top priority in my life. Thank you for sharing your tale with us. Tina

Keith Lee said...

Thanks for your kind words. I'm sorry to hear about your grandmother. I lost mine last year and it was hard because she helped raise me. Family is the life line to heath and happiness. Without a good one life is extremely difficult.

I haven't been published... yet. I started this blog to get me on the way to doing that. I'm glad you liked the story and thank you for the encouragement. I have friends on Facebook that have been backing me up on my stories for a year now. I couldn't wright without their support. But for the most part I write for therapy and just the fun of it. My brain is overloaded with memories and I want them out before I go mad. To late. Hehehehehe!!!! Thanks for taking the time to read.