The 12th of December

The Twelfth of December  by Holly Gaskin

364 days had passed, sometimes creep-crawling, other times sprinting, until the calendar page once again screamed “December 12.” I’d been conscious that it was creeping up, as I ripped page after page off the calendar at the end of each day, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11… now, here it was. Still, the date stood out like an insulting, bold-faced lie, occupying a small space on the corner of my desk.

It can’t really be here… it wasn’t supposed to come again!

I had considered not tearing yesterday’s page off, and letting it be December 11th forever, but I knew I didn’t really have the power to freeze time. I’d had one whole year to prepare for this day.

They say “it gets easier,” as if the healing is a guarantee, but really, it’s not so simple. I will be fine and strong for weeks at a time, and then a dream, a photograph, or a song will rip open that wound, rendering me into the weeping, mourning daughter of twelve months ago.

That it had happened smack dab in the middle of the holiday season made it especially painful. I could still picture her gifts, all wrapped up in festive reds and greens with elaborate ribbons. It wasn’t until the following June that my husband convinced me to unwrap them and donate the contents to Goodwill. And he was right; it felt good to pass the things on to those who needed it. It’s what Mom would have wanted.

Shortly thereafter, my husband and I decided that on December 12th, we would visit The Spot, and leave a red rose there. It was her favorite flower, although her name had been Lily.

Sitting in the passenger seat with a single, red rose clutched in my lap, I felt nervous. The anxiety was similar to the feeling I’d get whenever I had to make a public speech. Like I was going to freeze up and get tongue-tied. Except, I had no audience and no lines to remember today, so my nervousness was irrational.

I stepped out of the car, and into the frosty December air. I took in my surroundings, which had changed so much since Mom passed away. New stores, new restaurants and a reconfigured highway to accommodate the heavier traffic. It might be hard to find the exact spot. Even the sidewalks had been rebuilt.

My husband squeezed my hand and we started walking. It was in the single digits; the wind chill made it feel like well below zero. Snow coated the ground. It was as winter should be. One year ago today, it had felt more like spring, with temperatures in the 50’s and bright sunshine. That weather had been as much a freak of nature as Mom’s accident.

We stopped. Or, actually, I felt my husband stop, so I did, too. I’d been staring at the ground as I walked, lost in thought. When I looked up, I saw that we were a couple of yards from destination.

But… what was this? Somebody was standing by the side of the road, right where I needed to be. It was a young man, in a long, dark coat. His hands were crammed into his pockets and his head was bowed. He paid no attention to the traffic whizzing by, nor did he notice us watching him.

Was he waiting for a ride? Was he high? Lost? What was wrong with him?

Suddenly, I just knew.

I locked eyes with my husband. As always, he seemed to read my mind, and he, too, understood. He asked me, in a whisper, whether I wanted to do this alone or if I needed him to go with me. I indicated that I wanted to go by myself and he released my hand.

I silently made my way over to the young man. He didn’t notice me until I was right next to him. He jumped a little, startled out of his trance. His expression of surprise was replaced by one of shock, and I knew he realized who I was. He looked scared, and I thought he might bolt, but he didn’t.

Instead, he bowed his head and stared at the spot where the car had come to rest, one year ago this morning. I’d long ago accepted the fact that the accident had probably changed this young man’s life almost as much as it had changed mine. Neither of us was the same person we were 365 days ago.

I  never harbored any anger toward “the other guy.” It had been clear from the beginning that the accident had been nobody’s fault; that’s why it’s called an accident. It was just another sad story in the news, one that would quickly be replaced by another, then another, and soon forgotten by the fickle masses. I’d often wondered about the person behind the name that appeared in the newspapers. Now here he was, looking more boyish than I’d imagined, tormented by a twin of the ghost that haunted me. In a way, I wasn’t surprised to see him there.

I was dumbfounded, however, when I saw the rose in his pocket. Its red head was peeping out at me, a bright contrast against the black wool of the man’s coat. I held its sister in my hand.

He saw the flower I was holding and immediately his hand flew to pat his coat pocket. He looked almost astonished when he retrieved the rose, as if he’d thought I had somehow slipped it out of his pocket without him noticing.

Two strangers, two roses, one purpose. I held out my hand and let the rose fall to the ground. The young man did the same a second later. We stood still for a minute. He stared off into the distance, his eyes following the five-lane traffic as it disappeared into the western outskirts of the city. I looked up at the sky, trying to spot the opening to Heaven among the clouds.

My attention was diverted back to the young man, when he made a sound alike a strangled gasp. I followed his eyes to the ground, and my breath caught in my throat.

The two red roses had landed together, forming a perfect cross in the snow. There was no mistaking it for anything else. We stood and stared at it, committing the picture to our memories.

The honking horns, car radios, and morning rush hour noise slowly brought us back to our senses. Our eyes met once more, just for an instant. We didn’t speak; we just nodded and parted ways. There were no words to be said.

red rose

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