talonkarrde: (Default)
For [livejournal.com profile] beautyofgrey

-

I had been sitting quietly by the bay windows for some time, watching the world go by, when my grandchildren brought the package forward. They had been playing around in the attic for the last half an hour, after their mother — my daughter — encouraged them to 'find some old things' in an effort to have some peace for a bit. Apparently, they had rummaged through enough of the dusty old boxes to come up with something that they couldn't explain. 'Mommy didn't know what it was', they chimed in together, so here they were, an eight year old boy and eleven year old girl, perched on each arm of my favorite rocking chair.

And on my lap were the crown jewels of this expedition, the source of the mystery, the secret of the adventure that apparently only I knew. It had been unwrapped, but with care — I was sure that it was Erin who had slowly tugged the strings apart, simply because Allen would have shredded the paper to get to the insides. On top of the spread wrapping paper was a small, dark wooden box, with a sliding door as the top. And lying on the box was the remains of a rose, though the years and years had turned it into something that crumbled upon being touched.

"What is this, Grandpa?" Allen asked me curiously, reaching out to touch it before Erin swatted his hand away.

I sat there for a moment, thinking of past lives and careful choices, and then responded simply — "A memory," I said, and left it at that.

But Allen wasn't satisfied with my answer — what ten year old boy would be? — and reached out for the box again, though his sister's glare was enough to stop him from actually touching it. Still, unable to contain himself, he asked again, "A memory of what?"

I looked at Erin then, who simply looked back at me curiously. She was mature beyond her years, and knew enough about life to know that this was something that could affect her grandpa more than a little, and would not press. Still, though, I could see the curiosity in her eyes, and it was that, more than anything else, which led to me actually telling the story.

---

The box was a gift to me from a girl called Terry, I said, when she was twenty and I was eighteen. Yes, she was older than me, and yes, this was well before I was even your mother's age. It was given to me on our third anniversary of being together; we had been dating for quite some time and had started thinking about long term plans.

She had been thinking about what to give me for a while, I suspect, to teach me a lesson; she had complained once that I wasn't very subtle or romantic — at least not with keepsakes — and tended to discard things the minute that I didn't care about them anymore, whereas she was the opposite and kept almost anything that had ever meant anything to her — a ticket from her only airplane ride, wedding invitations from her friends, the letters we had written to each other, her childhood toys...the list went on and on, as did the amount of stuff in her family's attic that was hers. It was a side effect, I suppose, of her being a creative artist and me being a logic-driven scientist; I saw value in the present and future, whereas she drew inspiration from the past.

Regardless, though, we spent our third anniversary eating at a nice diner and I took her home just before nine — yes, this was indeed a million years ago, when nine was late — and just after I pulled up to her house, she stopped me and said, "I think we should give each other our gifts now."

Allen, here's a word of advice — always, always prepare a gift in advance when you meet a girl for any special date. Especially if the girl says not to prepare anything; this just means that you have to think long and hard and pull out all the stops to prepare something. Our third anniversary was a special date, and I had nothing at all... so me, being the quick thinker that I was, improvised — I did an immediate running inventory of the car parts that I could break off and give to her. Somehow, saying 'you are my driveshaft' didn't sound right, even to my not-very-romantic ears. Instead, I reached to the rear seat, and picked up a single rose, and handed it to her.

Her face dropped a bit. Not, I think, because I handed her a rose, but more likely because the rose had suffered some damage — I had run over it, as a matter of fact, on the way to picking her up, due to a bit of hurry on my part, and I had simply tossed it on the backseat instead of throwing it out immediately. So she had a rose in front of her... just one that was a bit dirty, and a bit squashed, and a bit dying.

No, it wasn't the smoothest thing I've ever done.

But I suppose the gods were watching down on me, because the next thing out of my mouth was this: "The rose, Terry, symbolizes my love for you. It may not be perfect, and it may not look like much, but what it means is that I will persevere through any trial, overcome any obstacle, simply to make you happy. This rose has seen better days, yes, but it's still alive, and I promise you that if you give it some water, you will see it stay alive much longer than any perfect rose you could pick out from the store."

And then I held my breath for what was seemed like an hour while she turned the rose over in her hands and observed it closely, her face absolutely devoid of any emotion. Just as I was about to apologize for everything I said and everything I did, she smiled, and leaned in to kiss me, which I took as a success.

"And here I thought you couldn't be romantic," she said. I mentally cheered...until she followed up with, "Even though that was the biggest pile of crap in the world, you get credit for trying, and for improvisation," and kissed me again. You see why I fell in love with her?

Anyway, afterwards, she reached down under the seat and brought out this exact box, in the exact same form that you see here now. When I asked her what it was for, she simply said, "It contains a little bit of the past, and a little bit of the present, and a little bit of the future. Don't open it until you can tell me what's inside." She looked very serious, and asked me to promise her that I wouldn't, which I did. I didn't understand at all, but she knew me well enough to know that I would keep asking questions until I figured it out — something that we seem to share, Allen.

I recall that the first thing I did with the box was shake it — always the scientist, I intended on subjecting it through a rigorous series of physical tests to determine the attributes inside. Of course, Terry was always one step ahead of me, and all of my actions yielded nothing. It wasn't light, but it wasn't heavy; it didn't smell like anything while it was closed, and shaking it produced absolutely no effect. I began carrying it around with me in class and at work, and would play with it absentmindedly while I was thinking of other things, but I never tried to open it — I had promised, after all.

It took me about two weeks, or maybe three, before I really entertained the suspicion that nothing was inside. It was always at the back of my mind, but I think it was after accidentally dropping it — yes, that's why this corner is a bit dented — that I wondered if she simply gave me a box, with absolutely nothing inside. It couldn't be, I thought... or could it? It struck me as something avant garde, which was like her, if a bit cruel, which wasn't, and came up with a null hypothesis.

So I asked her, and she simply shook her head — and then asked for the box. This was new, and I readily complied, only to watch her tilt it towards her, slide it open, and... talk into it? I moved to change my angle but she had already closed it, handling it back to me, and I was left with just as big of a mystery as before. But it led to one major change — every night, when I would set the box by my bedside, she would perform that same ritual before she went to sleep. She always covered the face, always lifted it to her mouth, and always seemed to say something before setting it back down.

And it looks like you've already figured it out, Erin. No, Allen, she wasn't eating, or spitting, or doing anything like that; she was speaking into the box, speaking her hopes and dreams and memories to store, acting as a modern day Pandora, without any of the bad things. It was indeed a little bit of her — and our — past, and our present, and the future she hoped we would share.

It was completely sentimental, and completely emotional, and I finally understood why she collected what she did — everything she kept had a bit of the person who created it in them, and now she was giving more than a little bit of herself to me.

I kept the box by my side for ten years, up until the day that she passed away, giving birth to a wonderful little girl called Marie — yes, your mother. The week before my Terry died, she was going through her collection of memories — in the attic you were just in — and brought out the rose, which she had kept all this time, and hidden from me. It was our thirtieth anniversary.

And afterwards... after it happened, I couldn't bear to have the box by me anymore, so I wrapped it with the rose, and set it up here, where it's been for thirty-four years now.

---

With that, I lifted the rose up by the stem, wondering at the forces that had kept it together for the last third of a century, and finally slid open the box to reveal — as expected — nothing tangible. But of things that couldn't be measured by science, one might imagine the wisp of a good life rising from the box, a slight smell of cinnamon and nutmeg, never to be recaptured again.

"And now that I've passed the story on to you," I said, "I think I'd like to pass these gifts on. Would you like them, perhaps, to keep and think about?"

I could see that both of them were a bit intrigued and a bit put off at the same time — it was certainly unlike any gift that they had given or gotten before. And yet, the story had changed them, at least a bit; they understood that there was signifance in these ancient relics beneath my wrinkled hands, and appreciated them for more than what they appeared to be.

Allen spoke first, as usual, and claimed the rose, without giving a reason why; Erin didn't object, but reverently lifted the box off of my lap after Allen had taken the stem from my fingers. And that was that.

---

I didn't see my keepsakes again after that, but Allen came by a few years later and told me that each one of his girlfriends received a rose — crushed — and the story of what it meant, and that apparently he had quite a bit of success in deviating from the standard. And Erin, a few years after that, told me that she had given the box to her first boyfriend after two years of being together, and expected to marry him. I gave her my blessing and attended the wedding; it was a beautiful one.

And now, at the end of my days, I simply wait until I can see Terry again, and tell her how much Erin looked like she did at our wedding.

Jetsam

Mar. 22nd, 2011 09:00 pm
talonkarrde: (Default)
It’s a dream, he thinks. It has to be.

Because this — this beach around them — is something that never happened. It was a writing exercise, one where the two of them traded turns writing paragraphs in a love story, one that never got finished. But here it is, the veranda twinkling behind them, the full moon overhead lessening their shadows...

And the two of them, here, now, on the beach.

He’s in the tuxedo he remembered writing the character into, with the jacket draped over his right shoulder, his bow tie untied and draped around his neck. Her heels are dangling from her right hand, her hair cascading down around her shoulders, and the satin dress she’s wearing almost fades into the darkness of the ocean.

“What—” is this place, he starts to ask, but she just shakes her head and leads him on, across the beach, across the surf, until they reach the low pier. She pulls him down and shushes him when he tries to ask again, waiting until they’re both comfortable, the water swirling around their feet, before she speaks.

“Do you remember how we met?” she asks, looking up at him now, their faces barely apart. This close to him, he remembers the first time he kissed her — he remembers asking her if he could, because he was that nervous, because he couldn’t read the signs... and because he wanted to, so badly, that he had to ask.

And he remembers her smiling and saying yes.


“Sure,” he responds. “It was at a forensics tournament,” And from there, he almost launches into the story of their mutual friend, and the casual knowledge they had of each other before meeting, and how they were both interested in writing and... 

“No, silly,” she says, laughing. It’s at him, something that should always have bothered him, but never did — maybe because he knew there was never any malice in it, unlike the rest of the world.

“I meant us,” she continues, and he finally realizes that she’s talking about them — this set of them, here, on this beach.

“We met here, a year ago. You were wearing a red tank top and a maroon skirt, and I was wearing a hawaiian shirt and shorts, and you were walking down the beach, and I told you I was looking for inspiration.”

“And I said, ‘Oh, so you’re a writer,” she finishes, with exactly the right emphasis on writer to make it sound like a puppy who had just spotted a new ball to play with.

“You know all of this,” he — the real him — says. “Why are you asking me?” 

“Because I want to know how it ends, of course,” she says, very matter-of-factly. “I want you to finish it.”

And here he pauses, not because he was written to pause, but because he doesn’t know if it's possible. So he dodges, the best way he knows how.

“It wasn’t our story, you know. It was a story of people that vaguely resembled us, people that were bits and pieces of us that were drifting on a current far from who we would be, what we would become. It was an alternate universe—“

And she cuts through it all, already leaping ahead to what his point was, as she always did.

“Filled with us, or at least, versions of us that were easy enough to put to paper without thought. It starts on a beach, wanders through a museum, and misses a trip to Europe because she has responsibilities to other things now. How does it end?”

"With philosophy, and with romance, with attraction and companionship and the love of two people who both read," he whispers, tilting his head down to hers.

And then, a moment later, just before their lips touch, with just enough time to dispell the dreams, the hopes, and the memories, he finishes the thought.

"Make sure, love, that he reads."

Adored

Mar. 17th, 2010 07:43 pm
talonkarrde: (Default)
My lady,

It is with a weak will and unsteady hand that I write this letter, but even I understand why it must be done. I am not strong enough to meet you face to face, to see your tears and take your anger and pain, but I can provide, at least, the shadow of an answer. This, then, is my compromise: I will leave this publicly and hope that, out of all the others, you will see it.

It is possible that you will miss this because you do not read my writings, and that this will never reach the one person it must; knowing you, though, I find it more likely that you will simply never give any indication of having seen it, since you were always the more subtle one. Whichever it is, though, I will take the coward's way out, and leave a message for you after I can no longer be contacted.

I confess that I write this for both of us; I want to explain my actions in hope of bringing you some peace, but I also seek forgiveness. You've told me time and time again that you have forgiven me, but I am not sure I believe you, perhaps because I do not think you really know what happened. I hope that this will help, even if you take back your forgiveness. At least you will have done it with open eyes. 

While the younger, more naive me would have said that the circumstances were not under my control, I know now that I was simply deflecting, an attempt to weasel out of the responsibility of my actions. However, truthfully — and I know it will make you angry to read this— I would not be who I am if I had acted differently. It may be fatalistic, but I think that once we started on the path, it was inevitable for us to end where we did.

Our beginning was beautiful, as courtships are when those involved know where the road will take them. Looking back at our first words, the secret jokes, the longer conversations, it seems perfectly natural — we were listening to nature's song from the first date, as together as a pair of swans. It is a progression that has never ceased to surprise me; one day, we are but friends that seek each other's company often, the next day comes and we have become essential to each other's happiness.

I remember the hours that we spent on the phone, hours that told us what we already knew, but let us discover it for the first time. The questions that bordered on absurd, the secrets that we had shared with no one else, the common and the unique. "Ask," you said, and I would; "Ask," I said, and you did, about anything, about everything. I remember looking at the clock, and wondering how it had been four hours already, and not caring about school — and later, work — the next day.

I remember as we fell asleep on each other, your phone obediently transmitting the sound of your breathing as it grew soft and slow, as I would say your name softly to make sure you were asleep and not just quiet, as I would smile to myself and hang up after whispering good night, sweet dreams. And once, I love you, but only after you were asleep for sure.

A month in, and it was just the two of us alone in the bedroom, my fingers tracing over your palm as I asked you questions about your parents. My singular purpose to be able to see and remember every detail of your beauty, to be able to hear your radiant laugh in my head, to know you as well as you knew yourself. You were beautiful, and in that instant, my entire life's goal was to convince you of that indisputable truth.

I remember consoling you when you failed the math test. I remember glancing over as I drove home, squeezing your hand softly, telling you that it would be okay, that it didn't matter if your parents were disappointed in you. I said you were a beautiful, intelligent girl, and you smiled as the tears stopped, sniffled as you kissed my cheek.

In that moment, I knew I loved you.

But I also remember wondering if it was because you didn't get enough sleep, because we were talking so often, for so long. But I didn't want to stop, so I didn't mention it. And that night, as we got on the phone again, the day's events were forgotten, and everything gone but for the two of us.

Two months later, I defended you against two girls who said that you were cheating off of them; I told them, I think you remember, that you would never do anything like that, and that they were just jealous of your talents. And then I turned around to hug you, but you were in tears, and you only pushed me away. Away, as if you couldn't stand my touch.

But what happened wasn't just one-way — when I abruptly dropped my plans of medical school, you never once told me that I should have kept trying. You never told me that I should have worked harder in school, when I told you about the poor grades. You just said that I would still be fine, as long as I was happy with you.

Do you see it now?

In the end, our love was beginning to affect, negatively, our actual lives, and it should never do that. Perhaps our courtship was too perfect, and we fell too hard; perhaps we didn't love each other as much as project perfection on the other person and worship them. Together, we believed that we had no faults, that we were perfect and it was the world that had to change.

In a way, we were perfect — those were the happiness times of my life, and it is a darker, drearier world every morning without you. But that happiness cost us our dreams and ambitions; it was a happiness that put blinders on how we saw each other and how we saw our futures. And if nothing else, I have learned that sacrificing the future for the present only works if you intend to live for a very short amount of time.

And so, when you asked me to run away with you, I could only say no.

It broke my heart to see the tears in your eyes and watch you walk away, knowing that I couldn't catch you this time, hug you and tell you everything was going to be okay. I caught the look in your eyes, I think, when you realized that I was only human; it was a realization that I only came to a week before.

.

Many describe love as a fire, but few mention that it must be tended and kept, or it will burn out of control, consuming everything. What we shared burned more brightly than any I've seen, but it would have consumed us before long.

And although it had to end, I do not regret a second of it.

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