The thing is: He only gave me flowers. Always beautiful and cyclical, they appeared and faded in the same perfect predictability. And the truth is- I didn’t really look for the flowers, I actually began to notice the pattern of the vases. When vases were out, he was here. The dishwasher held the times I was hopeful he’d call back after a fight. When everything went back in the cupboard, I figured he found someone else to bring flowers to.
The moment he walked in the door, he’d put them ahead of himself- like they were a gestured white flag, or a finger over the mouth with a disapproving glare at the library. I sometimes wondered if he stopped in a rush to get them, so I wouldn’t say anything about the hours that passed when he didn’t come. It was a big deal- to find the perfect flowers, he would explain. They would be thrust in my hand with the words, ”No one had pretty ones. I had to go everywhere!” Like I asked him to pick up honey, or milk. I never asked for flowers, they just always came. And, I certainly never bothered to ask why they were always from Whole Foods- or why he didn’t just stop there first. I figured it was his way of explaining away time. “The woman I marry will not hold me accountable for time,” he explained on the car ride up to the surgeon’s office. “Only God should hold me accountable.”
“How does that work?” I inquired while looking out the window on the car ride to Mayo Clinic. “The woman I marry will understand,” he guffed in reply. It wasn’t as much a response as it was definite. I knew in that statement- exactly what he meant. He had been bringing flowers on and off for 8 months then, and I knew that moment: Those sunflowers were final and he was driving the car out of pity.
I wondered back to the moment I met him- what had I thought? “Ego for miles, that one,” I told my girlfriend in giggles- explaining that the highlight of the date was the fact that he held his hands in “earmuffs” when I said “damn.” He seemed to prefer innocence- telling me he thought Fleetwood Mac was a, “country group” and explaining that he hadn’t any idea on popular music. I walked away from the date incredulous- someone like him existed; another woman might find the thought endearing.
He told me how devastated he was when I was getting married months later when he messaged out of the blue. And then, in my confusion and frustration, while the man I thought I was going to spend my life with suffered an aneurysm, he said, “I’m not trying to be crass, but I’d love another shot.” It should have ended there- I said that for months after the fact. I remarked to friends and family that his entitlement was alarming. He frequently jested, “You’re mine,” but it always seemed like less of a joke and more of a definitive statement: You belong to me. It had always seemed like a game of “catch and release,” the more I think about it. He was only happy chasing- that much I remember.
He always spoke of game theory- the idea that every choice has a decided outcome. Everything was game theory to him- he couldn’t see beyond predictable outcomes or the patterns he had already established in his head. He said often, “I know exactly what’s going to happen.” Sometimes he was right, and when he was- he smiled in glee. “See?” He seemed to say- “I win.” I wasn’t pretty to him. No, he never spoke those words. He said, “You’re MY kind of hot.” Like no one else could possibly see in me what he did. It always bothered me. Like when he told me, “you’re mine.” Instead of feeling precious, I felt taken aback- claimed without permission.
I didn’t understand why in his world everything was built in patterns until I began to understand it was control. “Let me lead,” his words went from question to demand. “I’m a natural leader- you’re more of a follower.” And while I had been told I was a leader my whole life, he had convinced me I didn’t have what I needed to succeed– at least with us. I fought at first, but he’d say, “Look at how convoluted we are when you’re in control!” The worst thing– the very worst thing I ever did, was believe him. And so, I’d let him win- which only meant that he chose what we did, or where we went, or when we spoke. If he had control, he was happy and when he was happy, life was wide open.
I never saw God in him- and I so wanted to. I looked often- trying to see beyond the layers wrapped around his heart. No one spoke the Gospel the correct way. If I tried to paraphrase a verse, he immediately corrected me. This Theology major could have spent an eternity studying, but it would never have been good enough. “I’d be a great judge,” he commented out of no where as the trees and fields passed by. “Like a judge in a court, or a judge of humanity?”
When he spoke of his Church and his God- I looked deeply. I saw a man who needed constant affirmation – like the time he held open a door for a man who appeared to be homeless. “I changed his day,” he said in the most matter-of-a-fact way. “Have I told you about the time I was on a date and picked up someone and drove them two hours home?” (It was a frequent story.) “My date was so angry, but him and I talked the entire time and she sat in the back.” He always went on, “Ask all my friends, I’m the best person they know.” And, I was so tempted, but never did.
He was so confident- convinced that there was no one better. Any time he was late or, we were discussing time, he’d bring up the fact that he wasn’t here to manage time- he was here to make the world better. It all reminded me of the time a friend raved about a cover band- to the point I gave up plans to go see them at a dive bar. Leaving after the second song- disappointed and reeling, I couldn’t understand how two people could be so far apart. Him, high above me.
If you really want to hurt someone deeply- leave them the moment they get their cancer diagnosis. Just do it. Pack up the small, meaningless things you have at their house- and watch them cry on the bed. When they ask you why you aren’t trying to comfort or help, state without any emotion, “I don’t know.”
I’ve decided that the worst thing anyone can hear is, “I’ll be there for you if you need to call me, but I might be dating someone else.” This means one thing: You’re worn out. And old. And sick. And he doesn’t want that part of you. He wants a new you- someone who will spend her time praising him, and not crying over radiology results.
He was so insistent on telling me that he wasn’t leaving me to deal with cancer alone- he just wanted to date other people. Like, if I looked hard enough, I could imagine him happy with someone else and that was what I was supposed to do. Like the consolation prize was that he was going to be happy and I wasn’t- but that was fine… because he was better than me all-along.
We never outlived the flowers- I can’t even begin to count how many almost dead bouquets sat in my kitchen trash where I wondered if he’d ever call again. But that’s what they were, weren’t they? Pity flowers and pithy words. The kind of gift that has a probable stem, but no courage or backbone– the worst kind of person: Someone who believes they are a savior, but instead, they destroy. Yes, that sums it up rather well.
And the thing is- he never read this, even when I wanted him to. “There is so much of me here,” I told him once. “You haven’t gone to Church with me,” was his response. And that’s how it was- all wrapped up with a bow: I wasn’t loved until I earned it, all while he gushed about the grace of the God he believed in, I worked very hard for his mercy. Our Gods were not the same, you see.
We’re always taught to look for the ones that put us in freezers, or on pavement. They don’t teach how to watch for the ones that dismantle you slowly- piece by piece until you have no idea why you’re not worth the same grace or love- you just know you’ll never be worthy in their eyes of all the things you’re not allowed to hold them accountable for. He was Christlike and I was Magdalene.
I wish I had many things- my health, more time and a weakened penchant for bullshit. But at least tonight, I didn’t wait for the flowers to die. They hit the soft-bagged bottom of the garage trash can peacefully.