So today, my oldest son has been asking me to take him through my memory box. It's a miniature desk that my parents gave me when I graduated high school. And to be honest, I hadn't a clue what was going to be in it. Well, tonight, when he asked me again, I happened to be in the dining room, so I told him yes. And when we opened it, the first thing that catches the eye led my son to say, "Mom.... why do you have a piece of trash in there?"
As I pulled it out, I said, "I bet it's not trash, but let's see." And it was a Dove's milk chocolate wrapper that has been in there for at least 10 years. And on the inside were these words:
Love is a flower, friendship a sheltering tree.
When I read them aloud, my son proclaimed, "Oh. It's about you and Daddy." And we moved on to the rest of the contents of that small mysterious space. Him, content in finding the answer to his curiosity; and I dwelling on the candy wrapper and my son's interpretation.
I've just put my boys to bed for the night, then looked the saying up, fairly sure it was a quote. And it is. But the poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
It's beautiful. It's simple. It's poetic. And, as my son pointed out, it's also fitting.
So tonight, I'm going to tell you a story about a rose, a boy, and a girl.
Now, I've mentioned before that I saw Mark for the first time while waiting for the school bus when I was 14. I really did look up and he caught my eye and stole my breath.
And then I looked down and away because I didn't want him to catch me staring at him. I couldn't figure out what to do. Those who know me probably won't believe it, but back in the day, I was -shy-. And -talking- to a boy I liked was just NOT going to happen! So I didn't say anthing while we stood there waiting. And I didn't say anything while we were on the bus. And I didn't say anything as we got off of it either. And then I was at school...and for the life of me, I couldn't tell you -what- I learned that day, because all I could think about was trying to come up with SOME way to talk to that boy! By the end of the day, I still hadn't come up with any ideas. But when I got on the bus, he was already there-- and no one was sitting beside him, and on the spot, I decided it was now or never! So I walked over and delivered the best pick up line in recorded history: "Hi! My name is Janin."
Then I asked if I could sit with him, and we had very little conversation, but I was sitting there and I had TALKED to the beautiful red headed boy! Now, I didn't know at the time, but he was even more painfully shy than I-- and the thought that a girl would approach him was as awkward for him as it was for me. When we reached our stop, I said, "Good-bye, and I'll see you tomorrow." And we didn't walk home together.
The next school day, he stopped me in the stairwell, handed me a note...and fled. I did mention he was even more shy than I was, right?
Well, the note was an introduction, and I learned that the name of the beautiful red headed boy was Mark. Now, I can't tell you when it happened, but it seemed like, from that moment on, we were best friends.
So you're probably wondering when we became boyfriend and girlfriend. (LOL) The closest to that comes MUCH later in this tale (;
We had our ups and downs, as any friendship will, and not a full year later, my family was restationed to Alabama. And when it came time for Christmas, I learned that his Grandmother lived down here. So when his family came down to visit her, he came over to visit me.
My mother always tells me that I was such an easy, innocent child to take care of.
Quick survey: For those of you with 15-16 year old daughters, how long would you leave them completely alone in the house with the boy they obviously like?
Mark came over to visit, and my parents and sisters left to go sight seeing... for over 4 hours.
Mark and I were talking and playing chess when they left... and we were talking and playing chess when they returned. And we'd been doing the same the entire time they were gone as well.
No. Seriously. Since we've been married, we've periodically joked about missed opportunities because of it (lol).
So were we dating? Nope. Still just best friends.
Then my family moved to Louisiana. And he drove down especially to visit me during Christmas. And his family was still living in Virginia.
Still just best friends. Both of us dating other people.
Why? Why hadn't we dated? Why weren't we boyfriend and girlfriend?
Well, to be quite frank, when we first met, I was a complete prude. Boys were still, 'icky.' Even beautiful boys. So I wasn't interested.
And once boys stopped being icky, well, we were dating other people.
So at 17, I started college at Scholar's College, at NSU, in Natchitoches, Louisiana. Mark's family moved to Texas, but he stayed in Virginia, living with his girlfriend and another housemate. A year later, I was living in my own apartment. And Mark stopped by to visit me as he was moving in with his parents to start going to school in Texas.
The day he was leaving, my friend Richard walked over to visit me and saw us hugging, "Good-bye." Then Mark drove away. Richard walked up to me and said, "Boyfriend?"
"No. Just my best friend."
He paused a moment, waited until I looked at him, then said, "Janin... Friends don't hug like that. People who love each other do."
I sort of shrugged it off, pointed out that he had a girlfriend and moved on with the days activities.
So it's October of 1998. And my Grandpa Ervin died. I went home to my parent's house and we made the drive up to Michigan for the memorial service. On the way up, I was devastated that my Grandpa was gone. There were so many great memories of him-- and now there would never be any new ones. I loved my Grandpa, and there are still some times that I miss him. But this story is about something else. So why mention Grandpa Ervin at all?
Because on the long return drive, I was still thinking about my Grandpa Ervin. And I realized that he was truly a GOOD man. He cared about his family. He was hard working and honest. He could make you smile after you'd skinned your knee, and admonish you for bad behavior with a look. He never raised his voice, he was a quiet man. And quick with a hug. I always remember the sparkle in his eyes when he was up to good natured mischief. And I started thinking about the other men I would consider good men. And the list was astonishingly short. I could list the good men in my life on a single hand: My Grandpa Ervin, my cousin Kevin, my cousin Scott.... and Mark.
At at this point in our relationship, I was on the brink of losing him. And I realized, with growing apprehension and fear that that was the last thing in the world I wanted to happen. I finally -realized- what my friend Richard had plainly seen and told me: I LOVED Mark. The way a woman loves a man.
But Dear God! How on -earth- could I tell him?!? We'd been friends for -7- years. And I was -terrified- that he would walk out of my life... and terrified of telling him that I never wanted him to. I couldn't imagine my life without him. He had always been the first person I called with the important news in my life. Be it good or bad. He had been my pen pal for 6 years.
He was coming to my Halloween party. And I did something I don't advice anyone do. Now, I'm not much of a drinker. To be honest, I've only been drunk a handful of times-- the first because I didn't know any better; but even then I knew that people used being drunk as an excuse to say what they wanted to say. So this night, I drank for courage. Had way too much vodka (which, on a side note, should NEVER be combined with eating nothing other than brownies and chips), asked him into my room, and confessed... then threw up in the trashcan like I've never been so sick before in my life.... I did mention that nerves, and a stomach full of brownies, chips and vodka were a bad combination, right?
After cleaning up and brushing my teeth, Mark and I talked, and we shared my bed for the first time as a man and a woman.
Six months later, we were making preparations for our wedding and as my mother and I were sewing my wedding dress, she turned to me and asked, "Janin, how did Mark propose to you."
I looked up at her, my mind returning to that night, blinked, and in slow motion turned to Mark, who was looking at me with the same semi-blank, semi-astonished look on his face that I knew was mirrored on mine. And I answered my mother, "....He didn't.... We both... kind of... (shrug) presumed." To which Mark nodded.
So it's September of 1999, and the pastor of the church we're going to be married in has told us that we need to set aside an hour and half to come in for the pre-marriage questioning. He sits us down at his desk, pulls out this huge book of questions, opens it, and asks, "So how long have you known each other?"
I look at Mark, Mark looks at me, and I say, "7 years? 8?" And Mark says, "Yeah. About there."
And the pastor proceeds to close the big book of questions and says, "Okay. Well. We're done with that. You're obviously -NOT- rushing into anything. And at this point, you know each other pretty well." And we set the date for Halloween 1999, shook hands, and left.
So it's time for me to choose my flowers for my bouquet. And I know -exactly- what I'm looking for...I just don't know if they make it.
I've always been a nerd. And random tidbits of information are a favorite of mine. So I knew the symbolism of roses:
White is the purity of innocence.
and Red, love.
And I wanted a flower that would speak of Mark and my relationship: You see, I had taken comfort in our friendship for almost a decade, before my love blossomed; and I found the flower I was looking for in the gyspy carnival rose. It's a yellow rose, whose tips progress from orange to red; as our friendship blossomed into romance and love.
So my son, in his moment of clarity, was absolutely correct when he said it was about us:
Love is a flower, friendship, a sheltering tree.
Though I suspect Mr. Coleridge meant that love is beautiful and spectacular and short lived, while friendship takes a long time to grow, isn't as amazing to see, but provides us the comfort of being ourselves.
Personally, I think that well tended trees will bear a lifetime of spectacular flowers and sheltering shade-- and that love that blossoms from friendship will continue to grow.