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The Growth of a Rose
I’ll never forget the day he left. I was only 10 when he took off down the road in his Mercedes, never to be heard from again. I’ve tried to erase the few memories I do have of him. I wonder if he ever thinks about me, or even cares. I hate him. I mean it. I really do. What he did to our family left a permanent mark, like a huge blot of black ink spilled on the canvas of life, it can't be erased. But, unfailingly, I still remember what I wish to forget.
My father had forced my mother to move into the mansion on South Street, despite that fact that she had preferred the cozy beachside cottage on the other side of town. Our house was huge, and that’s an understatement. Iron wrought gates stood at the end of the cobblestone driveway. The lot stretched for acres. The house itself was gorgeous, a pristine white with ivory floors and my mother’s baby pink roses lining the driveway.
I remember that day, the day he left. The heat was unbearable, even by the pool. The sun baked my back, perspiration dripping from my brow. Lucia, the maid, handed me a glass of lemonade as I toweled off. I tied the towel around my waist and entered the sun room. I walked into the kitchen quietly, because I knew my father would not approve of me walking through the house in swim clothes. I assumed he was upstairs booking yet another “business vacation”. I slinked into the kitchen, only to see my father yelling at my mother, yet again. Every time I had witnessed the fighting, I would shut my door against it and play my piano. In the past, it had only been whispered arguments, snippets of tense conversation, my mother’s smooth gentle voice, followed by my father’s tough, angry yelling that echoed through the high ceilings. But this time, it was different.
“Margaret,” my father’s clipped voice boomed through the room, “it’s only for three weeks. Can’t a man have a break? All I ever do is work, work, work, so you and Rose can live in luxury, and this I what I get when I want a break,” he bellowed.
“Honey, I just I feel like I… we never spend any time together. You’re always, away on business, and Rose, she never gets to see you.” Her voice broke. There was obvious truth to what my mother was saying; neither of us ever saw him, because he was always away for work. I had never seen my mother like this, and it frightened me. When I thought of my mother, I pictured her kneeling over her pink roses, her cheeks rosy and youthful.
“I’m going, and that’s final!” barked my father. My mother looked so delicate, the color drained from her cheeks. My father took his meaty fist and smashed it down onto the table for emphasis.
“Can’t we just discuss this a little, Love,” my mother looked like a rabbit next to a coyote. She shook, her golden curls shifting as she turned away from my father.
“Margaret, I warned you not to push me, I have to do this,” he screamed.
My gaze stayed transfixed, as I watched the scene play out between them. But, I was hardly prepared for what came next. My mother began to slowly back up, her face as white as the tablecloth. My father advanced toward her in a fit of rage. His face was red, his hands balled into fists, his teeth clenched. I held my breath. My father raised his right fist, and delivered a blow to my mother’s cheek. I watched as he pushed her over, and she crumpled slowly to the floor. I couldn’t do anything. I just stood there.
He hit her repeatedly; I counted the blows 1, 2, 3. I felt like I was someone else, standing there watching them, frozen stiff with terror. I became furious with myself. Why was I just watching? How could I stand there and just let this happen? And why hadn’t I realized what was going on all along between my mother and father? Somehow, she lay there and endured this like she was used to it, her usually red lips pale and white. And then, he suddenly just stopped. Two words, escaped his calm lips, “I’m sorry.” It was quiet. Silence rang through the house. He grasped her hand gingerly and helped her up. His face was twisted with pain. “I love you,” he whispered kissing her hair,” but I have to do this.”
I wondered how she could let him do this to her, or if she had been programmed for this. I whimpered softly, my hands shaking. I didn’t want to believe what I had just seen. I couldn’t let them know that I had just witnessed this scene. I silently made my way back to the door. I opened it and shut it loudly. My father flinched at the sound of the door closing. “How was the pool?” he asked me. I wasn’t sure how a person could shift their emotions like that, one minute screaming at someone, the next frighteningly calm. He was obviously thinking with relief that I didn’t know what he had done to my mother. My mother turned slightly toward me and smiled.
Abruptly, my father began making his way to the door. “Well, sweetheart,” he turned to me, “I have to be going now. I’m on my way to Chicago for business.” I nodded, raging inside. Why was my mother letting him get away with this? We walked him out to the front porch, and helped him load his briefcase, and luggage into the car. We stood on the porch and said our meek good-byes. He kissed my mother, right where he had hit her. And then, she did something that completely surprised me.
She faced my father, and inquired softly, “Where are you really going? I at least deserve to know that.”
He grew quiet, his face sullen. My mother’s face fell; she just stood there like she was searching for something, staring into space looking for the answers. My father handed her a tiny silver box. She slowly took off the lid revealing a silver necklace with a tiny heart. “I love you,” he whispered into the air. She clasped the necklace around her neck, starring at it like it would somehow make him stay. Then, he slowly made his way to his Mercedes. He shut the door and pulled away, going on a “business trip” for the last time. After that, we never saw him again.
Four years later, I peer out my window at the gorgeous ocean. The sound of it is lulling, waves kissing the sand. Our little cottage is so cozy. I can walk inside with sand covering my feet, and my bathing suit sopping wet. No one cares. I walk into the kitchen in my pajamas. My mother sits at the table, a coffee cup in her hand, smiling. Her cheeks are rosy, her face angelic. She doesn’t notice me as she makes her way to the garbage, her slippers padding against the sandy carpet. I watch her as she slowly unclasps the heart from around her neck, and places it in her palm. She examines it, and then says one word as she lets it slip through her rigid fingers into the trash. “Scum”, she announces to the world. And then, she surprises me even more. “You didn’t deserve me,” she shouts, spitting into the trash. Her saliva lands right in the middle of the heart. I wait a minute to enter the kitchen. She smiles at me, calmly, and kisses my cheek. I smile back. She takes my hand, and motions me to follow her. She leads me outside to the front of the house. The sun beats down on my back, the silky sand caressing my bare feet. She stops in front of her garden of lovely pink roses. She bends down and gently plucks a flower from the vine. She beams at me as she hands me a red rose.