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Picking the Petals Back Up

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Everyone has something memorable about them. A big nose, uneven eyes, that funny cowlick that no matter what kind of hair gel they use, will never stay down.

I have depression. I didn’t always have it, but then the accident happened.

When most people first meet me, they can’t suspect a thing. But then they get personal. Most of the time, when I just get those three words out, they get all sympathetic, which let me tell you, when every single person you meet asks you the same thing, it can get pretty annoying. Sometimes it feels as if the whole world is tumbling down around me when they ask what happened.

But let’s back up a little bit. The accident is where it all started.

Hazel Jordan has been my neighbor for years, as far back as I can remember. We always hung out with each other, and everywhere she went, I followed. After a while, I started to realize how lucky I was. Not only was Hazel a great friend, but she was beautiful, smart, and had an amazing sense of humor. Finally, I got up the nerve to ask her out. And here’s the biggest surprise: she said yes. She said yes to me, Luke Shroeder, her best friend, the biggest geek to ever grace the city of Cincinnati. She actually said yes.

I couldn’t believe it. I was on cloud nine for weeks, and to make it even better, prom was coming up. So, I asked her again. And once again, she said yes.

It was the biggest night of the year. It was the seniors’ last “hurrah!” before college, and Hazel and I wanted to spend some time together before she went off to Stanford and I stayed in the glorious state of Ohio, at the University of Toledo. To make it extra special, I arranged for a limo to pick her up at our small apartment building. But that wasn’t the biggest surprise.

Inside, I had filled the interior with white roses. Every available space was covered with them. Hazel loved white roses, and I wanted to make our last big night together special. Tears were in her eyes as soon as I opened the door. Dozens of petals flew out and danced briefly in the wind before being blown away.

“Oh Luke,” she whispered, “This is absolutely perfect. Thank you.” And she gave me a quick peck on the cheek before climbing in.
The whole night was a blur. At midnight, it was all over, and on the ride back, we were laughing our heads off. Someone had spiked the punch bowl, so the whole prom was an absolute disaster. My friend, Andrew, was driving the limo (I couldn’t afford anyone else-the limo and roses already cost a fortune), and he had drunk a ton of the punch. That night, the road was packed with prom traffic, and most of the drivers were drunk. But I trusted Andrew. When had he ever let me down?
Of course, I didn’t count on the fact that he’d get sick. One moment Hazel, Andrew, and I were laughing so hard our sides hurt, and the next, he was puking everywhere. Our concern for him combined with the alcohol completely clouded our judgment, so our eyes were only on him and not the road. We didn’t even see the car coming for the back. All that registered was Hazel’s ear-splitting scream, and then everything went black.

I woke up a week later in the hospital, tubes attached everywhere you could think of. Beside my bed were my parents, and all of my closest friends, including Andrew. Only one person was missing, the person I wanted to see the most. I looked up into my mother’s eyes and asked, “Where’s Hazel?”

She had died in the crash. While our eyes were focused on Andrew, another drunk prom-goer had been making out with his girlfriend, and lost control of the car, slamming into us. The limo had flipped over, and the glass had smashed and flown right into her face. She didn’t have a chance.

It was a miracle everyone else survived. Hazel, the gorgeous, fragile princess, was the only one who died in the accident. When the EMTs rescued her from the scene, rose petals were plastered all over her body from the blood. Everyone else got out with a couple of cuts and bruises, except for me, who had needed a blood transfusion.

Months later, I was nothing. I could be found, sitting in my room, staring at the blank walls, with nothing to do. I had dropped out of Toledo and moved back to my parent’s tiny apartment in Cincinnati. Why did I need an education now? My life was over anyway.

I’d tried dozens of things to fill the void Hazel had left in my life. I’d tried being with other women after high school. There was one, Rowan, that reminded me of her so much I almost cried every time I saw her. But she only looked like her. After several dates, she’d left me, said I was too “emotional” for her, and that I should get a life.

After that, I tried writing. My parents were writers, after all, and I figured I had some of the creativity they were known for hidden inside of me somewhere. This seemed like a great plan, getting my feelings out on paper and everything, except for the fact that at Toledo, I was going to major in business, not writing. I couldn’t write a page about her, even when I thought of everything wonderful she was. It was torture.

I had lost Hazel, the love of my life, and I couldn’t believe she was gone. I had flashbacks constantly of the time we had spent together. Eating Play Doh in preschool, biking up and down the crowded city streets in junior high, and having mud fights in a vacant lot that was now a trash yard for the people of the community. For some reason that last memory stuck in my mind the most, so one day, I decided to visit that place again. I had nothing better to do, but that trash yard drew me to it. Don’t ask me why, call it instinct if you will, but that visit changed my life.

As I rounded the corner on Gibb Street in Cincinnati, a wall of sound slammed into me. Before I could even see the place, I could hear it. Spanish, Polish, Chinese, all sorts of languages could be heard, and that puzzled me. Then I walked into the lot, and blinked a couple of times. This couldn’t be the place, could it?

But it was. Hazel and my old hangout had been completely transformed into a community garden. People from all over Cincinnati were here, planting flowers, harvesting vegetables, and socializing. People you wouldn’t expect to say more than a few words to each other were deep in conversation, trading goods and just having a good ol’ time.

This sight brought a smile to my face, the first one since Hazel had died. I stood there for about a minute before a kind looking man in a checkered shirt and glasses by the name of Sam walked up to me.

“Well, what are you doing just standing there?” he inquired, looking me up and down. “Grab a shovel and start digging!”

And I did. At first I wasn’t quite sure why, but then after about an hour, I stopped and looked at my handiwork. I had dug about four rows, but I had nothing to plant. Then it hit me.

I ran off to the store and purchased all different kinds of rose plants. Red, pink, yellow, peach, and especially white.Lots and lots of white. White had been Hazel’s favorite kind of rose.

When I got back to Gibb Street, it was like I was in a frenzy. I stayed the whole day and well into the night until I was satisfied with my work. I had planted a whole bunch of rose bushes in honor of Hazel, and the white had been the most important. Hazel had once said white roses meant “I’m worthy of you” after I had given one to her for a middle school dance, and she’d said it again right before she died. I had never felt happier after she said that in my entire life.

Until now. I scattered the white rose shrubs throughout the rows, and I can honestly say, they looked gorgeous. They faced the street, right next to some guy’s tomatoes, and they were the first thing you saw when you walked past the garden. The next day, I found a picture of Hazel and me when we were kids and glued it to some cardboard. Then I wrote, In memory of Hazel, my best friend and one true love. I hope these roses will let me be worthy of your love up there. After I drove the stake into the ground, I noticed a large white rose petal lying next to the sign. For some reason, I glanced quickly around to make sure no one was watching, especially Tomato Guy. Then, I slipped it into my pocket. I wasn’t exactly sure why, but as soon as I got home I pressed it in the yearbook, right next to Hazel’s picture. It gave me comfort, knowing that she lived in the plants I was raising.

One day, as I was tending to “my babies”, I finally saw Tomato Guy. At first we just glanced at each other and kept working, but then he kinda stopped and stared at me for a while. After about five minutes, he became extremely hard to ignore, so I finally looked up and said exasperatedly, “What?”

Surprisingly, the guy was incredibly muscular, not at all the guy you’d expect to find tending to tomatoes in a city garden. He was sweating a bucket-load, but he refused to take off his shirt, which seemed to bug all of the young ladies walking by.

After a little while longer, he pointed to the sign and said, “Old girlfriend?” I nodded silently, wondering what this load of bricks wanted to know about my life. Then he gestured to his own sign, which read Lateesha’s Tomatoes, and said, “Yea, me too.”

That was all that needed to be said, and for the rest of the time, we continued to work, but ended up getting deep into conversation about anything and everything. At around 5:00 we stopped, and just as we were about to part, I said, “Wait! I didn’t catch your name. I’m Luke.”

The guy just grinned. “Nice to meet you Luke. I’m Curtis.”

Day after day that summer, Curtis and I hung out at the garden. We shared stories about Hazel and Lateesha, our past, present, and future. We became great friends, and brought out the best in each other. I helped him to get to know Lateesha again, and pretty soon, everything was like it should be between the two of them. He convinced me to apply to a local college that specialized in landscaping, and I got in, all because of Hazel’s roses.

When Lateesha and Curtis got married, I was their best man. By that time, I was out of college, and I had found an amazing girl, Sheila, who both reminds me of Hazel with her beauty and brains, but she also couldn’t be more different, with her outgoing personality and “loud” fashion sense. In fact, the only constant thing about her is the white rose clip she keeps pinned in her hair. That’s how I knew she was for me the first time I saw her. She had a white rose in her hair, and a petal was caught behind her ear.

But no matter what, I know that Hazel’s still there, watching over me, every minute of every day. I owe it all to her that I am where I am today.





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