The Earth laughs in flowers. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
After a week of texting and phone conversations, we graduated to our second date: breakfast at my other favorite breakfast place in downtown. When I arrived at the exact time we had agreed upon, he was already there, seated with a small espresso in front of him. The first thing he said to me was “There you are!” He had been wondering if I was going to show up, and, as I sat down, commented on the place being “divey” and informed me that his coffee was terrible. Ignoring the implication that I should’ve been there sooner, I asked what was wrong with his espresso. “I dunno. It’s just not good,” he answered. “Does it taste burnt?” I asked, thinking maybe they had waited too long to pull the shot and could make him a new one. “No. It’s just… it’s not even sweetened or anything,” he explained. At this I almost laughed out loud, except I knew he wasn’t trying to be funny. Surely this man who had grown up, spent his entire life in the greater Seattle area, the place that has more coffee shops than gas stations or churches combined, knows what espresso means. It’s a shot of coffee. What –I wondered- was he expecting?
In order to keep from chuckling, I looked down at the immaculately clean floor. Then out of the corner of my eye, I peered around the mostly empty and spotlessly clean room. I saw the waitresses dressed in moderate and stain-free, fresh smelling attire and wondered what about this place equated to “divey” in his mind, so I asked him. He explained that it was small and tucked away, a one of kind, not a chain type of restaurant. At this point I thought about banging my head on the wall that I was leaning against, but luckily the waitress brought my coffee, so I was momentarily distracted by its deliciously perfect chocolaty bitterness. I didn’t even mind that she had put whip cream on top without asking me first (to which I would have said: No, thank you).
He talked about work, about how important he is and how good he is at his job. He told me things he had already told me on the phone… twice, but it was just as well because I was having a hard time listening. I kept thinking about my son, about how I take him here as a special treat, how we split up our food, and he eats all the bacon when I’m not looking, how I always get a cookie for him to have later because they are his favorite. I felt out of place to be there without him, to not hear him telling me about how bacon is juicy or how only sometimes he likes hot sauce on his scrambled eggs and whether or not today is one of those times.
The food arrived and we made it through the rest of breakfast with minimal awkwardness, until he announced he had a surprise for me in his car. We walked to his car, and he produced a bouquet of flowers from the passenger’s seat and handed them to me. Then he got in the car (on the driver’s side) and indicated that I should do the same. So reluctantly, I sat down in the passenger’s seat, leaving the door open because why would I get in the car and close the door when it is nice outside, and we are obviously not going anywhere. It made me uncomfortable that he had brought me flowers though I wasn’t quite sure why. I love flowers and would have assumed he would gain my favor by bringing me some, but for whatever reason it didn’t work that way. Maybe it was because he didn’t know that I loved flowers or what kind or what color or much of anything about me because he hadn’t asked. He didn’t buy these flowers because they reminded him of me. He bought them because giving your date flowers seemed like a nice thing to do, and these were the flowers that were available when he went to the grocery store with that thought. The arrangement was pretty but utterly devoid of symbolism and as a result, boring. If I had not received another bouquet of flowers later on that same day, I might have overlooked this…
For everything my ex-husband is not, he is a good listener, at least when he wants to be, which is why he knew that a mason jar full of tiny hand-picked flowers from the garden would crush me with happiness, melt my heart like the butter he no longer puts on his toast. It might have been entirely my son’s idea -and I am willing to bet it was-, but he still gets credit for helping to make it happen. Perhaps he has found, as I have, that it is easier to love me now that he is no longer married to me, easier to be generous and thoughtful in ways that before seemed impossible.
In any case, the last time anyone gave me flowers was for my birthday in May, so I felt foolish and ungrateful to be embarrassed by receiving some from my date, but when I picked up my son, who proudly displayed his jar of flowers for me, the difference in motivations was palpable. My son’s flowers were a tangible display of his love and care for me. He even noted with great sincerity that: “You can eat these flowers,” pointing to the two nasturtiums, “if you get hungry.” Whereas my date’s flowers came with a card saying they were “Just to let you know how fabulous you are!” and all I could think when I read it was: We’ve been on two dates! There are people I’ve never met who read my blog who know more about me than you. And then seemingly out of nowhere: I don’t even want flowers from you!
When our morning together was over and I was ready to leave, my date, feeling braver than the first night, decided he wanted to kiss me. Even though my body was quite literally aching to be touched in that way, as he leaned in the only thought loudly stomping around in my head was not from you, so I offered my cheek. His attempted affection suddenly felt like a prospector staking claim, while negotiating his price with sterile, non-threatening, perfectly arranged daisies. I felt like I was suffocating, and I didn’t understand, couldn’t understand how my hand in his hand could feel so much like nothing, could feel so empty, and I looked again at the three proportionately staggered daisies with their meticulously balanced spiky and uninviting greenery and felt… nothing. It’s the kind of arrangement you would find at the desk of the receptionist in your dentist’s office, but on my desk sits a small mason jar brimming asymmetrically with orange calendulas, yellow and red nasturtiums, French lavender, California poppy, red clover and tiny clusters of little white flowers I can’t even begin to guess the name of, puffy yellow Dr. Seuss-ish ones and furly-edged pink ones that could be a wild and petite cousin of a carnation. The pseudo carnations, my son informs me, are his favorite.