Jasmine lobbed out a great conversation starter today on Facebook: “Let’s play show and tell. Post an image in the comments then tell us something about it.” I love threads like this, so I checked my phone to see what pictures I had taken in the last few days.
I posted this picture of a white gladiolus that is blooming in the higgledy-piggledy overgrown strip next to my driveway. My story: “This is a scraggly lone gladiolus in my yard. I keep it because my late husband bought me the bag of bulbs in the Amsterdam airport as an apology for an argument we had at five a.m. in the Berlin airport.”
I’ve been hanging on to this flower (and his one wonkier orange cousin) for over a decade now. We had a vision of turning that dirt next to the driveway into a garden, but that never happened. But you know how bulbs are–you throw them in the dirt and forget about them until a year later. You enjoy them for a while, then forget that they are buried down there, still waiting for another time to bloom. Life moves on past the bulbs, so that every year, I am pleasantly surprised by daffodils, delighted with the grape hyacinths, then sentimental over the wonky gladiolus.
Richard and I didn’t argue much, maybe five times in four years together. And two of those happened when he was jonesing for a cigarette. Yes, he smoked. He HATED the fact that he was a smoker. Hid it from people, quit over and over. He was mostly 100% quit here at home (gave himself a pass during tax prep), but every time we went to Europe, he’d fall off the wagon again. As he put it, “Everyone smokes in Europe.” As soon as our plane landed in Amsterdam or Berlin or Paris, I would rush off to buy a pound of Leonidas candied orange rinds in dark chocolate and he would run in the other direction to buy Marlboros he could have gotten for half the price in Atlanta. But he only smoked in Europe–no fudging of the rules.
So we were in Berlin one time and on our last full day there, he finished the pack of cigarettes before dinner time. “You gonna break down and buy a new pack or start bumming them?” I teased. He had it all worked out. “I’ve got three left in a pack in the hotel. One for tonight, one for in the morning, one for at the airport.” Always a man with a plan.
But when we got back to the hotel, he couldn’t find the three cigarettes. He ransacked the room. He opened every pocket on his back pack and mine. He looked under the bed, in the bathroom, behind the curtains on the window sill, in the night stand drawers that we had never opened. He went through our luggage again.
When he started to grumble that the maid had probably stolen them, I said, “Why don’t you just go downstairs and buy another pack?” Nope. That was not the plan. He continued to stomp around looking high and low in our Ibis Hotel room that was probably 80 square feet total. He was bound and determined not to break down and buy another pack with so little time left on the Smoking Continent. He went to sleep, a bundle of bristly nerves.
He woke up the same way at 3:45 a.m. We stumbled around getting dressed and packing the last of the stuff. It was so early that the desk clerk had to call us a cab to Tegel. We didn’t talk much. Because he WAS FINE AND DID NOT SEE ANY REASON TO DISCUSS IT FURTHER THANK YOU VERY MUCH.
We got to the airport with plenty of time before our 6:30 a.m. flight to Amsterdam. It was still too early for much to be open, so I sat there hurting for a Diet Coke and four more hours of sleep. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught Richard zipping and unzipping pockets on that godforsaken back pack, still muttering about the larcenous hotel maid.
“Would you PLEASE just go buy a pack of cigarettes?” I snarled.
He snapped right back. It makes me sad to realize that I can’t remember exactly what he said, but it was something along the lines of “I am a grown ass man and will make my own decisions.” After someone dies, even remembering a fight gets sentimental, because at least they were there and snarling at you. Together.
That was that. We flew to Amsterdam in silence. At Schipol, we found the gate to Atlanta and I plopped my ass down with a book, a Diet Coke, and a very high wall of GoToHellYouRatBastard around myself. He wandered off to buy cigarettes.
He came back smelling of Marlboros and carrying a mesh bag of flower bulbs. He held them out to me like a bouquet and apologized. “I would have bought you flowers, but we couldn’t bring them in through Customs. These will get past the sniffer dogs.” Ever the romantic.
That was the only spring we got to live here together. I planted the glads along the driveway. The next year when they bloomed for the first time, he was gone. I had my apology, but he was gone.
After remembering this story today, I did some research on glads. Turns out, Gladiolus (plural gladioli) is the birth flower for the month of August, Richard’s birth month. This spiky, colorful flower is also called the Sword Lily for its likeness to a gladiator’s sword. With its connections to fearless warriors, Gladiolus symbolizes strength of character, faithfulness and honor.
But here’s the fact I learned today that made my hand flutter up to rest on my heart. The Gladiolus flower signifies remembrance.
Every summer, I remember that morning in a strange airport, the smell of smoke, the way it felt to argue and the way it felt to forgive ourselves. It makes me glad.