Roses had always been her favorite. Well, roses and peonies, but growing up I had only seen her surround herself with roses, so I figured she favored them.
And because I knew they had been her favorite, the pain in my chest was unbearable while walking through this rose garden. My feet were bare and the scent of blooming roses began sneaking its way into my nose, reminding me of my childhood, pricking my skin and choking me with unshed tears.
I knew I was sleeping. I knew because I hadn’t slept in weeks.
Not since she left.
And besides, I would never walk through a rose garden voluntarily.
Not when the wound was still so fresh.
Not when I still had to shut my eyes whenever I passed by a flower shop to not be reminded of my loss.
So I figured this must be a dream. A dream I was too aware of.
But a dream nonetheless.
The sun was high up in the sky gleaming down on the garden but my skin still felt cold and the sticks and stones on the pathway pricked and stabbed at my feet–yet, I still felt nothing.
I was just walking numbly through the rose garden, trying not to think of her and her smile and the way she would comfort me when I scraped my knees in her garden even after she had warned me not to run through it.
They were stupid memories. Stupid memories that made me sad.
Stupid memories that only came to mind because of the roses. Because they were her favorites.
They were her favorites and now she was covered with them.
While I walked barefoot through this damn rose garden that reeked of my childhood and memories of fresh bandages and warm hugs and forehead kisses and hot chocolate and bedtime stories and happiness, all I wanted to do was run.
But I didn’t want to run like I did when I was a child. I didn’t want to pretend like I was on some adventure.
I wanted to run away from the garden and the scraped knees and the comfort of her long gone voice. Away from the giggling and the crying and the flowers.
I just wanted to run.
And so I did.
I dug my heels into the dirt, pushing myself forward with the balls of my feet, my lungs burning from suppressing unshed tears and running from the memories catching up to me, blinking away my hazy view of what looked like an exit. I was done remembering her now. I didn’t want to think of her right now.
I just couldn’t think of her without hurting.
Without remembering that she was gone.
I panted and pushed and sprinted, not even daring to let my gaze wander to the white and pink and red roses watching me escape, craning their heads to witness my struggle.
They could kiss the dirt I left behind for all I cared.
But there was no dirt left behind to kiss, just my embarrassment as I tripped over a branch and fell to my knees, failing miserably at my escape.
I hadn’t even been close to leaving. I had only managed to run a couple of feet before falling to the ground, my knees dirtied and scratched up from the branches and stones, just like they used to be.
Frustrated with my failure, I screamed as loud as I could and dug my nails into the dirt, clenching a handful of mud in my hands to miserably hurl in front of me.
And I kept doing so until I saw no more use for my anger and sat on my heels, breathing in the fresh scent of dirt and roses.
“I’ve always told you not to run through the garden. Sticks and stones can be very tricky when you can’t see them.”
My stomach plummeted immediately and I grew cold at the sound of it. The sound of my memories, my childhood, my happiness. My home.
I glanced over my shoulder, expecting nothing but seeing everything as my gaze landed on her, causing my heart to stop aching momentarily.
She was here and happy and healthy, just like she had been when I had been a child. And she was staring at my unmoving form kneeling helplessly in the dirt like a child.
“Come on, let’s get you out of the mud,” she said as she walked up to me to help me up. I placed my hands into hers and let her pull me up as I stared at her in disbelief. She was here, in front of me, her smile more radiant than the sun above us.
And there was a brief impulse to embrace her, to tell her the many things I wanted to talk to her about. But that impulse was quickly blown away by the breeze because I couldn’t do any of those things.
Because she wasn’t really here.
I quickly took a step back and pulled my cold hands out of her warm grasp and her smile quickly faltered.
“What’s wrong, my dear?” she asked.
“You’re not here,” I quickly stated the obvious, knowing that once I said it out loud it would be true and she would leave me again.
But she was still in front of me.
“I am here,” she said nodding and holding my gaze as if to prove a point. But she didn’t prove anything. She couldn’t prove anything because she wasn’t actually there. She was just a figment of my imagination, something my brain created for comfort. But it wasn’t really her.
“No, you’re not. You’re not here,” I stressed to try to prevent her from telling me otherwise. There was just no way she could still be alive. There was just no way that she was real.
“I am standing here with you, aren’t I? Doesn’t that mean that I am here?”
“No, no, no, no, no. We buried you!” I argued.
We buried you and covered you with roses, I thought and felt my eyes burn with treacherous tears.
She sighed somberly. “I know. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not with you and that I cannot feel your sorrow, my dear.” And just when I thought I could pull myself together, she reached out and caressed my cheek, unleashing the unheard sobs and choked-down cries I had tried so hard to suppress.
“It doesn’t mean that I cannot be here with you,” she said softly and kissed my forehead before wrapping her arms around me in a comforting embrace.
I rested my head against her shoulder and breathed her in. She smelled of my childhood, of hot chocolate and fresh bandages and of roses. She smelled like she had when she was still alive and healthy and happy.
“It’s just not fair!” I cried and hugged her tightly. “It’s not fair that you had to go! That you got sick and withered away right before our eyes! It’s just not fair!”
“I know,” she hushed and combed her fingers through my hair as I sobbed uncontrollably against her shoulder, slowly resting in her comfort.
“I miss you so much,” I sniffled while shutting my eyes, “and I just wish you were still here.”
“I miss you too, my dear,” she responded. “But I am still with you and I always will be.”
“You promise?” I mumbled as I felt the shift around us. The scenery was starting to dissolve and she was slowly slipping through my fingers as my dream would release me back to reality.
“I promise,” her voice echoed through my ears as she placed another loving kiss on my forehead just before I broke through the surface of the world of dreams and found myself in my bed, staring at my ceiling with eyes still wet from crying.
I wiped at my cheeks to dry them of the remembrance of the roses and of her voice before forcing myself out of bed, trying not to think about the dream I had just had and to get on with my daily distractions.
But as I opened the blinds to let in some sunshine, I was forced to think about her and my dream again because as I stared out of my bedroom window, a lone rose was craning its head to stare back at me. And it was as if it were watching me to make sure that I remembered her promise.
It was as if she were watching me to make sure that I would never forget her or her promise.
And for the first time in what seemed like forever, I smiled.
And my heart didn’t hurt as much anymore.
Because I knew she was here with me.
And she would always be here with me, to comfort me when I scrape my knees, to remind me not to run through the garden, to wrap me in an embrace.
She would always do those things in the rose garden of my memories where I know I could always reach out for her.
Until the end of time.
Joana was listening to The Other Side by Ruelle while writing this piece