The Memory of Roses: An Allegory of Depression
I write this because it's colored pretty much everything I do - or rather, Did Not Do. I write this, because I'm not saying this is how you, dear friends, viewed me, but because this is absolutely how I viewed myself. I write this with the full knowledge of all the things I "succeeded at" in this time, and how not a bit of it made a lasting difference, or made me fully feel like "my old self" again. Not really. Not deep down.
I honestly can't say what's changed. Up to last week, I was still having minor (and one or two less minor) panic attacks about "succeeding." (At what?, you ask? At anything, really.)
At the same time, the ever wily Holy Spirit arranged to have me give a series of inspiring personal talks to various people in my circle: always tapping me on the shoulder as I exclaimed to whomever, "You can do it! You can totally do it!" and whispering to me, "You *do* hear yourself, Emily? You do hear how easy it is to encourage others? You can probably encourage yourself."
I also had the opportunity to be in Very Fancy Places...only to be reminded (again, and again, and again, and AGAIN) that "success" looks pretty much like what "poverty" looks like, too. And in some cases, I've got more in my poverty than they've got in their success. So what does it matter if I downgrade to success? It's just the matter of a worse room at a better address. And the job stays the same. The job stays EXACTLY the same. You just shell out more money for worse stuff that people pretend to value more. But the job, the work remains the same. And maybe, if you've got the money, you shell it out to people, and not back into stuff.
And now I'm getting nervous writing this out again. Because the more Real things get, the more Scary they get, too. Not scary: unknown. Because the more you let yourself want something, the more it might hurt if you don't get it. And I didn't get it - I really didn't get it - three years ago. And I had really, really - like never before, wanted. And *allowed* myself to want. I allowed myself to want. Want something for myself. Not for someone else's good. For me. To allow, for me. And still, I gave away. Or rather, never had. Or rather, had it when I couldn't see, and had it gutted from me as soon as I had looked.
And it was like the first time you find out the rose has thorns. And like a fool, I kept grabbing the thorns, hoping they'd bloom back into roses. And my blood dripped out, making patterns on the ground: but the soil had gone bad, and when at last I let go of the dead, dry branch, I could no longer feel my hand.
Losing weight has been, in some way, a personal middle finger back to the dying rosebush and the girl who clung on to it. But to lose - to just lose and keep losing, even weight - is not enough to return me to the girl who once upon a time tended a whole riotous garden of roses: climbing, cabbage, tealeaf, Tudor. All with thorns, she now knows: but she wore thick gloves back then. And only took them off for that one exquisite bloom; not even noticing the moment they slipped off, until the thorn broke through.
For a while, I tried to stay in the garden. For another while, I tried to handle roses with bare and bleeding hands. For yet another while, I wore thick gloves that only served to bind the stigmatic thorn deeper in the skin; and then another pair of gloves on top of that, and yet another pair and then another, and gave the gloves to others, and then gave away the garden and the garden keys, too, and stuffed my gloves - three hands thick and still they bleed - beneath my arms and paced around the garden that bloomed blotchily in my absence. Bloomed in some places. Eaten by bugs in others. Choked with weeds, or just abandoned...but still, it turns out, wick.
Most days as I paced outside the garden, I wanted to incinerate it all. No matter that some things still bloomed, where even I could see. So I stayed outside the garden, so I wouldn't burn it down.
Then, as these things do, even I couldn't ignore the dead patches of grass, the withered ivy vines on the outside of the garden. I went back in myself, but couldn't save the places that had died out while I'd been gone. The blight and dead rot that had crept in. I tried to bring them back to life again, but I had no more blood to give. It had crusted around the thorn, inside the layers of glove that looked more and more like skin, so that my fingers could barely function.
And the branch itself, where that perfect rose had bloomed once; bloomed in multiplicity; bloomed in breathtaking ache; that branch in the center of the garden, had grown monstrous: thickly coiled on itself, with no more buds, nor even thorns, its roots disgorging from the earth, its twigs tangled on itself; a single leaf that fluttered once and fell. It buried me, and I buried it. Fell apart in fire that burnt a little bit, but left mostly indifferent ash that crumbled in my breath, along with the memory of roses, and a thick taste on my tongue that keeps me still from speaking.
I got rid of the gardener, who said they meant to head off anyway. And the gloves, in the end, had to be surgically removed. The dried blood, nearly as thick as a glove itself, carefully and gently washed away. And too often, far too often, it still stung. I kept the thorn, all that still remained, deep within the center of my palm - at least for a while. It was worth the pain, I thought, for the memory of roses.
I put a comical bandaid over the stigmata - with far too many nights staring at the scar. Until one night, I got out my sharpest needle and removed every last scrap of severed splinter from the skin. And still it stung. I sought after gauze, and go back weekly to have the bandage changed.
I looked up, looked around the garden: the bones of a garden, now with new wildflowers that sprang up among my careful roses, all in a winter state with prickly tops where the blooms might be. I got a few more gardeners. And some experts in wildflowers, since daisies and black-eyed Susans and even thistles can be lovely, although I don't know how to tend them. A few perennials and prickly conifers gave the hint of greenery, and I was grateful for them. Grateful they'd been planted there, just before my absence.
There were more visitors than ever to my garden. Not just myself and my roses and those people who might tend them. It grieved me, embarrassed me to have tourists in my garden, with its broken branches and haphazard patches of foreign wildflowers and barely a single rose in sight. And everything in winter. Always, always deep in winter. With the fragile, frozen hope that the branch was wick.
I suppose, then, I was surprised by Spring.
I didn't recognize the sudden rush of blood back into my cheeks. It felt again like dying. I still have trouble believing in the dexterity of my hand; having gone so long without, I've forgotten how to feel. Every sensation is a shock. It still takes a leap of faith to believe the daisy has no thorns. Because I know thorns now; I've grown several of my own and sheathed them by my side, ready to fight back, even with my broken hands.
But still, but still, OH GOD, I want my roses. Want them with an ache I barely dare acknowledge. And every waft of spring, every errant scent of someone else's garden, every dainty seed alarms me. Not because it's monstrous, but because I want, I want, I want, I want - and my heart throbs and leaks out of my hand, soaking through the bandages that my doctor wraps more thinly around the mess of skin and bone that lies beneath.
My parents came into the garden. "Why don't you plant roses?" they asked me. "You plant the most beautiful roses. And no one knows how beautiful your garden can really be."
"I can no longer plant roses," I tried to say to them. And it felt like the thorn was in my hand, in my heart, stabbing through the back of my tongue, and had never fallen over in indifferent ash, collapsing to the earth and blown away by dragonflies.
"Do you see the daisies there?" I asked. "And we've got evergreens and ivy, too."
"Did you plant them?"
"No. I don't plant roses now. I've got many gardeners. And friends have brought their seeds: we've got thistledown and starwort in the corner."
My parents are silent. They smell like the memory of roses.
"I've been to other gardens," I say. "Tending to their flowers. Lilypads and Queen's Anne's Lace; there's a promising begonia among them. Moss, too. Many mossy gardens."
They sigh. They sound like the memory of roses.
I eye the barren patch of earth. The only naked patch. In the middle of the garden. I scratch my palm, over the bandage. But there's nothing there anymore. No scab, no thorn, no skin, no bone. As hollow as the hole where the branch had been. In the middle of the garden. I've let the bluebells and buttercups run rampant around the perimeter. I've torn up every violet.
My parents mutter something nice. They are nice people. And then they hug me and say again: "Your roses, once, were beautiful. Plant some roses. Remember who you are."
I can't. I can't. I can't. I spend sleepless nights pacing through the garden. Keeping eye on the progress of each orchid. Relaxing in the hydrangeas. Smelling the rich, intoxicating scent of someone else's lavender. Ghosts waft through: day, night. They are silent as they pass; bend, weed, tend, laugh - although I cannot hear them.
One bright day, I look up from my bower, half-sleeping; one eye lowered, seeing red; the other glancing upward at the thin branch above my brow. A bud; the promise of a bud; the shape of thorn and flower.
It's almost too much to hope for. It is dangerous to want.
But I know how to grow roses. I know how to grow mountains made of roses; arcs and buttresses and nations made of roses. I know how to coax them through the dormant months. They thrive first on belief: on the memory of roses. I believed once, too. Believed past the point a sane man would believe in. I made planets out of roses. I made galaxies, and stars, and danced with comets in my hands. Nothing frightened me, and I was always eight years old, with flowers in my hair, and the memory of roses in my heart; and my hem was made of Dusk and my fingers glowed with Day.
And I ache. I hurt. And I think:
I will try to grow this rose. Just one. Just this little one.
I breathe out a handful of ash; and let the light get in.