I came for flowers. That was the whole reason behind my trip to the grocery store. My son and daughter had a dance recital that night, and they anticipated being greeted afterwards with bouquets of flowers. I just needed to grab two cheap bundles, pick up a couple of other groceries, and be done. But as I stood in the flower section, surrounded by cellophane and spring, I froze.
Passing thoughts of my deceased baby floating to the surface were not new. The daily occurrence of grief kept me company at this point, nestled against me like a lazy cat.
But this was not that. This was panic. Run. A fight or flight. I needed to act. Now. To save him. To save me.
But I couldn’t do anything, couldn’t ease that rush of fear, because I was standing in a grocery store, looking at flowers, with nothing to run from or to.
There was so much yellow around me. All those yellow blooms, reminding me of ones that blossomed three years ago around his death. I tried to breathe, to calm my heart rate, but the air was infected, too.
Minutes moved, but I did not. I was trapped in the floral department, only managing to pace a few feet at a time. I found the discount section of leftover arrangements. If I could just reach out, I could grab two pathetic bundles and appease my children.
Two. I would only need two. Not three.
Like gasping for air, I surfaced from my panic just long enough to clutch two deteriorating bouquets and escape the department. I raced to find privacy. The pet food aisle was empty, and I tried to hide myself against the bags of kibble.
My mind saw a world overlap my reality, one where I was stressed not over flowers, but over bringing my nearly three year old to a dance recital. Would he even sit still that long? Probably not. He would have to take breaks to walk around. Should we get a babysitter and leave him home? But he would love watching the other kids dance; I wouldn’t want him to miss it. Next year, he’ll be old enough to join the other tiny dancers, and then maybe all his extra energy will have a productive outlet. But tonight he’s going to be so jealous. He’ll want flowers too. He’ll cry if he doesn’t have some.
I called my husband and cried. In the middle of this grocery store aisle, I whimpered and told him what had happened, how it shouldn’t have been hard, but was. He told me to buy a third bouquet, and while the thought of returning to the floral department terrified me, the idea of leaving without doing so was unbearable.
I finished my phone call and breathed, steadying myself enough to accomplish the task at hand. I robotically followed my cart and grabbed the few extra items I needed until there were no more reasons to stall. With illogical fear, I plunged myself into the discount flower section.
It didn’t take me long to identify the arrangement meant for Garrett. A dozen yellow roses, with their outer petals browning like a banana, begged to be seen for their potential. “Look,” they said. “Look beyond the deformities and discoloration. See past the deterioration and decay.”
All I saw in those flowers were Garrett, who also had decay and discoloration. His brand new body emerged from me encased with death, with peeling skin and black lips.
The panic started climbing up my ankles, but I moved too fast, grabbing the roses and landing them in the cart next to the other bunches. I raced for the register, swiping my items at the self checkout lane before my mind could catch up with me.
That night, I made my husband handle the flowers for the kids. They performed well and were eager for their prized bouquets, just as I knew they would be. I took their pictures with their flowers proudly displayed, pain and longing twinging my heart.
The next day, we went to the cemetery. I sat near my baby’s grave and reverently cleaned each rose, trimming extra leaves and stem, fluffing the bloom, and grooming the outer petals. I orchestrated them into a round arrangement and placed them in the vase above Garrett’s headstone.
At the last minute, I decided to take the leftovers petals and scatter them across his grave, tracing the outlined scar left from the displaced grass that was surprisingly visible three years later.
That rectangle was too small to belong among the other plots.
I stood with him and his flowers. I was sorry. Sorry that was the best I could offer him. Sorry he couldn’t dance with his siblings. Sorry for myself and the scar in my heart.