Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Wither Not My Rose

Category: Life Winners, Issue 3

Roses wither and fade; but though there have been other women in my life, I still love Rose.

She was 66 when I first met her—no, it wasn’t anything sexual, though she did still have a good figure and enjoyed showing her legs off to the admiration of the old gents in the common room.  Rose was never a grandmother to them, nor to me.  She was always too vibrant and sensual a woman.  I suppose few people can boast of a platonic love, but I adored Rose.  It was her life, her soul that I loved.  She used to say that she may have had to come here to live, but she didn’t come here to die; and for me, there could never have been enough time with her.

Rose was a dancer.  I never heard (or asked) in all the time we spent together where or whether she might have worked—in her soul, she was a dancer.  She even taught me to dance, the clumsy kid tripping over my own oversized feet, terrified of accidentally stepping on her toes.  I had just graduated high school and started a summer job working here part-time, and back then I thought that I was afraid of falling and landing on her, maybe giving her a broken hip or something.  Now I know what I was really afraid of:  age and death.  I hated old people because they reminded me of death, like a walking preview of my own.  But Rose showed me how to fight that, and that’s why I’m still here now, a physiotherapist, helping to take care of the ones that won’t fight.  When I first came here, I could smell death in the corridors.  Now I know I’m alive and I laugh at death and push it aside.  Except for today.  Ten years later, not for today.

No matter how long she taught me, from the first moment I think we both knew that I would never be Fred Astaire, but the old gents in the home couldn’t keep up with her—and I think in a way she despised them for it.  Not in a mean-spirited way, but I think she couldn’t let herself slip, couldn’t slow down to their pace, couldn’t relax into that slow inevitable decline to death.  Rose ate of life hungrily and never gave up.  Teaching me to dance gave her a way to hang on to her vitality and strength, it gave me a new experience and it gave me Rose.  I could never before have imagined dancing a foxtrot, much less struggling to keep up with a woman three times my age. 

When Rose and I would sit down from dancing, she was always too excited to do the boring things that were expected here, playing cards or watching television.  She was afraid of being lonely, the one fear in her lion’s heart.  People can go for months in a place like this without saying more than two words to anyone, so we would talk.  She told me of her ballet as a little girl, reaching for heaven as she leaped and pirouetted, and also about how she mimicked the teacher behind her back, making the class laugh.  She showed me a picture once of her amateur production that entertained London as the war loomed, and she laughed as she described the shows she and her friends performed to captive audiences in the crowded tunnels of the Tube during the Blitz, defying the falling bombs with laughter and song.  I could well believe it, the strength and the joy were still in her.

Her eyes—God, they were alive.  I’ve seen eyes since, perched above perky breasts and tight bodies, that looked flat and dead, but Rose’s fire gleamed in her eyes.  They showed me her zest for life and joy, but also her appreciation for all that she had had.  She had savoured every last drop of life so that even a day spent watching the grass grow couldn’t be wasted.  Her eyes flashed as she described the tea dances in the spring of ‘44 and sneaking into the night clubs.  Skirts swirling and mingling with uniforms, buttons flashing and hair flying, chins high as the couples milled across the floor, a few sweeping across as if they owned it—fear, even in war, has no place on the dance floor.  And she told me of Harold, the young GI she met that year who would go on to share many other dances with her.  I see his picture now as I place it carefully in the cardboard box, a sorry repository for the glorious memories of her life.

I wouldn’t let Janice do this, I swore to myself at least this would be done by someone who loved her.  I’ve already taken her name off the door, and her room is empty and drab, awaiting its next resident who will probably gracefully surrender to its whispered song of relentless decay.  The box will just as probably go unclaimed by Rose’s children (If they ever visited I have never met them) and be discarded, all those memories ignored.  But that is not Rose.

Roses wither and fade, but this one was an exception.  My Rose never grew old.  She was a dancer, and her eyes gleam as she dances still through my heart.

Posted by iconoclast on 08/02 at 05:35 PM | Permalink
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