He brought me flowers today. It was a magnificent bouquet of fragrant pinkish stargazer lilies surrounded by white roses and some lovely purple buds. Yesterday he surprised me with a couple red roses.
Not too long ago, I would have been ecstatic. I would have felt hopeful relief, a sense of love renewed, and blushing flattery. Today I know better. These flowers, lovely as they are, do not erase the beatings, nor the humilliations.
I recognize the cycle. This is only a respite, and not a sign of change. It’s just a phase embedded in an overall pattern of abuse and tears. I know this, and yet I am surprised by my lack of bitterness and pessimism. I still really enjoy the flowers.
Yesterday the red roses arrived in the form of a small meeting at the end of the day, attended by only three other people — which is far fewer than ideal for that particular committee. But instead of getting caught up in the spirit-crushing tedium of analyzing statistics and poring over a lifeless action planning grid (both of which I had spent months helping create!) we meandered off into a delightful Big Picture tangent about race, historical trauma, empathy and diversity. It was a precious moment of safety, honesty, and humanity. We all expressed gratitude for each other, hugged, and ended our work days there, feeling like we were part of something special and important.
Today the bouquet arrived early — a meeting with some of “my employees” that could have been frustrating and tense, but instead was light and warm. The following meeting contained not only some rare moments of humor, but an informative presentation and (but wait, there’s more!) a tray of holiday cookies that were colorful and cute as well as tasty! After that, I got to see another of “my employees” (by the way, I can barely believe that this kind of plantation vocabulary comes out of my mouth now) shine in front of a group in a truly inspiring way. She is having some serious “performance issues”, so it was beautiful to see a side of her I had not seen in a really long time. I was able to genuinely and enthusiastically praise her. She beamed — for the first time since I became her boss months ago.
Today my email was manageable and there were no “hair fires” all day. I was able to get my boss some important information right away when she needed it during a critical meeting, and “my assistant” was positively glowing after her two days on vacation. I finished my day talking with two more of “my employees”. One of them is one of my favorites; the other is someone who had been the hostile, passive-aggressive bane of my existence up until a few weeks ago, so the ease and excitement of our conversation were especially sweet.
I enjoy the flowers, but I am not fooled. I admire them; I close my eyes and inhale their perfume, but I have no regrets or second thoughts. This feeling is heartening, but surprising to me. I thought this would be harder.
I remember the day almost ten years ago I realized my now ex-husband wasn’t going to change. I was looking at him in our kitchen and he had just given me another piece of shockingly disappointing news. I heard the sound of glass breaking, like a tremendous wall of frosted glass had simply shattered and fallen down between us, and I could finally see him clearly. I began planning my escape not too long after that. Continuing to live with a husband you know you will leave but cannot tell the truth to is a terrifying feat, especially for someone like me who values integrity so highly. But it was a wise choice, and I was fortunate to receive almost daily validation of my decision in the following months. Thankfully, the sex was almost non-existent at that point, which made my attempt to live in two worlds easier.
But it still hurt. I still doubted and I still agonized. I still wondered, even on the last night, sitting among my packed boxes, ready to leave with my sister to go begin grad school in another state. The next morning when we said goodbye — me seated in the cockpit of the U-Haul — was the first time we had been tender with each other in many months. And watching his form shrink in the rear view mirror as I pulled away was the last time I ever saw him.
I don’t know that there will ever be anything in my life I will be 100% sure of — I am too reflective and analytical — but I think the calm I feel now may be close. I don’t feel fake or guilty enjoying the people and the moments as they come in my current job, even as I am planning my exit. The things and people I will truly miss are few, and I will likely be able to take the more valuable connections with me. The promise of the future is definitely brighter than the current reality.
And yet, this limbo is also a blessing because this time around, being in two worlds — here and also already gone — is allowing me to be fully present and savor that which matters, and “blow off” things that don’t (an almost sacrilegious notion for me, but one I am starting to gleefully entertain!) I think it was Eleanor Roosevelt who said:
Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, and today is a gift; that’s why they call it “the present”.
Amen Sister Eleanor. And Merry Christimas to me!
So I am grateful for the flowers, but they do not change my mind nor represent a fundamental change in the situation. Instead of being beacons of hope, they are “presents” to provide respite during this transitional phase. They decorate the rest stops on the road out.
After all, a prison is still a prison, even when you brighten your cell with flowers.
Paz, amor, vida y fuerza,