Tanner: he meant the world to me, and he still does. Our love was (and still is) truer than the truth. He made sure that there were always vibrant red roses in the vase on my desk, and when they wilted even slightly, he replaced them so as to symbolize our undying love for each other.
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We met as freshmen in college, and it was quite nearly love at first sight: the first time we ever laid eyes on each other, we smiled simultaneously and effortlessly at each other for about sixty seconds that seemed like an eternity. From that moment on, attraction grew into friendship, friendship grew into inseparability, inseparability grew into love, and love grew into true love. In less than a year, we had begun to talk about wedding plans for after our college graduation, even though it was more than three years away.
I fondly remember spending that stretch of time almost entirely in partnership with him: we went to parties and galas, discothèques and fancy restaurants, everywhere together and sometimes surrounded by our entire tribe of friends. But when our friends and other restless students surreptitiously slithered out of their dorm rooms in the middle of the night to make way for the local casinos and bars, Tanner and I would sneak off to the forest behind the college and have our own kind of wild night; no drink, drug, or bet could have given me a greater rush of adrenaline and passionate feeling. We had the time of our lives.
But on one cruel, brutal night just a month before graduation, the time of our lives came to a screeching halt. You see, Tanner's supposed friend Donny picked a fight with him and murdered him in the process. The subject of the fight was me. Donny was covetous, and in his twisted passion he had forever made an enemy out of me. And all I could do was let the tears pour out of my mangled soul; just twenty-four hours before Tanner died, we had been in the forest behind the college campus. Now there would be no more of that, and no more parties, galas, discothèques, or fancy restaurants-no more dates together, all because of someone else's jealous rage.
Coincidentally enough, I had slept roughly the night when Tanner was murdered: one time I woke up and can swear that I saw blood streaking down the wall. When Tanner's best guy friend Cole came to tell me the horrible news in the morning, I knew that my insane vision was not insane at all. I don't know how I managed to hold back the tears until Cole left a few minutes after breaking the news to me, but as soon as he was gone, I cried until my eyes wouldn't make any more tears. There were not enough tears to fully express how torn apart I was.
The funeral and burial took place three days later, and Donny was already detained. I can only thank God that there were numerous witnesses to the crime. Still, it wasn't enough to keep me from crying myself tearless again because nothing that could happen to Donny could bring Tanner to earthly life again.
I visited Tanner's grave every day following the burial. Sometimes I would look up at the sky toward Heaven and talk to Tanner, telling him how much I love him and that I always will, and that we will meet again someday. Other times I would just sit there and cry, letting my tears soak the new grass growing over the grave.
It wasn't too long before the rose bushes that surround the cemetery began growing foliage, and I noticed a vine growing around Tanner's headstone. It was a thorny vine, so I had to be careful about where I stepped or sat down. And I wondered why such a vine was taking residence at Tanner's grave but not anyone else's, not even on the plot where war heroes from many eras were buried.
The week following that curious incident was the week when us living college seniors had to prepare for graduation. Bogged down with award ceremonies, rehearsals, and dinners, I could not go to the cemetery all that week. I tried my best to be my normal self, and even though I was indeed more chatty and outgoing when the time called for socialization or accepting an academic honor, on the inside I was still lost, broken, and lonely.
After the graduation festivities and ceremonies were over, I returned to Tanner's grave the next morning. But something was different-very, very different-and I knew it as soon as I drove into the parking lot of the funeral home. Sure enough, my suspicion was proven when I laid my eyes on Tanner's grave for the first time in over a week.
On that vine surrounding Tanner's grave, there were roses in full bloom: twenty or thirty of them, and all pink-all except for one of them. That one rose was the reddest, brightest, most beautiful rose I had ever seen, and I swear that some supernatural force (I believe it was God) compelled me to pick that rose. I held the rose up to my heart, looked toward Heaven, and said, "Tanner, I love you!". Then I went back to my car and drove home, never to return to Tanner's grave again. I won't go back there again until I am dead and am buried next to him someday many years from now; it is as if receiving that red rose from Tanner lifted much of the sadness that had overwhelmed me for the past few weeks. Perhaps it also kept me from allowing my rage to build up against Donny.
When I got home, I placed the rose in a vase with water and set the vase on my desk, just like all of the other roses that Tanner had given me. There would be no rose to replace this one once it wilted, but this rose was just as meaningful as the rest=perhaps even more meaningful.
The truly amazing thing about it, however, was that the rose refused to wilt.
"I can't explain it, Denise," said my bewildered mom, who had come over to my house in disbelief of the immortal rose ten days after I had picked it from the vine surrounding the grave. "I don't even know anymore whether or not I believe in these kinds of phenomena, because I'm not sure if there really is an explanation for this."
I had already told Mom that I had used tap water and had not used any plant food or fertilizer on the rose. I did not know then, however, that the phenomenon was far from over.
It was about six weeks after Tanner's death that I woke up one morning so incredibly sick that I thought I was going to die as well. I threw up what had been my dinner the night before plus tons of unidentifiable putrid masses all morning, and for no reason I could fathom at that time. I became so terrified that I ended up calling my grandmother and asking her to take me to the E. R..
I knew that she had been speeding because she reached my house in five minutes' less time than it normally took for her to arrive, but by then I was so afraid and so tired that I couldn't care less about Grandmother attempting land speed records in her tiny Honda coupe.
We made it to the emergency room more quickly than I thought we would, but not so fast that I hadn't gagged and vomited into the trash bag that Grandmother had supplied as well as on myself. A nurse saw us enter, and I knew that she could perceive my dire state, because she took me into a room before I could sign in. I told the nurse that I had been vomiting all morning, and she somehow managed to calm me down enough to take my vital signs. When that test didn't show anything odd, she sent me to the restroom to prepare a urine sample before she took me into the lab and drew blood. After that, my grandmother and I waited for fifteen or twenty minutes that seemed like an eternity.
I, at first, thought I was dreaming when the nurse came back and told me the result of the tests.
"Denise, you're pregnant," she said.
I let out an excited shout, and suddenly I remembered being in the forest with Tanner the night before he died. It was undoubtedly the cause of this twist in fate, this twist in fate that marked the first time since the last time I saw Tanner alive that I was truly happy. But nothing about the situation amazed me more in that moment than the fact that part of Tanner was still alive!
I shift my glance from the vibrant red rose in the vase on my desk to my four-year-old son, who is standing in the doorway. "Are you ready to go to the park, Nicky?"
"Yes, Mama; can we go now?" Nicky implores.
"Of course." I smile at Nicky, and he smiles back at me, and then smiles at they sky. I know that Tanner is smiling back, and so does Nicky.
I have told Nicky about his amazing dad, enough so that Nicky can love him. I didn't tell Nicky how Tanner met his end on this Earth, but that doesn't matter, because every time I look at my son-Tanner's and my son-I, in a way, don't have to wait for my entrance into Heaven in order to be with Tanner again.
"Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not."-Jeremiah 33:3, King James Version
"Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path."-Psalm 119:105, New Living Translation
The present and future are not about who you were in the past-rather, they are about who you are and who you will become.
"Writing is truly glorious in that an author can put on paper the words that fear denies the voice to speak."-from my short story, "Set Free"
"...What you feel is what you are;
What you are is beautiful..."
-from "Slide" by the Goo Goo Dolls
Life surprises you! And I'm talking about the good stuff, because a bad surprise is not a surprise at all, it is just shock and horror. All of these good surprises, they are rewards, and the things that happen to remind you that you matter and that you should make yourself faithful so that you can be deserving of all of life's good surprises. Every wonderful surprise in life is a chance to flourish, so grab life by the horns-but don't ride, steer instead: life's horns are life's joystick. You can handle it, because your life's horns are made especially for you. If you don't give up, all of this will hold true and life will continue to surprise you.
Aubri, a. k. a. "Leopard Lady"