It was ten after two in the morning and I was on the roof of my building. Off to the left, Boston’s skyline stood six inches tall. Below, Summit Avenue wound into a crop of maples and the night sky above threw the light of a full moon down onto Allston, Massachusetts. It was usually a good spot but on this night, it did nothing for my terrible mood. There was a parka wrapped around my brain which had suffocated all thoughts of sleep. The fabric of this coat was a tough and relentless question: “Why don’t I have a girlfriend?”
I was a nice enough guy, college-educated, employed, writing a book – stuff a girl would be interested in, right? Nah. Not really. By that point, I had heard it all:
“We’re just friends” (which, incidentally, I can’t believe is still in circulation),
“Ohh, I can’t think of you that way,”
“I wouldn’t want to ruin the friendship,”
“I did at first but things are different now,”
“But I live in another country” (that’s a long story, itself).
See, that’s just it. Single life can be a long story that refuses to be shelved. Mine was a tome. I had carried it up to the roof and was reading sections of it to the powers that be again. At one point, I looked up from the pages and said,
“Look. You don’t have to give me a name. Just tell me when. I don’t need a date. Make it as mysterious or as symbolic as you want just, please, give me something that I can think about, something to mull over besides the tome.”
All at once, a phrase came to my mind. It was simple: “When the flowers come up.”
I repeated it out loud. “When the flowers come up.’ Okay, not bad. The flowers come up in about two months. That’s not too far away.”
I found satisfaction in the response, whether it was from the sky or not, and the parka dissolved with a yawn. I went down to bed, tying promise to the coming spring.
The year was 2000. I was twenty-three years old.
Well, that spring came and went, along with the summer and fall. A year later, I sat in the same spot with the same question. Not much had changed. The coat around my brain was just as tough and the tome, just a little longer.
Down in my apartment, my roommate Jay and his girlfriend Lauren were in the happy haze of a late Friday night. Refusing to let go of my bad mood, I passed them with a grumble, seeking peace in a bowl of Cocoa Puffs. Lauren got up and followed me into the kitchen.
“So, Brendyn,” she said with large sympathetic eyes.
Through the sympathy, I spotted an agenda. Girls love playing this role. It was the ol’ “Brendyn’s lonely so I’m gonna fix it” plan. Only, I wasn’t going to bite. No, I was wallowing in my own self-pity and it was my choice, dammit.
“You don’t even know what I’m about to say.”
“You’re not going to hook me up with one of your friends.”
With her outburst, I noticed that not only had all methods of subtlety been thrown out the window but the guy across the alley had looked over.
“Because,” I filled the bowl, intentionally letting some of the Puffs overflow onto the counter, “I hate hookups. They don’t work with me. Girls love playing the hero when someone wants a girlfriend. Forget it. I do that kinda shit by myself.”
“But you and Susan have soo much in common.”
I shoved the spoon into the cereal, causing more of a mess. “Lauren, what’s my favorite movie?”
“What kind of music do I like?”
“What do I look for in a girl?”
“Okay. What turns me off from a girl?”
She snatched a Puff from the counter and ate it.
“If you don’t know any of these things, how can she be perfect for me?”
“Because,” she replied, “you guys are both really nice, you’re both smart and…you would just like her. That’s all.”
Jay walked into the kitchen and glanced out the window. The neighbor finally looked away.
“The important question here is,” Jay said, “does this girl put out?”
Lauren wrinkled her nose. “That’s disgusting.”
“Come on,” he volleyed. “You gotta make sure it’s worthwhile for the guy.”
“Look,” I said with a mouthful of cereal. “I appreciate the support from both of you. But really, no thanks. Situations like that put too much pressure on the people getting hooked-up. The whole room watches and every move they make is psychoanalyzed. It’s like watching a friggin’ football game with John Madden. Thanks Lauren, but no.”
“But she’s really cool.”
During the third bowl of cereal:
Now, maybe it was the overdose of Cocoa or Lauren’s calculated brainwashing but eventually I caved. Hell, I had been trying for years on my own with nothing but rooftop sessions with the powers that be to show for it. It was time to try a new method.
“Alright Lauren. I’ll do it. I’ll meet your friend.”
“Yay!!!” she yelled, bouncing onto Jay’s bed.
Two weeks later, Lauren, Susan, her friend Jen, Jay, our roommate Alberto, and I were sitting in my living room. Lauren’s agenda had Susan and myself as its key targets. So, as predicted, any conversation in which we played the principle roles had the whole room rapt with attention. When I asked Susan where she was from, the other conversations in the room ground to a halt. Lauren’s grin trained two massive klieg lights on us.
“Yesss!” her smile cheered. “The plan is working!”
Susan and her family left Ireland when she was nine years old. Although thirteen years had passed, much of her Irish accent remained. That was refreshing with all of the New England accents that still sounded foreign to my Long Island ears. At that point, though, I was more taken by Susan’s face. She was very pretty with the kind of eyes that shine when their owner makes a valid point. Unfortunately, there weren’t many that night. She was too quiet for me to judge what she was really like. Jen helmed most of the conversations. This was fine by me. The fact that I had more laughs with Susan’s friend illustrated my point that hook-ups just didn’t work. I was immune and would have to find someone on my own.
They went back to Holy Cross College the following morning and I went to work. Little did I know that a buzz was bouncing around the Internet like a giant rubber ball.
That night, Jay came into my room. “I got an e-mail from Lauren today. A few, actually.”
“Yeah. She got an e-mail from Susan. Lauren thinks she likes you.”
“Jay, we spoke maybe four times last night. How can she be interested?”
“So she’s shy,” he sat on my futon. “Dag, this thing is really uncomfortable.
“Give her a chance. She’s pretty bright. Maybe,” he gave the futon a sour look and got up, “maybe what you need is a more intimate setting. You never know.”
So, I e-mailed Susan and the following night had us on the phone for nearly an hour. Finally! This was the type of conversation I had been looking for.
There’s a groove that two people can fall into when they’re having a conversation. It’s a pace, almost like two improv actors playing off of each other in perfect unison and confidence. We had that but it wasn’t all laughs. We talked about growing up, why it’s easier to find peace of mind at night, college, and how it’s different from the “real world.” She was more than just a great accent with attractive eyes. I was getting interested. We decided to meet the following Friday night – ten thousand years away.
I awoke the morning of the date thinking that it wouldn’t feel right to meet her empty-handed. I wanted to bring something. But what? Chocolate? No. Perfume? No, too French. How about flowers? Okay, but no roses. That would be excessive. Never the horticulturist, I absolutely blanked on what type of flowers to bring. Then, “lily” popped into my head.
“Lilies,” I thought. “I don’t even know what lilies look like.”
Eventually, I put it aside and went to work, figuring that something would come to me.
In those days, I was working at the John Hancock Observatory as an Observation Deck Representative. Basically, I ripped tickets and answered tourist’s questions about the city. At seven hundred and ninety feet above Boston, it was the perfect place for reflecting. If my mind was stuck on something, the giant blue sky could always melt away the barriers and get the flow moving again. Unfortunately, the “flower-dam” was constructed by some pretty hard-assed beavers. I needed help. Sometimes, the right answers come from total strangers so I brought it up in a conversation with an English woman who was in the city for “a pleasant holiday.”
“…So, it’s just gorgeous. We come every year around this time.”
“Yeah, it’s a great city.
“Can I ask you something? It’s a bit random.”
“Yes. Sure you can.”
“Okay. I’m taking this girl out on a first date tonight and I want to bring flowers but I don’t think roses are a good idea.”
“Oh, heavens no. That would be too overpowering.”
“Right. That’s what I was thinking but for the life of me, I can’t think of another type of flower.”
The woman looked out the window. “Well, lilies are nice this time of year.”
“Yeah,” I stared at her for a second. “They crossed my mind this morning.”
I ate lunch on one of the park benches across the street. At one point, a white truck drove by. “LILY” was written on its side in giant red letters. I chuckled. Moments later, another truck with the same “LILY” made me look to the sky and say, “Alright, alright. Lilies. I get it. I’ll buy her lilies.”
I stepped into Gay’s Flower Shop around five o’clock that evening. Standing before the zinnias, I decided to lend one more opinion to the search.
“Gay, I’m going on a first date tonight.”
“Really?” She put her scissors down. “That’s wonderful.”
“Thanks. I’m thinking I want to bring her flowers but decided against roses.”
“Oh, too overpowering.”
“Riiight. Any suggestions?”
“Well, spring is coming up. How ‘bout lilies?”
I smiled. “Are you all reading from the same script today?”
She laughed. “What do you mean?”
“A woman at work suggested the same thing.”
“Well, they are beautiful,” Gay walked over to a bunch of slightly wilted flowers. “These are lilies right here.”
I glanced toward the healthy purple and yellow blooms to the right. “Hey, what are these?”
Now, I know what you’re thinking. How could I disregard obvious cosmic advice and go with irises? Simple. The lilies there at Gay’s looked like they were about to ask me for spare change. I couldn’t bring them on a first date and I couldn’t just wish Gay a good night and start looking for another flower shop. So…
“Wrap up the irises.”
The lively conversation from earlier in the week continued during my dinner with Susan. We ricocheted from our families to ghosts to past relationships to Monty Python to authors to Braveheart. Traveling through each other’s personalities, we were becoming a “we” as the irises sat proudly at her side whispering, “Nice job, kid.”
After dinner, we went back to my apartment. Sitting there on my now-comfortable futon made me think of the last time I wanted to kiss someone as badly as I wanted to kiss Susan. That previous excursion was so nerve-wracking, with sweaty palms totally betraying a relaxed façade. Though, with Susan, I wasn’t nervous. As I leaned in, she smiled. It wasn’t a hook-up. It was just right.
Soon after, I said, “This is strange.”
“Well,” I looked at my watch. “It’s after midnight. So, it’s tomorrow. Tomorrow is Saint Patrick’s Day and I’m kissing a girl from Ireland.”
Susan grinned. “Strange things happen to you, don’t they?”
“Yeah sometimes, like the lilies today.”
She sat up. “What lilies?”
“Well, I got you irises. I almost got you lilies.”
She laughed. “That’s really funny. Lilies are my favorite flower. Did you know that, in Hebrew, ‘Susan’ or ‘Susannah’ is derived from ‘Lily’?”
My eyes widened. “Wow. Really?”
“So, like an idiot, I got you irises.”
She waved her hand. “How could you have known?”
Thinking of the days events, how “lily” had been in my head that morning, the flower that the English woman in the observatory had suggested, what was written on the two trucks that afternoon and the kind of flower that Gay had shown me, I looked into the room and said, “Yeah…you’re right. How could I have known?”
I began to tell her a story about a boy who used to sit on his roof and complain to God about how lonely he was. As I reached the end of the story, a simple phrase came to mind. I smiled.
In conversation, right there in my room, the flowers had come up.
© 2005-2021 Brendyn Schneider, Use or reprint not authorized without permission from the author. Flowers was published in the winter 2005 issue of Beginnings Magazine