He used to give me peach daisies. I told him I hated flowers, but he picked one for me every Monday on our walk home from school, stow it in my palm and run ahead before I could give it back. It would end up on the ground, the petals smashed by bike tracks and roller blades of the next-door neighbors. When we stood on the porch of our brick farmhouse, he’d look at my empty hand in disappointment.
He didn’t understand.
He would never understand.
I didn’t hate the color or the feel of the velvet petals on my fingertips. It was the severed stem, the earthy smell of fresh grass, which reminded me too much of that one time a wild bunny was chopped in half by our dad’s lawn mower.
We don’t know what we miss until it’s gone.
I miss the soft petals of those peach daisies.
When I was thirteen, he gave me turquoise tulips. He’d stalk the front yards of the garden club, snag some from their flower boxes at the beginning of spring. They smelled like Dad’s not-so-secret girlfriend, who watched us on weekends when he and Mom fought. I threw them in the backyard in memory of our kitten that was mauled by a fox the year before. He prayed for it to find peace.
He’d give roses to girlfriends and prom dates but never tulips.
I felt special in that way.
After my first heartbreak, he left an amber marigold outside my bedroom door. I sobbed over the petals of the lonely flower, desperate to fill the empty ache. It sunbaked in my windowsill, and I spent my summer wilting away. Sometimes, even the loveliest things need solitude to appreciate their worth.
He didn’t know what to say, but the marigold said enough.
For my graduation, he gave me assorted lilies—the biggest bouquet I’d ever seen. Dad complimented his fresh haircut, Mom swooned over his fiancé, and I reminded him that I hated flowers. He feigned a laugh, looked at me regretfully, and tried to understand something he never could. That night at dinner, my stepmom said lilies were the fragrance of nostalgia. Mom disagreed. I left them at the table for the waiter who was working late.
When people get older, they forget things.
Sometimes, I forgot to smell the flowers.
At his wedding, his best friend’s daughter threw ivory petals down the aisle. The bride carried scarlet roses to match her shoes. During the reception, he gave me mauve carnations. He said they complimented my lavender dress. Mom got drunk while the couples danced. The maid of honor excluded me from the after party, and I cried in the bathroom alone. I left the flowers in the punchbowl in honor of the memories I couldn’t be a part of.
I didn’t really know why I hated flowers until he was gone.
They moved to Hawaii after his son was born. His wife got a job marketing coffee beans. He arranged flowers for events at hotels and outdoor venues. After the first year, he stopped calling. Our talks were reduced to letters on birthdays and Christmas. Mom would visit during the summers, and I’d make plans to go that always fell through.
Now, he sends me Plumerias. I tore apart the first box in a rage, realizing the flowers had always been a replacement. I missed the daisies. They were the only ones he gave me just to give. As we got older, he supplemented his time with more flowers, different kinds, hoping to win my approval one day. I didn’t want the flowers … I wanted him. But he moved on, and the flowers were all I had left.
Every year, I grow more attached to the Plumerias. When I smell them, I think of Hawaii and the brother who still believes I secretly love flowers.