A Rose and Sapphire Christmas

We knew without knowing that Christmas of 1990 was to be our last holiday with Howard.  His health had been steadily deteriorating and by that December, he was half crippled with neuropathies in his feet and hands and he had been fully weakened by a never-ending assault of multi-syllabled infections that we knew primarily as acronyms – CMV...KS. On Christmas Eve, we gathered at Ron’s and my apartment for dinner and to exchange gifts.  It wasn’t my finest hour. In a mournful attempt at mixing irony with holiday spirit, I wore a Christmas apron with a tree appliquéd on the bib and green ruffles encasing the entire apron. No one commented on my choice of attire but with my unkempt hair and worried, dark-circled eyes, I looked like a mash-up of Janis Joplin and Betty Crocker.

Howard gave me my Christmas gift that night.  It was a rose– a rose made of silver and vermeil.

It was beautiful.

“Do you know why I wanted you to have this?”  Howard asked.

I hesitated.  I didn’t want to say.  It was maudlin to voice what I thought.  But he was waiting, so I tried.

“Because it will never die.  It will live forever,” I said.

He never said if I was right or wrong.

Although we had screened what then existed of Beauty and The Beast, we had seen it in bits and pieces and I hadn’t really thought of the storyline or a rose’s significance in the storyline.  This was a year before the movie would actually come out, well before those marketing campaigns featuring a single red rose.

I asked Bill what he remembered of my gift – what Howard was thinking when he chose it.  If Howard had chosen it at all, given his health.

“I don’t remember much about that time,” Bill said.  “But I know he wanted to get you a rose,” Bill told me, “I do remember that”.

That same Christmas, Howard gave Bill a sapphire.

“Do you know why I gave you a sapphire?” Howard asked.

Bill wasn’t sure,  “Because it’s blue and when I look at it, I’ll always think of your blue eyes.”

Howard didn’t tell Bill if he was right or wrong, instead he said simply, “That’ll do.”  And his blue eyes grew moist.

I keep my rose here in my office.  Where I can see it as I write.

May you know love and joy, sapphires and roses, this Christmas and always.