By Renee Geel
Passing by tables mounded with ripe, red tomatoes and silk-tassled corn and artisan cheeses at the Tuesday Farmer’s Market, I was walking in a kind of haze. I was absorbed by the somewhat inexcusable actions of the main character in my novel and the essential point I was trying to mine for an article on life regrets and reconcilements. Both the character and the article were tormenting me. I’d meet the deadline for the article, but when, everyone asked me, would I be finished with that novel? If something is good, I reassured myself, the timing will work out. It just will.
That’s when I saw it. The potted rosemary plant, I mean. And immediately after, I saw her. Rosemary, the woman who got the one who got away. It was like split-second peripheral shifting of utmost uncertainty where I wanted to rest my gaze. To one side was the rosemary plant, looking surprisingly wilted, desperate for water and maybe some windowsill talk. Who on earth did I think I was, anyway? I killed every plant I attempted to grow, it didn’t seem to matter what it was: basil, irises, impatiens. Can you believe impatiens?
And on the other side, standing in heels and a slim black skirt, hair pulled up in a busy and accomplished woman’s chignon, stood the well-put-together source of all my angst for the last 22 years. The woman married to the man I was so sure was right for me. Rosemary. She’d given birth to and raised three children with him, and she still managed to look perfect, shopping at the Farmer’s Market after work, before going home to make dinner for her family of five. I, on the other hand, was going home to make dinner for my family of two. My blessed family of two: my husband and me. After which, I would go upstairs to my office and flick on the computer and nurture the 283-page-and-still-growing piece of fictional rebellion that was my child.
When, oh when, was it ever going to grow up and be ready to leave home? It didn’t matter who asked me or how much they cared for me. They meant no harm. They just didn’t understand the complexities of writing a novel. Writing a novel on top of a full-time job. Oh, but you don’t have children. It must be nice to have all that time to yourself so you can write your book. You’ve been working on it for what seems like a long time. When did you say you’d be finished? Or worse, the friend who joked that she hoped she wasn’t dead first.
I have never said when I expected to be finished, avoiding this subject like others avoid washing windows. No children, no demands. That’s what I figure they figure. A life half-lived. And well, I do work from home after all. The shifty freelancer. We all know they only pretend to work.
But there it was – the rosemary; and there she was – Rosemary. One looked neglected, deprived, presumably, of sun and water. The other looked glowing, thriving, presumably, on love and responsibility.
And then there was the issue of the deadline. What was the essential point I was trying to make in that article anyway? Life regrets and reconcilements. A sort of sugared lemons-to-lemonade piece of Pollyanna that, without a direct punch to the stomach, elicited an internal eye-roll.
I saw Rosemary’s sunglassed, chignoned, perfect profile move in my direction, and I quickly turned away, back toward the other rosemary. I wasn’t sure she even knew who I was. And the few times I’d actually seen them together – Rosemary and her husband, my ex-boyfriend and source of my not-so-ex heartache – it was from enough of a distance that no explanations or uncomfortable detours were necessary.
So, there it sat, the rosemary, looking painfully in need of love and water. And there I stood, feeling painfully in need of giving love and water. I stopped at the table, grazed the wilting petals with a finger, thinking that perhaps I wasn’t so far from discovering that kernel of truth for the article or from understanding the previously inexcusably selfish actions of my main character. I took out my wallet and the bottle of Evian from my purse and poured some water into the dry soil of the plant, the resinous, nurturing smell that would comfort my kitchen windowsill filling the unusually humid September air.
I would stop judging my character so harshly and finish the novel when it was ready to be finished. I would meet the article deadline, the punch now coming into focus. And I would care for the rosemary and my husband and me. My family was growing, I thought, adjusting my sunglasses, straightening my shoulders. Growing and preparing to leave home. Rosemary, I realized, nurtures as much as she needs to be nurtured.
A freelance editor and writer, Renee Geel has a B. A. and M. A. from the University at Albany. She lives with her husband in upstate New York and is a frequent contributor to MyStoryLives. She looks forward --with confidence-- to finishing her novel.