We started the tradition in our junior year of high school, only a few months after we started dating.
We had met in AP Spanish at the beginning of the year. He always told me the story of how he fell in love with me. It wasn’t love at first sight or something really cheesy that you might see in some chick flick. I still loved it though, I loved the thought of how something so simple could affect a person so much. I’ll try to tell you how he would tell me, but I’ve never been as good at storytelling as him.
So, it was about two weeks into the school year, and he walked into class and saw me sitting at my desk reading. I always got there early because it was right after my lunch period. I don’t remember what book I was reading, but he always changed the title in his version anyway. We were already friends, so he took a seat next to me and pulled out his homework. His summer homework, which was due the week before. I remember him saying something like, “Could you help me with this?” or something along that road. I couldn’t really say no, and he seemed pretty nice, so I say sure and look over to see which part he was doing. It was the assignment where we had to find some tradition or holiday celebrated by some spanish speaking country and describe it. I told him he should do Dia de los Muertos, because that’s what most people did. “Is that what you did?” He asked. No, it wasn’t. I told him I knew everyone would do the day of the dead, so I wanted to choose something else. I chose the day of books and roses. Being a huge bookworm (especially in the cheesy cute teen romance department) found this very appealing. “What’s that?” he asked, lowering his pen to his paper ready to copy my every word. I laugh, telling him I’m not going to tell him because then mine wouldn’t be the only one on Dia de Los Libros y Las Rosas, plus the teacher would know I helped him.
That’s when he always stopped. I don’t know why or how, but it was at the moment I said that that he fell for me. He said it was the way that I wanted to be different, wanted to have something that was just mine, and not follow behind the herd. He ended up writing about the day of the dead. The one thing I don’t think I ever mentioned to him, was that the very next day I fell for him too.
He arrived early to class again and took a seat next to me. “So what did you write about that book and rose day? I looked it up and there doesn’t seem like there’s much to talk about.” I closed my book and looked up at him. He was leaning on the arm of his desk, so his face was right up in mine. I remember leaning back and him leaning back too, after noticing how close he was. When I didn’t answer he kept talking. “So on April 23rd someone gives someone they like or love or whatever, a rose, and if the other person likes them back they give them a book. That’s it right? Not much more to say. So how could you have written a whole paragraph on it?” I didn’t, I wrote a whole page, maybe two. I don’t remember. But I don’t tell him that. I tell him how I thought it was unfair that one got only rose while the other got a book. The rose, while beautiful, will die soon enough and perhaps even be forgotten altogether, while the book is something that could last a lifetime, something that could hold personal value for the person giving it. “So, you don’t like the tradition?” I did, I said. I thought it was romantic and probably meant a lot to the people doing it. It’s weird I know, I told him, how I loved the thought of it but pointed out all it’s faults. I didn’t tell him all the good things I wrote though, I wish I had. He looked over at me and said, “All it said was that it’s a rose, no one said it had to be a real one.” That was it. That’s when I fell in love with him.
We were dating by the end of the month. He was so kind and funny. But I’ll tell you about all our adventures another time, if you want. Right now it’s about our tradition. It started, on April 23. Still our first year together. It was a Saturday, and I was meeting him in our usual spot, a cafe just around the corner from his house. My bag was heavy. Today I wasn’t only carrying around my book, but an extra one, too. In case he remembered. I doubted he would, but I still had hope. When he walked through the door he was smiling wider than usual. His hands were behind his back. He came over to the table and when he sat down he held out his hands to me. In them was a rose and a box. I smiled at him softly. He said to me, “I know the flower will die, but I thought maybe you could dry it and keep it pressed in a book or something.” I tell him I will and take it. Then he goes to open the box and I laugh. Inside was a chocolate rose, he said it was so I could do more than smell it. I pull the book out from my bag and slid it across the table. I hadn’t read it, but I know he had wanted to. It was some war novel I saw him looking at on one of our trips to the bookstore. He took it in one hand and took mine hand in the other. I don’t remember what else we did that day, I only remember the feeling of bliss and happiness.
We did this every year from then on. But every year the rose was different. Once it was glass, held in a case like in Beauty and the Beast, once it was a pair of earring with silver roses hanging, another time a painting he had found at some flea market. They were always different but always beautiful. I still have every rose. If I haven’t displayed it around the house it’s kept in a box next to the bed, I even have the first rose, dried and pressed. Now kept in the pages of the first book. He kept all the books, too. Each one is in the shelf in the living room.
There are two more of our stories I want to tell you.
This one was three years ago, maybe by the time you’re reading this I’ll have already told you this story, but I will tell in anyway. We were going to dinner at this new fancy restaurant. We had a table for two by a big round window looking out over the garden. It was already dark when we arrived. We had decided to save our gifts until the end of the night, but he seemed so nervous and out of sorts throughout dinner that when our dessert came I asked if he wanted to do it now. He said yes, but I should go first. I had never gone first, it was always the rose and then the book. I actually really wanted to go second that night, but he was so set on me going first. So I put the box on the table in front of him. He opened it and I could already see him relax a little. I hadn’t bought a book that year. Instead I had made one. I wrote down everything I could remember since the beginning and left blanks so he could fill in what I forgot. It was full of pictures through the years. I watched him flip through it and I knew it was perfect. He finally closed it and said it was the most amazing gift. He also said this year’s rose was different too. I didn’t know what he could have meant by that, because every year it was completely different. But as I saw him pull the box out of his pocket I knew. He was down on one knee and asked me to marry him. Of course I would say yes, but when he opened the box I was speechless. You’ve probably seen the ring by now, I don’t think I’ll ever take it off. It was a gold band with two diamonds on either side of the rose. The rose was gold too, and right in the center of it was the tiniest of rubies. Eventually I regained my ability to talk and answered the question. We were married only months later, I’ll show you pictures if you want, or maybe you’ve already seen them.
The last story really is the last. This was just one year ago. We were moving into our new apartment and he gave me his gift early, the bookshelf in the living room, with the wooden flowers carved on top. I waited until the 23rd to give him mine though. Actually I needed the extra few days just to be sure I could. I was so excited, and I thought the book was so clever, that he would laugh and be as happy as I was. When I handed him the book he seemed confused. He read the title out loud “101 unique baby names”. Slowly I saw him piece it together, his face shifting. It took him so long to finally say it out loud. I told him you were coming into the world and he started to cry. I had seen your father cry before, but not many times, no, he wasn’t much of a crier. These were happy tears though, he loved you from the moment he knew you existed. I only wish he a chance to share this tradition with you.
Today would have been the first year he gave you a rose, or maybe a children’s book about roses. I gave you your first book today, but of course I’ll have to read it to you. It will many years before you can read yourself. There were a lot of firsts today. You actually laughed for the first time today, I laughed too. It was ironic. The first time you laughed we were in a cemetery, but he wouldn’t have wanted you to cry, you don’t even understand what happened.
There was one last first today, the one I will remember this day by the most. It was the first of a new tradition. It was the first day I gave him a rose.