A rose by any other name ...
A year and one week ago I was driving past Splash Palace and saw something which made me brake to get a good look at a crime I was sure was about to happen.
I had just driven past this kid - I'd guess him to be between 14 and 16 - and he was walking in a way that didn't seem quite right.
He was wearing a big, black puffy jacket on a warm summer evening. His left arm was down; it was holding something he was trying to conceal and he walked with great purpose and swagger.
Something was definitely about to happen.
I did a U-turn so I could drive past the kid again. I didn't really want to follow him. I didn't want to witness anything, which would inevitably mean I'd have to go back to the newspaper and file a story.
I didn't want to chase a story that evening. I had things to do.
Things like going back to Omaui and curling up on my couch with a rum and Coke to resume staring at the ocean as I had been doing most nights after work for the last week.
Ten days before, my boyfriend of two years had left New Zealand to take a job in England and it was unclear if I was being left behind, or if we were taking a break before I followed him, or before he returned to me with a renewed visa, or if there was some country in the middle we could exist in together, conflict-free.
All of this was murky that month but still worth going over and over again in my head as I stared out to the Foveaux Strait each evening.
And of course there was a lot of lying around on his abandoned bean bag, wearing a flannel shirt of his that had also been left behind, while watching Come Dine with Me.
There were a few weepy walks on the beach.
There was the first roast I cooked up for no one but me, and the bursting into tears while slicing into a parsnip (I hated parsnips and I had only cooked them for him. Now there was no need to ever eat a parsnip again. This was sad to me a year and one week ago.)
But before I went back to my weepy bean bag world, I wanted to see where this kid was heading and what kind of damage he had or was about to inflict, and so I did the slow drive-by and was able to get a closer look.
I saw that what the kid was half concealing was not a knife, or a gun. I laughed out loud and thought "bless". It was a long-stemmed red rose, wrapped in heavy plastic and tied with a big scarlet bow. And it was like sunlight bursting through heavy, heavy clouds on my Valentine's Day.
I don't know where he was going with that rose - maybe all that adrenaline-fueled striding was what he needed to do to get his courage up to hand it, feet shuffling, to his beloved. Maybe that swagger was there because he was the recipient and he was doing a victory lap past his mates at the skate park - but man, that kid in the baggy pants and big puffy jacket with the hat turned sideways made my toughened, shrivelled little heart grow a few sizes bigger on that afternoon drive back to Omaui.
Maybe that moment was just for me to see.
I thought about that kid last week when I was walking home through the snow on Valentine's Day night, a year later. There had been a whole evening serving oysters and duck and opening bottles of wine next to white linen-covered tables doused in rose petals and candlelight.
I thought about how much can happen in twelve months, and how your heart can soften and expand again and how what you want can change.
And how just when you think you've reached a respectable age when the adventures of your youth are behind you and you have it all sorted, they are suddenly not behind you and you most definitely do not have it all sorted.
The irony is that I thought of that kid most of all because, this year, I was the one wearing a big puffy jacket and half concealing a single red rose wrapped in plastic at my side like a weapon. Half of me was deeply concerned that anyone peering out their window would think I looked ridiculous marching through the snow with a rose from a guy who has gone from being a co-adventuring sidekick here in Montana, to becoming a boy I like and someone I make excuses to be near all the time, and who - my flatmates say - I have a lot of warmth in my eyes for.
The other half of me was daring someone, anyone, to yell something lame to me from an open window, because you know what? This rose made me feel special. And I think the boy who gave it to me is cool. And I didn't care how I looked.
In fact, I'd describe that walk home through the snow, past the barn lights as I scattered the elk lingering around the corrals and sniffing for hay, as having a bit of a new momentum to it; a bit of a spring in each step. A bit of defiance.
Maybe even a bit of a swagger.