ALINA WALENTOWICZ | Cliché Confirmed

He seems like a nice guy. You like the way he dresses and that he’s careful with his words. Two days after he takes down your number he texts you to meet him outside the flower shop downtown, where he gallantly passes out carnations on behalf of some cause. He hands you yours with a smile and you feel special—even though he gives one to every woman and girl passing by. Conscious of the cliché, you urge yourself to remember it’s just a flower—but when you’re a girl with a chronically forgetful mother and a father who never showed up to a dance recital, it’s easy to mistake a carnation for a promise. You succumb to hypothetical hope.

When he kisses you at the end of your first date he pulls you closer, mov-
ing his hands below your waist—you stop them with your own. The two of you
stand together in a sliver of moonlight—his lips on yours, your hands in his. Then, abruptly, he pulls the hood of his sweatshirt over his head and he’s gone, leaving you alone at the doorstep. He texts you when he gets home: I need to see you again tomorrow.

You’ve been talking for a few weeks. When you see him sitting alone in
the library, you sneak up behind him. Turning around, he grins bashfully, saying your hair looks nice in a ponytail with that red ribbon tied around it—he’s excited to see you later. Looking down at the ground, you smile and maybe even laugh, because his words are foreign and absurd. If only you could spend the rest of the afternoon studying him instead of the notes for your anthropology quiz. You tear your eyes from his and force yourself to rush to class before you forget to. These days you’re late, which used to bother you, but not anymore. Caution belongs to a past life—the you before the flower. You open a text from him as you walk into class: Tonight I’m going to take your hair down and lose my hands in it. I’m going to keep that ribbon.

The first and second times he stays till morning, waking you with kisses.
Mere moments after he leaves he sends: I had fun last night, I hope you did too.
You’ve been talking for a few weeks. When you see him sitting alone in
The first and second times he stays till morning, waking you with kisses.
And then: Are you glad it was me?
You glance at the yellow carnation, displayed on the desk next to your bed—it’s begun to brown and curl at the ends. Quickly, you respond yes and suffocate your will to define anything. Your body overflows with anticipation as you wait for his response.

The next time he comes it’s at 2AM, smelling like cheap beer and greasy
wings. Between kisses, you lie and say this doesn’t bother you. He’s gone at
6AM. When you wake up, late for class, there’s no text telling you he made it
home okay. Scrambling to dress, you stop to face yourself in the mirror, surveying the disheveled hair and smudged makeup. You regret not having your ribbon to at least compliment your sweater.

The ribbon isn’t all that’s disappeared. There’s no more good morning,
beautiful or sleep tight, cutie. His texts during the day become fewer, yet increase at night—especially on the weekends. You learn the names of other women and girls who felt special when he gave them flowers. Is this new, or were the whispers always humming in the atmosphere?

It’s been a few months now, and this is the pattern: You’re both kneeling
naked on your bed, the hazy glow of the street lights spilling in through the window. He’s behind you, his hands on your hips pulling you closer to him, whisper-ing, “Tell me what you want, baby. What should we do?” This time, you know he’s talking about your bodies and not your hearts. Bowing forward on your hands and knees, you glimpse the shriveled yellow carnation on the edge of your desk, and wonder how such a fragmented collection of messages ever persuaded you to confuse the two.

In a different place, at a different time, maybe a flower meant something
more. But now it’s just a flower, cliché confirmed—briefly beautiful and destined for death.

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