Culture Magazine

He Promised Her a Rose Garden

By Starofdavida
I've never been a poet, but here's an attempt.
It was 1976.
Peak of the women’s lib movement.
New York, New York.
Peak of the peak.
She was going for a PhD in psych.
She could, thanks to Betty Friedan.
“After you finish your PhD,” he told her,
“We’ll move to Long Island.
Have three or four kids.
Buy a house.
With a white picket fence,
And a rose garden.”
She was nineteen.
She fell for it.
A week after the wedding
He got fired.
It wasn’t such a surprise.
Between the mental illness
Never showing up
And long sick leaves
It was just a matter of time.
“I won’t get a job immediately,” he told her.
“You can type anywhere.
I have to do something important.
I have to have a career.
I’m the man of the house.”
She felt like she had been slapped.
You can type anywhere.
Well, she could.
And since he wasn’t getting a job,
She had to.
She couldn’t finish her PhD dissertation.
She was working too many hours.
When she wasn’t working,
She was cleaning his toilet,
Cooking his dinner.
You can type anywhere.
It would ring through her head for years.
She typed for thirty years.
He rarely worked.
She never finished her PhD.
Never moved to Long Island.
Never even bought an apartment.
There was only one child, a girl.
(After nineteen years. He was impotent.)
There was certainly no white picket fence.
Definitely no rose garden.
After 36 years of no rose gardens,
36 years of severe mental illness,
She finally couldn’t take it anymore
And put him in a nursing home.
She told all this to her daughter.
You can type anywhere.
She quoted it bitterly,
She would never forget it.
Her daughter wouldn’t, either.
Don’t be like me, she said.
Don’t fall for that.
Don’t fall for the picket fence.
Don’t fall for the rose garden.
Don’t listen when he says that you can type anywhere.
The only typing you’ll do is legal briefs.
You can, thanks to Betty Friedan.

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