On my return to Istanbul, I began to investigate the many uses of the rose. At the Spice Bazaar in Eminönü I bought rose clay soap, attar of roses, dried rosebuds for tea, and more rose petal jam, all made from the pink damask roses from Isparta that Turkey is so rightly proud of. The clear oil distilled from the petals of those mountain roses is said to be worth its weight in gold. In the days that followed, I was reminded why roses have been exchanged by lovers for so many hundreds of years. I went out into the city wearing invisible dots of rose oil—one on each wrist, and another in the notch at the center of my collarbone. At night I brought the scent of rose clay soap into bed with me, warm, but slightly dark, a whispered reminder of thorns.
The fragrance of roses is vertical—over the course of a day it gets deeper and richer until, quite suddenly, you've reached the final layer, and it's gone. Little by little, there in my Istanbul bed of roses, my emotions fell back into their natural order. I slept calmly, without dreams.
However awful the storm of my disappointment, it's a response that belongs to me. It's my heart, after all. My territory, my kingdom. And since I'm the only one with the authority to surrender it, I can also take it back. The retraction is painful, of course, but it comes in handy when yearning for the wrong someone. Break the heart and its borders close, accepting no visitors until the worst is over.
And at the low points before you're ready to recover, when you feel something in you so wild, something like a sob you could never have enough breath to let out, when sleep does nothing for you and music actively makes things worse, I recommend accepting the friendship of roses: They promise the fulfillment of desire but don't have an air of laughter about them the way other flowers do. The rose commands (that's why it's sometimes called the sultan of flowers). It is solemn and insistent and will make its promise until you answer that you'll wait faithfully for what you want.
There's a couplet of Rumi's that struck me years ago, though I didn't quite grasp its imperative tone at the time. Now I think he might have written it like that because this is just how it happens:
"With friends, say only mystery.
Near roses, sing."
Helen Oyeyemi's latest book is the novel Boy, Snow, Bird (Riverhead).
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