There’s a pivotal scene in the movie version of V for Vendetta that centers on a woman named Valerie. Valerie tells of her life with her lover Ruth, and how for three glorious years they had each other and a very nice life together before they were torn apart by the police state they lived in. Ruth was taken first, and then Valerie. Valerie is imprisoned in an internment camp.
Valerie’s voiceover narration from that scene:
She grew Scarlet Carsons for me in our window box and our place always smelt of roses. Those were the best years of my life.
It seems strange that my life should end in such a terrible place, but for three years I had roses and apologized to no one.
V, the protagonist in the story, is the lone surviving prisoner of Valerie’s death camp. Valerie shared her story with him via scrawlings on toilet paper, passed through a rat hole to the adjacent cell. When V exacts vengeance on the death camp’s central figures, he leaves a Scarlet Carson at the scene after he kills them, in Valerie’s memory.
There’s a lot more to the story than just roses and vengeance. It always gets me thinking about the nature, and the cost, of freedom. There’s a lot of dark stuff, and V is definitely not a cuddly hero. (And in the graphic novel – the movie is based on it – they’re Violet Carsons).
But since I’m more familiar with the movie, they’re Scarlet Carsons to me first, and I’ve ascribed my own symbolism to them. I think it might be more in line with how Valerie thought of them before her death – Scarlet Carsons as representative of the best times in life. Times filled with love, and freedom, and contentment. For Valerie, those times lasted for three years. I think for the rest of us, those times are fleeting. And itinerant.
This personal symbolism occurred to me this past May, at the end of the Memorial Day holiday. It was an enjoyable, if unremarkable, weekend. I watched Guardians of the Galaxy twice – once by myself, and another time with Tim (husband). We did some gardening (although Tim kind of did the opposite of Ruth – he trimmed the hell out of Peggy Martin, my climbing rosebush – but she’s pretty resilient. She’s already asserted herself again.) We went to Katie’s for lunch, we went to my niece’s art show. We hung out with friends at Redd’s. On the short drive to Metairie to see my brother and sister, the thought arose. This has been a Scarlet Carson weekend.
It might be this writing thing, but I feel like I’m better able to recognize the good times, the best times, as they’re happening. Or maybe it’s because my sister Julie and I were supposed to spend Memorial Day weekend going through Mom’s house, but decided to postpone. So the time opened itself up, a glorious blank slate.
Or it could be that summer is my favorite season, and by immediate comparison, this summer was tremendously better than the summer of 2014.
My mother’s decline took place for most of that year. But it became precipitous over the summer. She lost her ability to walk, her dementia worsened. My siblings and I knew her end was getting closer. That summer was marked by uncertainty, doubt. Fear.
I didn’t know it at the time, but a trip Mom and I made to the U.K. in 2002 was Scarlet Carson worthy. We started in London, rented a car, took a northwesterly route to Inverness, made our way back south to London on the eastern side. I remember her saying before we booked that if I was too busy, we could postpone, do it another time. But something told me that was the year, that was the summer to do it. As a move, a marriage, new jobs filled the intervening years for me, and aging filled those years for Mom, I know with the absolute clarity of hindsight that I was right.
And as I sit on a condo balcony in Orange Beach, Alabama, celebrating the Labor Day weekend and the end of this summer, I realize this season has had more Scarlet Carson moments than not. There’s been a new baby – my first great niece – to infuse the family with baby fever. Tim and I made a trip to Cancun with good friends. All the siblings got together in July; I had good visits with both my godparents. A surprise birthday party for Tim at Redd’s. (He was surprised). And now, ending the summer with more good friends.
I think this is the point I’m trying to make: we will not always enjoy the health that we have, we may not always have the means we have. Time and age catch us all. That’s the meaning I take from Scarlet Carsons. They remind me to relish the moments I have with people I love.