a story by Anne Borden

Sometimes I envy those chummy exes. You know, the ones who live together for a time after they decide to split, while the one gallantly helps the other one find an apartment? Who loan each other sweaters and meet for lattes on their lunch hour? Who have a seemingly amicable separation, and a downright jolly divorce?

On some days, I envy them. On other days, I think of them as sanctimonious f**s.

For most of us, it’s messier. We leave our homes alone one day – abruptly or after years of planning – with suitcase in hand and a cat tucked under one arm. Never to return, and certainly not for Passover. We remember each other’s birthdays, sure … but alone, and decades later those milestones still make us cry. We don’t live on the same street; in fact our lives are circumscribed by avoiding a certain café or club, or a certain street, or a rather large swath of the city.

Like, a normal breakup.

In the end, shared assets are divided, shared responsibilities delegated. The me in TEAM takes over. And it is the end. New beginnings are forged as individuals, and it becomes impossible for one new individual to reach out to that other, entirely new, individual. You think about picking up the phone to call, but you don’t.

Out of fear? Maybe. But also out of a hard-won respect for that new person. The stranger you once knew too deeply.

And so I found myself alone on a Saturday morning in the front yard of my ex-home (which we now rent to tenants), waiting for the tree removal service. A storm had blown down a beautiful, 6-year-old Serviceberry tree and the tenant had called me, breathless, at 8 am. “It’s in the street!” she’d gasped. I gasped, too, when I first saw those splayed branches in the street. Dogwalkers tiptoed across the sapling trunk. A busybody neighbour tsked: “Such a shame.” Another called out: “Hey, I think you can still save that tree…”

Mr. Kumar of Urban Tree Care pulled up in his truck.

“No, we can’t save it. It’s been sick for some time now; you can tell by the roots. All it took was one strong wind to take it down.”

“I never knew it was sick. It looked good.”

“ We can take it away this afternoon some time. The cost is two hundred and fifty.”

“Can I pay you cash?”

Perhaps, in some parallel universe, my ex and I would have met up at the house with a pair of lumberjack’s axes and made quick work of that soft, green wood. A tidy pile of logs that one of us would lug to… to the summer cottage, where together with our new lovers, we would gather around the fire and raise our glasses over a toasty pyre. From loss would come an enlightened catharsis, with grief turned to ash as our Serviceberry swirled in great clouds into the starry sky! …

Instead, there was me and the tree guy. The wind rustled through sun-dappled leaves. The sweet, dusty scent of life, forever stilled, enveloped us. Mr. Kumar sighed. I shed a tear. For lost love, lost opportunities? Maybe. But also, more simply, for that beautiful, lost tree.

© 2011, Anne Borden