(After reading ‘Wants’ by Grace Paley)
I lived in Copenhagen for years, and like to remember the many sounds of snow underfoot. I lived in a treehouse for a week of environmental protest, and gladly recall why I was up there with the leaves whipping around me on windy nights. Floundering at age twenty I mistakenly thought being in the navy would suit my peripatetic urges, and found myself trapped in a sunken submarine exercise. I still recall the brisk fresh air once the submarine breached, the hatches had opened and I decided the navy wasn’t for me. A decade has passed since my marriage ended, yet this morning I woke thinking of those years with him, and not these other times.
My ex-husband and I don’t talk, we’re South and North Korea circa 1950, even though we live only a couple of suburbs apart and spawned three children. Lately I have seen him getting lunch at the poky mall near my workplace. He must see me too, but according to our divorce-bruised young-adult kids, he says I’ve ruined his life, so naturally enough he doesn’t want to speak to me. Each time I have left him alone. I’m not mischievous.
A while back I saw him at the mall around midday getting his lunch in the food court that has just six outlets. He was at the place which sells salad wraps and fresh juices. Then last week I saw him again on the street at the mall entry, getting money out of the ATM and that reminded me of when we’d separated and he was withdrawing $400 a day cash until $20,000 was gone. Even now I don’t know what he spent it on. So I was again going to walk past him without saying hello, when a truck negotiating a parking spot drove into a jacaranda tree growing in the square of earth given to it on the footpath near us. It was about fifteen years old, that tree. I know, because I’ve worked nearby all that time.
As the truck nudged the tree, it shook and splintered in a shower of mauve petals. I waved furiously at the driver trying to stop him grinding further into the tree. My former husband left the catastrophe straight away, his lunch and a coffee in hand. A few of us exclaimed at the driver’s idiocy and willful violence. By Monday, the tree had been removed by the council. All that is left now is a low stump and a few purple petals.
My birthday comes when the jacarandas are in flower across the city. When I think of my birthday, I think of the jacarandas. And, as I do each year on my birthday, today I woke needing to take account. I thought about the petals and my former husband striding away with not a word spoken, again. Some people really know how to hold their breath. Not me. I let go. Just like that.