I was driving home the other day, a familiar route. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, and there were those wispy clouds my grandmother used to call mare’s tails high up; their white trailing off into the perfect summer blue. I noticed a tree, one I’ve driven past close to a hundred times, and realized it was dead. Bare.
- You’re damning me.
- What is that supposed to mean? I don’t understand.
- You don’t have to. I’m damned anyway.
- I don’t understand what you’re talking about. Damning you how?
- I will hurt everyone that loves me. I will cheat. I will lie. I will never be happy.
- Well, if that’s your outlook, that’s what will happen.
- I think I want to drive head on into a truck. You want me to suffer and die.
- No I do not.
- You want to tear me apart.
That tree, without a single leaf or bud, suddenly stuck out to me. I watched a sparrow fly right past it, followed its path across the road, thinking how many times have I driven past this tree and never looked at it.
How many times over the course of a marriage do you not see the other person? Do you ignore a glance, a word, the shrug of shoulders? How many times do you try to reach out and touch the other, but you miss, because you’re too slow and the other person has moved, imperceptibly, just enough to evade your hand? How long do you pass the other person without really looking at one another?
- Why did you promise me you would stay when you left?
- I made mistakes.
- Why did you marry me if it was a lie?
- It wasn’t a lie! Nothing was ever a lie. You don’t listen to me! You never hear me.
- Try telling me, I’ll listen. I swear.
- I have to get ready for work. I can’t do this anymore.
Driving, looking at a tree, wondering how many times I’ve passed by without noticing it. Then I saw a truck — big, red, and rusty, headlights on for some reason even though the sun was still out. It was summer, 5pm in New York and everything was shining and would be for another four hours or so. I thought of her texting me she wanted to drive head on into a truck but that’s not what I want. I want to live and see the sunset and go home and move again maybe and start again. I turned the wheel sharply, and heard my dog thump into the door in the backseat —
- I’m taking pills and drinking. I can’t talk anymore.
- I guess I’ll never get a straight answer out of you.
- I WANT TO DIE. IS THAT NOT ENOUGH.
Animals and plants teach us about ourselves. If you watch and listen closely, you can see birds show you the way, dogs nudging us in the right direction away from a stranger, cows laying down before a rainstorm, horses watching us with their big, brown eyes. Crows make tools out of spare wire to get their work done. How can we not kneel down every day and watch the world unfold around us with gratitude and shining tears of love and awe streaming down our cheeks? How do we save heartbreak for humans, humans we know are going to break our hearts, and not for the innocence of the setting sun or the songs of whales?
How is a red truck barreling headlong towards you similar to the shock you feel when you discover your wife is in love with another woman and you had no clue?
- You were the love of my life and I destroyed us. I’m fucking devastated.
- Me too. That’s why I’m trying to understand.
After weeks of your wife saying she would be coming home -she just needed a little more time to sleep at her new lover’s house even though it had been over a month already, you told her to forget it. If she couldn’t choose between you, the woman she married, and her, the woman she decided to fuck out of the blue what was the point?
The day she came to get all of her things and move out, into that homewrecker’s apartment, she left behind piles of things throughout the house. You gathered it all in the dining room, knowing she would be back to drop off your toolbox she had accidentally took.
“You have a bunch of stuff you missed,” you inform her as she walks through the door. She looks like a stranger. You have no idea who this person is, the person you married three years earlier.
“I can’t take that. I don’t have room for it,” she says.
“Does this look like a fucking storage unit to you?” you immediately snap, your heart jumping into overdrive. She laughs, but it’s not really a laugh, it’s really her breath stabbing your heart in sharp little exhalations, her eyes narrowed and glittering.
“That’s cute. That’s really funny. I can’t take it.”
“Listen, I don’t give a shit what you do with it. Why don’t you and your girlfriend fucking figure it out? If you don’t take it right now, I swear to god it’s all going out on the curb.” You start grabbing boxes and bringing them outside, stomping across the hardwood floors, wanting to hurt her, wanting to push her down, wanting to make her pay for laughing at you.
“You can’t do that! You can’t fucking do that!” She is following you, watching as you drop her boxes heavily next to the little orange car you will be signing over to her in the weeks to come.
“Fucking watch me. I don’t give a shit,” you shout. Part of you wonders if your neighbors are tired of the shouting matches, the histrionics, the slamming of every door you can get your hands on. It’s a wonder you haven’t done some physical damage to the house like your wife did, kicking a hole in the wall that you needed your father to help you patch afterward.
“You’re such a fucking cunt. You’re fucking crazy,” she says, which seems like her favorite phrases to hurl at you lately, and now it’s your turn to laugh, laugh and laugh while you continue the furious march between the dining room and the car.
“Get out of my fucking life,” is the last thing you shout at her, and finally, she leaves, and you’re alone, all alone, in the deafening silence of the house you two had bought together only two years earlier.
Unlike the torturing arguments, the flailing of limbs, the hours of conversation punctuated by sobs, the turn of the wheel worked, saved by something like inches and a fraction of a second. No maneuver saved your marriage, but you were able to save your life.
The red truck and I avoided each other, breathlessly, and I watched his brake lights flash in my side mirror, some thirty feet down the road, as if he was trying to understand what the hell had just happened and what the alternative could have been. I think of my ex-wife and her wish to die. I hope she doesn’t meet her end at the front end of a truck or the sharp edge of a knife. I hope she swerves or shakes or stumbles and continues to find her way, despite our inability to navigate the death of our marriage. My dog shook herself off and laid her head on my shoulder from the backseat. That dead tree almost killed us, I say, and feel her nod.