The day after the limb came down, barely missing our neighbor’s new Mustang for the second time, I took the phone book down from the top of the refrigerator. She came out of the bedroom and walked right past me without a word.
I marked this wordless passing as strange, but I needed to find an arborist. I found a list of numbers and started dialing and asking for rates. While I was on the phone, she came in and put together a bowl of mini-wheats and soy milk. She didn’t talk, and I noticed how she didn’t try to catch my eye, either. I guess if I’m honest, I knew right then that I was in trouble for something.
As for the tree, I settled on a man who would remove the tree and also de-stump the place where it had been, as well as all the other places around our yard where the last owner’d cut down a scattered crew of other trees. This new guy wasn’t the man who had trimmed the tree down the first time, because that guy had told us the thing wouldn’t be a menace anymore and that was clearly a lie. The tree was out in the lawn with yet another giant limb split off its trunk and fluttering its leaves in our front yard for all to see.
I put my cell phone down and grabbed my coffee and went to see what was going on with my wife. She was on the couch reading The Economist and eating her cereal. She didn’t turn when I came in.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, because it had to be something.
“Nothing,” she said. “When is the tree guy coming?”
“Thanks for taking care of that.”
“No problem,” I said. “But seriously, what’s wrong? You didn’t say a thing to me when you got up.”
“You were on the phone.”
This was now tedious. “Yeah, but before that,” I said. “Look, I know you, so just spill it.”
She put her cereal on the coffee table about as indignantly as I could imagine someone putting a bowl of cereal on a coffee table.
“I’m just thinking,” she said.
“All right. Okay. What are you thinking about?”
She looked at me for the first time that morning. “Ok, I’ll tell you, but you have to promise not to be upset.”
I looked at the ceiling. Great. “Ok,” I said.
“Three things. One: I want to have kids, but I don’t want yours. Two: I don’t think I’ll ever find you sexually attractive again. And three: I’m not sure why I married you, but it might have been just to keep you happy.”
These days, I can hear these words and treat them like toxic canisters I buried in the ground and marked with the loudest signs I could find. I can say to myself, “Those deadly things are over there.” That’s the nature of distance. It makes you think the shit is over there.
At the time, what I thought was, “JESUS FUCKING CHRIST! I was just happy I’d taken care of that fucking tree, and now look at this shit!”
I didn’t say anything to her. I put my coffee down and grabbed my keys and left the house. I got in my car—the gas-guzzling Dodge with lots of horsepower and AC enough to defeat the Texas heat—and I went for a drive around the most conservative suburbs in the country.
* * *
A few things about trees:
Bradford Pears, it was explained to me by the first arborist (a fat round white man with a Tilly hat and a fat black moustache) are notoriously weak trees. I drove out of my subdivision (those things they plop down in Texas that are labyrinths of six-foot-tall fences, wide sidewalks, mowed lawns, and anthills the size of basketballs sliced in half), and I was reminded how many other houses were tucked beneath the shadows of structurally unsound Bradford Pears. Developers plant them because they grow fast and look pretty and sell homes. But if the trees grow for too long, their shit apparently just starts falling on cars and feral stray cats.
Something about a place like Texas is that hardly anything ever looks old. The soil is loose, weak, and few things can take root for a serious length of time. It’s not like the northeast, or even the old growth of the northwest. In the south, the houses and trees are short; the time for which they’re needed even shorter.
My wife and I had specifically looked for a house with some trees, because they seemed in such short supply. We were from the north, and we both liked trees. We’d written a tree into our wedding vows. We both said we were going to be like a tree with two great branches, growing in our own way, but always held together by a unified trunk.
We’d been sold on our house because of the giant agave cactus in the backyard (or maybe that was me) and the giant shady Bradford Pear in the front yard (definitely both of us).
Suckers, I guess. Suckers like the rest of the idiots in my subdivision.
* * *
I am not a fast driver by nature, especially not in Texas. I resented the hazardous, maniacal, me-first way those fucks drove so much that in protest I became a very good driver. But that morning, it was bright, sunny, and there weren’t a lot of cars out, and I pushed it. I had the needle in the sixties when the posted speed was thirty, ninety when it was sixty. I was flying (for me). I had a CD in the player—Radiohead’s OK Computer—and I turned it up. She called and called. I didn’t answer. I drove and stayed out until the light started to fade.
I don’t believe in God. Lost my faith when I talked too long to some Jehovah’s Witnesses and discovered that really, when pushed (and they can be pushy), I believe faith is lunacy. So I’d put a lot of redirected faith into my marriage; I’d built up its importance. The man who writes goofy metaphors and promises he can’t keep into his wedding vows is a man who is goofy and unrealistic when it comes to his marriage.
These were the things I knew that day, driving under that Texas sun:
My marriage was splitting apart. The road ahead was empty.
You can’t really drive fast enough or angrily enough at such times, but I eventually calmed down and went home. She apologized profusely. She hadn’t meant it; it was all stuff she was “just thinking” about, and she didn’t know if any of it was true. I accepted her apology, because I was the kind of guy who bought a house because the Bradford Pear in the front yard looked nice.
But the Bradford Pear is not a very strong tree, and two months later I moved out. Went back to the northeast without her.