Sometimes, when I’m lying with Izzy in her bed, we look out the window at the funny tree in front of our house. Ever since the big storm that tore one of its large limbs off causing a hollow gash in the perfect round outline of the branches, the tree has looked confused, sort of bi-polar. One side of the tree looks normal, like it’s supposed to, with its smallest branches growing in a cacophony of directions but in an acceptable range, so the shape, if you were to look at it from a distance, is rounded. The other side of the tree, where the limb was torn off, seems to have forgotten how it’s supposed to grow. The tiny branches, the newer ones, are all growing straight up towards the sky, stick straight, like each one has a string tied to its tip and is being pulled up and held tightly. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s unsettling. The two sides of the tree don’t belong together. I don’t know how they are growing out of the same trunk.
It probably wouldn’t matter to me if it was just a tree I passed one day on my way somewhere. But it’s my tree. I planted it about 15 years ago, when my marriage was young and infallible. It’s a Bartlett Pear tree and for years it did exactly what it was supposed to do. Every Fall its leaves turned color and then dropped and every Spring it grew tiny white flowers that perfumed the air with a distinctive scent that I couldn’t decide if I liked or hated. It could always be counted on to grow in a rounded oval, a little taller and wider each year.
When my marriage fell apart it felt like I had lost a limb, like a part of me had been lobbed off and had left a gaping wound. Everything I thought I knew was in question. How was I supposed to be now? A wound needs time to heal. You can’t force it. You can’t work against its natural evolution. You have to watch it closely and wait. I knew that. But I didn’t know whether to cover it or let it breathe.
When I close my eyes and think of a wound I see the color red. Not the red of bleeding. I’m talking about after the bleeding has stopped. There’s an opening in the skin and you can see the flesh. It’s like a spoon or melon scooper has carved an oval shape out of the arm or leg. And if you stare at it, allow yourself to look at it closely, to meditate on it, it can become something else, something beautiful. Deep, variegated reds, pinks, soft, ripe, raw, tender, juicy, alive, gasping for air. It looks like a Georgia O’Keefe painting, like the female anatomy. It oozes womanhood. It’s where sex happens, pulsing with blood flow. It’s the place where birth happens. Where the baby pushes out, gasping for air. It could be an abstract painting and each person who looks at it sees something different. If it’s a really good painting it will make you want to crawl into it, enter into the unknown, trying to find your way, cushioned by pillowy flesh, warm, soft and gentle.
The wound did eventually heal. You might not even know it was there. But I wasn’t the same as before. On the one hand I was still me, certainly recognizable. But now there was a part of me that was growing out of the wound and it looked different, like those weird branches growing in a completely different direction. I guess this part of me was always there, but it was hidden like a moth in a cocoon, waiting for a hole to escape through.
I started to do things I never would have done before. Dipping my toe in forbidden puddles that before I was careful to avoid. Putting on blinders to avoid seeing the raised eyebrows of people around me. I began to welcome uncertainty; crave it even.
And when eventually I found myself dating a guy 13 years younger than me, who grew up in the deep south, raised in a conservative, Christian, Republican family, who smokes Marlboros and drives a pick up truck, a guy no one would think was good for me, I realized that as crazy as it looked, as uncomfortable as it made people, I had to do it. After awhile, we both realized we needed to go our separate ways. It was inevitable. I knew that. But I also know that this part of me, this new and different side of me will never again be the same as the other side. These two sides will co-exist, growing out of me in a beautiful cacophony, reaching in different directions but sometimes touching; unpredictable, fearless, wounded and healed.