Many years ago, when my husband and I were in living in an apartment in New Haven, we had a maple tree in our backyard that was kind of sick. It had black spots on the leaves and didn’t ever turn beautiful colors in the fall. Then one spring it started to look better, and a friend of ours asked us if the tree represented something in our lives that had been infirm but now doing better. My first thought (and I might have even said it) was why ask us about something negative and stir up trouble like that? No tree was going to be a metaphor for some sort of pathology in my life. But my husband, who is adept at getting in touch with his inner pathos, went into some deep analysis about how the tree did indeed represent some lingering malady of his that was now on the mend. I remember my internal scoffing at the notion.
Well, several years later, I find myself returning to the tree metaphor. On our last wedding anniversary before we broke up, my now ex and I decided to plant ourselves a tree. My mother had planted trees when my sister and I were each born, and it seemed like a good idea, especially since our deck is overly sunny and needs some shade during the summer. Being the fanciful sorts that we are, my ex and I chose a gingko tree because we find it aesthetically pleasing. It has such beautiful fan-shaped leaves and turns a gorgeous golden color in the fall. After planting it though, we read that it isn’t really a good shade tree. Oh well.
The tree was pretty small because we didn’t have the money to invest in a more mature tree. But it was more than a sapling, and we thought we’d be living in the house for a while and could wait to see it grow. My ex had done some research that gingkos were prone to grow crookedly if they weren’t staked well in the early years so for the first year, we rigged something together, something, mind you, not very sturdy or sophisticated. Alas we are academics, not terribly handy people.
I don’t think the marriage survived much more than a year past this planting by no fault of the tree, of course. This spring, however, I looked out my window and noticed how good the tree looks. Its trunk is growing really straight and tall. It looks strong…and proud, actually. Even though I had resisted the original mention of the tree metaphor (perhaps because I found it displeasing to think of my sick tree as a representation of something in my life), I couldn’t help but make the same analogy today. Despite our break up, my relationship with my ex is thriving. In fact, it is much better than it was when we were together. Even though we no longer have the stabilizing force of marriage to hold us up (the staking of the tree, if you will), we communicate and see each other almost every day, not just because of the kids-although they certainly bring us together- but also because we are still friends. We still love each other and want to be a part of each other’s lives. Like the tree that has new branches and leaves, we have found new ways of communicating and resolving conflict. Like the tree, we are reaching for new heights. What we were unable to do when we were together, we are doing now,and that is getting along. And for this, like our anniversary gingko, I am quite proud.