The indoor tree next to what could laughingly be called our entertainment center had been in critical condition for at least a year. I bought it when we moved into our apartment six years ago. The job of the tree was to fill in the hole between our living room wall and the…um…cupboard that housed our TV and some stretchy exercise straps that we were supposed to use while watching Olberman, but never did. Without the tree, we’d be staring at the scraggly bunch of wires and boxes that made our TV go. The leafy tree was a decorative solution that Pat found unnecessary. What was wrong with seeing a few wires, he argued? He also dredged up my sketchy history with plants, including the demise of window boxes full of impatiens that dried up like raisins in the sun.
The root of our disagreement about the tree was not the wires or my negligent past, however, it was money. It’s always money. Pat will always be on the side of not spending a dime on anything ever, even if it means living with a car that needs to be filled with a gallon of water before turning it on, a mattress whose spring will stab you every time you roll too far to the left, and a drawer full of jockey shorts that are more vapor than substance,
When the two arms of Pat’s glasses fell off a couple of years ago, he attached string to the specs with electrical tape and tied them around his head. He was so pleased with his absolutely free solution that he wore them like that for over a year and was delighted to show anyone his handy work whenever they asked about them. Which they did frequently.
I bought the tree without asking Pat what he thought about the expenditure. This is how our domestic politics work around purchasing. I agree to live in an apartment that looks like it’s inhabited by inventive orphan boys on a deserted island and whenever I decide that amenities like dinner plates need to be purchased, I buy them without discussion. They simply appear and are grudgingly accepted by the orphans who would rather eat off of repurposed vinyl albums from the basement.
What made the tree unique in the purchasing history of our household was that it didn’t simply materialize. It was too big for me to move by myself. This meant that Pat had to acknowledge the existence of the tree when he helped move it into the apartment, and this felt like acquiescence to Pat. As a consequence, he always hated the tree.
To the tree’s credit, it struggled for life mightily in the dark hole, unloved by the father of the house and frequently neglected by the mother. Its leaves turned brown and fell off, to be then swatted around by the cat. Several leaves broke off even when they were green, bashed by the door of the TV cupboard.
Had the tree been a child, Pat and I would be serving time right now. I will spare readers more graphic details of the slow murder of this living thing and skip to last week, when I heard a death rattle near the television and discovered the tree listing at a 45 degree angle, completely brown, a small scrap of paper crumpled beside it. What I feared was a suicide note turned out to be an IOU to Murphy for two dollars I purloined from his piggy bank recently.
“Well, you got your wish,” I announced to Pat that evening. “The tree has finally died.”
“I never wished for its death,” Pat said. “I only wished that we hadn’t bought it in the first place.”
“Hairsplitting, “ I said. “Can you throw it out tomorrow? It looks awful and I’m afraid it’s going to fall on one of the children.”
Pat shrugged in what looked like the affirmative. The next evening, however, the dead tree was still leaning into the living room.
“Can you move the tree tomorrow?” I asked Pat.
“I’ve got a busy day,” he said. “I’ll get to it as soon as I can. But, to be honest, moving the tree is not a high priority.”
“I’ll say,” I said.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You never liked the tree,” I muttered. Pat shrugged.
The next afternoon, the boys and I returned home to find the tree leaning over even further. It was as if its ghost was insisting on the attention it never got in life. Pat was out with some buddies so I was stuck with the damn thing for another whole night. I seethed with rage and remorse. After putting the boys to bed, I sat on the couch glaring at the formerly living, now conspicuously dead, monument to every stupid decision I’d made in my whole life.
What did I need Pat for? I’d move it myself.
I squatted next to the huge clay pot at its base, grabbed both sides of it and pulled. It stayed put. I pulled again. It scootched an inch or two. I tried rocking it from side to side. No go. Then I discovered that by pulling entirely on one side, I could get it to move further. Alternating sides, it took me about an hour to worm the thing out of its spot and on a path out the door. My hands began to hurt, my pulse was pounding, my forehead wet. But I couldn’t stop now. Pat might refuse to move it again, leaving it in the center of the living room to jeer at me in silent, dead mockery. I leaned down to the pot and put my shoulder into it. Groaning with the effort, I scooted the tree across the floor inch by inch.
Stopping to take a breath, I heard, “Mommy.” I looked up to see Spencer, his eyes wide.
“What are you doing?” he asked, more like an accusation than a question.
“Nothing, honey,” I said, leaning onto the pot, a bead of sweat dropping onto my hand. “I just thought it was time to get rid of the tree.”
“But it’s eleven o’clock at night,” said Spencer.
“It’s taking Mommy a little longer than she thought.”
“Why don’t you leave it for Daddy?”
“Ahh,” I said, catching my breath. “Ah. Ah. Well. Daddy doesn’t think that moving the tree is that important and I want to get it done right now.”
“OK,” he said, sounding confused. “You want some help?”
“Oh,” I said. “No, that’s OK. You should sleep. It’s a school night.”
“I can’t sleep with you making those sounds though.”
“Right.” I thought for a moment. “OK. You push and I’ll pull.”
Spencer squatted down and I swung around to the other side. Between us, we made better time and we finally got it out the door.
Should I have left the tree in the middle of the floor? Should I have abandoned the enterprise and let Spencer go to sleep? Possibly. But it felt good to be rid of the tree. I hadn’t needed Pat to help or agree, although I’m sure he would have gotten around to it eventually. Pat had been honest with me. Moving the tree wasn’t a priority for him. It was my tree. My burden. And ridding myself of that burden had become so urgent that I found my own solution and had accepted help.
Lesson learned, tree.
|Pat on the set of Mad Men, wearing the aforementioned string glasses|