If He Were a Tree

Who Are We Now?

The fifteen-year-old pussywillow in our side yard keeled over last month, a victim of heavy snow. It lay prone for several weeks, having crushed the park bench that sat beneath it, until my neighbor with a chainsaw managed to render it into firewood. I helped collect and break the branches–called “whips,”–blooming with furry “catkins” despite the tree’s demise. I saved as many branches as I could and gave a number away, knowing they root easily in water. This forty foot tree, in fact, came from a rooted branch I’d bought at a long ago farmer’s market. This week my own cuttings at last took root, and I’ll plant them soon; I’ve heard recently from a number of friends “It’s got roots, even leaves!” All this and the tree itself is hardly dead. Two or three “whips” from the twelve-inch severed trunk have already sprouted.

Who knows what shape it will take in its new incarnation? Incarnation is a funny word to use in a botanical context, with its implications for flesh (carne is Latin for meat), so perhaps resurrection, is better, this taking on of a new form.

I wish it were as easy for humans to undergo radical physical change, but we’re more complicated than trees, having, among other things, memory and consciousness. Oh yes we rise beyond health emergencies and treatments–or dismemberments–of various kinds. My husband, for example (he’s always my first example when it comes to health) has survived so many alterations: juvenile macular degeneration, the loss of a third of his colon to emergency appendectomy, necrosis of bone in his knee, the death and rebirth of six inches of nerve tissue in his arm and, of course, prostate cancer, treatments which pretty much levelled his libido and destroyed erectile function. He lost urinary function for a while–that’s fairly typical, but it returned with the help of acupuncture and drugs, and has remained intact ever since. Our intimate life together changed in ways we’re still trying to sort out. I wrote a book to try to heal it. Sometimes I think of that book as a love letter, and sometimes it’s a letter to the world and to all of the confused partners of men who have suffered these kinds of treatments and are wondering, who are we now?

If Dean were a tree he wouldn’t remember the branches taken away, or what it felt like to stand with those branches forty feet in the air. Something unconscious and innocent–call it the impulse towards life, is healing the intact roots in my side yard right now. And eight years after cancer, aware as we are of who we once were, we lie down together, starting each time all over again, and taking nothing for granted.

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