on the page magazine

special supplement
spring 2001


Naked Trees

a seasonal tale

by Nina Jordan

I gave myself the second Sunday of November to feel sad. I walked across Central Park determined to cry, hoping the crumpled leaves and bare branches would bring pain, but the bold trees standing naked without fall foliage's embraces didn't make me cry. That night I read Anna Quindlen's novel, One True Thing, so I could be over and done with my feelings of loss, but even that overly sentimental combination of death, love, and family didn't bring the tears I craved.

The unexpected flash flood arrived via my BMG Music Club free Pick-of-the-Month, The Best of John Denver. Three days later, when David returned my urgent, tear-stained calls, I realized that best friends, schmest friends, I was now his ex-girlfriend and "x" marks the spot between us.

In February, a sharp pain arrived again. My brother explained that it was just the itch of the phantom limb. My friend Virginia knew better; I hadn't yet cut David out of my life. She advised immediate amputation: "If David calls or e-mails, don't respond. You don't even need to let him know you are doing it." The point, she said, was to get past feeling anything; then David and I could become friends again. Virginia and her boyfriend of seven years broke up two years ago and haven't spoken since.

Amputation seems unnatural. If we had cheated on each another or the diagnosis were clearer, it might be a mercy killing. We were the annoying couple sharing the same side of the booth in the diner, holding hands on the subway, and I played with his hair at the movies. We used to say we "sky'd" one another because our love was so vast and immeasurable that nothing else could describe it. Early in November, after eight years, we stood together in Central Park and cheered folks on at the 22nd mile of the marathon, went to the documentary, "Lenny Bruce: Swear to Tell the Truth," and had a long talk at Grey Dog's Coffee in the West Village. Then he took the L back to Williamsburg and I took the red line uptown. And I had a reason of the week, from his cigarette smoking to our not wanting to get married, for why this romance of almost a decade died in November.

The symptoms had been there, but they were hard to explain and more difficult to understand. There were moments when David first arrived in New York and we shared a cramped room in a crappy little East Village apartment that we were farther from each other than when we were 2000 miles apart.

By winter our conversations had become polite exchanges of people and events over breakfast on Sunday mornings. When I commented that he was my "brunch buddy," he asked, "Don't you go to breakfast with anybody else?" When a friend's band played in the East Village, I asked if he was going and if it would be all right for us to go together. He said that he was going to the show straight from work and that, maybe, he might see me there. I went to the Rangers game instead.

Nostalgia can kill you if you don't watch out. It preys on your immune system, prevents you from accurate recall. Virginia and I fight nostalgia together. I remind her of Robert's paunch and his credit card debts, and she remembers how angry David was when I crashed his car on a San Francisco hill on New Year's Day, 1994. But I also remember when he said, "It's only metal."

To prevent the disease from permeating my environment, I took David's picture down from my wall, broke off contact with mutual friends, and stopped listening to weekend National Public Radio and all music associated with the past decade of my life. I went out and bought my first Burt Bacharach CD.

But I'm slow to cut David off entirely. Sometimes I look at the sunflower card he sent, simply inscribed "I'm in love with you," listen to Bob Dylan's "Most of the Time" or a song by Counting Crows or Willie Nelson. Maybe catch the puzzle master Will Shortz on a Sunday morning.

Perhaps there is something worth salvaging. More likely, I haven't developed an anesthetic strong enough to prevent the sting of the knife. Even if amputation hurts, it might be worth it. Maybe I'm one of those creatures who will develop a replacement limb. Or, like the bionic woman, I'll receive better parts that will enable me to be bigger, stronger, faster, new and improved. Of course, the best part of a bionic limb would be its immunity to pain.

In March, the trees that stood naked throughout the winter now have tiny buds ornamenting the tips of their branches.

Nina Jordan is a writer and teacher currently replenishing her music collection.

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