I’ve carried guilt and grief, all mixed up inside me, a lead ball in my belly, ever since I abandoned my trio of trees when I moved to Mexico. I left them behind in Hopland with Michele. I transplanted them before I left. My big fir got a new tall ribbed terra cotta pot, the smaller fir and the redwood inheriting the next larger sized hand me downs. I never meant to abandon them. I meant to return and take them home with me again. But home turned out to be a place they may not be able to live, would never thrive, and so I did nothing. Michele has probably planted them in the ground by now, all these years later.
I’ve thought of them often, missed them with a deep longing, an ache that surprised me. We’d been companions for a long time. I especially miss my big fir. We’d been together for 16 years when I left her. I remember the day I chose her, walking through rows and rows of trees in big black plastic pots in the nursery outside Sebastopol. And the redwood tree was only a tiny sprout in a plastic tube when that city council candidate handed them out in the middle of the Apple Blossom parade. The redwood was almost as tall as me when I left him behind. My smaller fir had been my Christmas tree for years, raised up on a wooden block. I’d put a string of white lights on the big fir outside, too, and I always warned them before I brought the smaller one in to decorate her, always made sure they were still near enough to see and sense each other. I left the door ajar or the window open so they could visit. I started leaving the white lights on the smaller fir, too, when I took her back outside, letting them both stay lit up together well past January. That last Christmas in Hopland, I brought the redwood tree inside to decorate, so the two firs could grace the front porch together with their holiday lights. I even bought a timer so when I came home in the dark I’d see them sitting next to each other, all lit up, like magic fairy stuff. In my mind they are lit up still, their white Christmas lights behind me in the early morning darkness, and I watch them in my rear view mirror as I drive away with the cats in the car, leaving them behind forever. But I think I may be making that up, doubt I managed to leave that early on our last day with so much to do, fitting our whole lives into my old red Jetta.
Yesterday I talked to my trees. I think it might have been the first time I did, the first time I’d faced them. “I’m so sorry I never came back for you,” I said. And, “I never meant to leave you forever.” I told them I loved them, and I missed them. “Can you forgive me?” I whispered. I was crying. It surprises me how strong my feelings are still. Especially for you, my big fir. I carry you inside me, though. That helps. I want you all to be happy. I couldn’t have left you in better hands, in a prettier place. I know that. Maybe one day I’ll get to visit. I imagine looking up, and up, and up. I imagine being awed and grateful and so glad to see you thriving. That would ease this thing in me–wouldn’t it? I can’t seem to get over how I promised to return for you. I imagine you waiting for years. At some point you must have known I wasn’t coming back. It would’ve hurt you, I think. I never meant to hurt you. I pray for blessings on you in your Hopland haven, my beautiful green friends. Does Michele talk to you when she walks the property in the morning? Do the dogs come lie in your shade on hot summer days? Do you keep each other company still? Are you thriving, happy, whole? Do you ever think of me?
I know it’s not as if I abandoned my kids or even my cats. I know people will think I’m nuts. But their loss lodges below my solar plexus, like last words spoken in anger before someone you love dies, no chance to ever undo it, change it, make it better. Still, I’m glad I slogged through the dredges of my agonized regret yesterday. I may always be sorry I left my trees behind. Life happens like that. I may always miss them. But now I remember I can love them, too. I can picture them growing big and strong in their Hopland home. I can see Blondie lying beneath my biggest tree, his chin on his paws, the breeze ruffling his fur. And I can begin to be grateful, to be happy for them in the new home they’ve made for themselves, hundreds of miles away. Root well, my loves. Stand tall.