Holding On to Something That’s Already Gone

There’s a ghost hanging around in my backyard. It’s not hurting anyone or anything, so I’ve been hesitant to let it go. All that’s left of it is a silvery outline of the vibrant thing that used to live there, but at least that silvery shadow is something I can see. Something I can hold on to because I’m not ready to let go.

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I fell hard for this hemlock tree on the afternoon that Richard and I closed on our house. Somehow, in our three visits before buying, I hadn’t noticed the hemlock tree on the right side of the backyard. I was too busy looking at the RIVER…we could have a river in our yard…WHAT? I mean, trees are nice, sure, but a river? Dang.

Once all the papers were signed and the front door key dangled on my keychain, I had more time to look around. Among all the pines and the redbuds and the scraggly crepe myrtles and the dogwoods–all the ordinary trees of my life–there stood a hemlock. I’d only seen them on weekend hikes in the North Georgia mountains. Just saying the name “hemlock” made me think of Socrates and that painting of him on his deathbed, about to drink the poison. (Just so you know, that’s the herb hemlock, not the tree. These are the kinds of things you Google when you have a hemlock tree nearby.)

One September, I made a tough choice to help the hemlock. A cherry tree crowded it from one side. Daddy and Joe told me that they could cut down the cherry to give the hemlock room to fill out. Cut down a cherry tree? I cannot tell a lie–I thought they were crazy to sacrifice something beautiful for a conifer. Couldn’t they both stay? But Daddy and Joe knew more about this sort of thing than I did, so I gave the OK–I chose the hemlock over the cherry. I hid inside while they brought the cherry down. Their advice proved right. The hemlock flourished and its deep green needles erased the memory of the cherry tree.



Those needles and tiny cones have been fading for a couple of years now. I told myself that it might be some kind of molting process. Maybe this was something that hemlocks DO now and then–turn silver and drop all their needles. The fading started at the top one year then worked its way down the trunk. The bottom branches were still green! It could bounce back, right?

I didn’t want to admit it–the tree was already a ghost by the time I accepted it. One day, a handyman looking for work rang the doorbell. He handed me his card and said, “I can clear out trees–like that big dead one you got in the back.” I practically clutched my pearls at his temerity. People could see it from the road. I had to deal with the ghost.

It’s an eyesore now. And that gets me thinking about Fartbuster and our divorce and the end of relationships in general.

I’m missing what it used to be and holding on to what’s left of it. I’m holding on to something that’s already gone.

It took a year to break from Fartbuster. We separated our daily lives when he moved out. We separated our finances when he stuck me with all the bills and the mortgage. We still went to therapy and planned on getting back together, but my love for him was turning silver, eaten away from the inside after his affair. I filled my own weekends. I went to work. I read books and I wrote and I walked the dogs and I went to movies–all on my own. I built myself a pleasant life. But when it was time to really sign the papers, I sat on my therapist’s couch and sobbed, “How can I live without him?”

She called Bullshit on that real quick. “Ashley. On a daily basis, what does he add to your life?”


One drama soaked phone call and this gaping hole in my heart where I used to be able to trust people?

She helped me see that I was holding on to something that was already gone.

Last night, a cracking thunderstorm rolled through after dark. I was sitting on the sofa when a deafening pop shook the house. It was loud enough to make the cats skitter and Huck’s ears stand up. My first thought was, “Did it get the hemlock?” Will my decision be made for me?

Like with the end of most things, the decision has been made before we let it into our hearts.

I got up early this morning to write. I’m sitting here on the screened porch in the black dark of pre-dawn, waiting to see if the ghost is still here.

3 thoughts on “Holding On to Something That’s Already Gone

  1. Alicia S

    I just love the way you weave your stories, the hemlock and your ending relationship. It is hard, we get used to things in our lives and change is not easy.


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