The Old Willow Tree

After a night out with your friends, as you get off the last tram home, you’ll be surprised to realize that you haven’t thought about her in a while. That's when it’ll really hurt.
On your way home, after so many beers, you’ll walk past the animal shelter where you used to bring her cat. The “cat resort,” you used to call it, trying to reassure her that the cat would have a terrific time. You’ll ponder if the cat’s still alive and, if he is, whether he’s still as playful and stubborn as he was, that capricious creature that used to wake you up at 5 in the morning, demanding your full attention. Hard as you both tried, you never managed to really cure him of his habit.
The old willow tree in the little park will remind you of a joke she once made, maybe a face she gave you, on a summer night. You’ll remember how she gazed at the willow tree every single time you walked past it together. You’ll remember how much she used to laugh at your jokes, of those times when she just couldn’t hold it and laughed uncontrollably at your witticisms. You’ll remember all the joy her laughter brought you.
You’ll think of all the trips you took, all the far corners of the world to which you followed her or she followed you. You’ll remember her conversation with a French boy in a camp site in Iceland as you readied to see the whales. You’ll remember her frustration as an old woman disappeared with her money in Hanoi. In all those trips the cat was stuck behind in the shelter. You’ll remember swimming in a creek somewhere in Africa, the look of fright and concentration with which she shook a giant spider off your shoulder with her bare hand in your canoe in the Amazons, and how excited she was when you went fishing in Australia and she caught her first. You’ll remember making love in an empty train leaving Florence on a sunny afternoon. You’ll remember her enthusiasm every time she took you skiing, how much she hated New York, and her uncontrollable giggling after eating some brownies with your friends in a beach in California. You’ll see the moon appear between buildings. You will sigh.
“She was such a wonderful person,” you’ll think, and you’ll wonder, for the millionth time, what went wrong. "Were we just too different? Should I have tried harder?" The only answer you’ll hear will be the click of your shoes on the cobblestones, echoing against white walls, and the wind rustling the leaves of the willow tree behind you. You’ll remember when she told you in Stockholm, while watching fireworks, that weeping willows were her favorite trees.
As you walk past the familiar pizzeria, closed at these hours, you won’t be able to avoid thinking briefly about the fights you had. So much quarreling about such trivialities! You’ll remember that time she snapped because you forgot, once again, to close the closet doors in the morning, as you rushed to catch the train; the one time she exploded because she felt you weren’t paying attention; all the times she went to sleep on the sofa.
"Yes, we had no alternative," you’ll tell yourself, reaching the same conclusion you always have, ever since the breakup. And, even if there was, you know you wouldn’t take it; you couldn’t take it; not after so much has passed. You will, however, set aside, in your mind, the bad; you will, once again, forgive it all.
Once you reach your building, you’ll find in your mailbox a bill and an ad for sunglasses.
As you come up the stairs you’ll remember how her cat used to rush up, one flight at a time, yowling. Such a ruckus! He would stop in the spaces in between and turn to look at you impatiently until you caught up.
You’ll close the door behind you and turn the key in the lock. You’ll turn the lights on, take your shoes off, open the window and sit on the sofa. You’ll notice on the TV stand the orchid she once bought. Incredibly, it still lives; it has big dark green leaves. It hasn’t flowered in years. You’ll hear the bells of the nearby church announce how late it really is.
Some minutes will go by and in the silence of your apartment you’ll remember how, when you were a little boy, your dad, in a sunny day in a summer house by a river bank, told you, as if you were ready to understand, that sometimes the best decisions in life are also the hardest.