“Let’s retrace our steps”, I reassure my tearful three year old son who has just lost his superhero mask somewhere between a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch and wandering the local nursery in search of more vegetables for our garden. He knows how good I am at finding things, and is eager for me to find his mask. “You’re a good finder, dad.” he says with his superhero muscle padded chest puffed out with confidence. In reality, I am worried I will let him down.
Retracing my steps is something I find myself doing a lot these days. A few days later I am on a similar journey with my recently separated wife. “Let’s go for a walk,” I suggest as we met at the botanic garden near my office, the garden where we had our first flirtation as I read her tarot, while she shyly blushed at the Lovers card peaking at her from the bottom of the deck. Where we would have our first kiss leaning against her favorite fig tree, and shared walks where we talked about our future.
But this walk isn’t about finding our lost love. It feels more like a crime scene investigation, trying to understand how we let things get so out of control. I see symbols of ruin everywhere. A dead hawk, my wife has a fascination with dead birds as evidenced by her award winning Book of Dead Birds, lays near the place we performed that first magical tarot card reading. The beloved fig tree has been cut down, leaving a knife like edge of a stump that cuts deep into our flesh as we sit in shock and take in the surroundings. The landscape is almost unrecognizable. It feels disorienting. The changes to the garden are as real and manifest as the changes in our hearts, and it is clear there is no going back to the place we once were.
Returning to my empty home I am reminded of my ten year old self, how, when my parents separated, I would walk home from school and let myself into a dark and empty house. I have never forgotten the exact moment that little boy broke down in tears crying out “why did you leave me dad?” I can feel that pain in my heart again, now, as I return to emptiness. But the house isn’t just empty. It is as different as the unrecognizable landscape of the garden. I find signs around the house that things are not the same. The light fixture that we bought to symbolize my mother after she passed away, the light that is the heart of the kitchen, is mysteriously askew, like a weather vane pointing in a new direction. My tarot cards are missing, my childhood photos carelessly left in the garage to warp and wrinkle, the never completed projects around the house feel like tombstones marking the death of each aspiration. Everything that I once was, that I once dreamed about, has been cast aside and replaced with stress and unhappiness.
When the big day that has been looming over our heads for weeks arrives, the day she officially moves into her new home, I get a text that reads “just got hit by a wave of ‘what the hell am I doing’ “. I’m not sure anyone ever knows what they are doing, I think we are always just hoping for the best. I reassure her that the environment and energy we had created for ourselves was not working out, and that we both need space to decompress and find ourselves again. It would be harder to recover if we were still living together, and any improvements would be so small as to be unnoticeable from day to day. But, if we are apart, we can heal and see the changes in each other more clearly. And maybe we will find that we do still want to be together.
Sometimes you can’t retrace your steps and find what you’ve lost. Sometimes you have to accept your new reality and move forward. We can’t keep hiding our true identities behind not-so-super masks.
As for my son’s superhero mask, I did find it. I didn’t let him down.