The arborist, who had just finished trimming the trees in front of my mother’s house was at the door. “There’s a guy serenading you in the tree on the corner,” he said, and handed me the invoice.
I stepped out on the porch and peered out to the camphor tree he indicated. “That’s my husband,” I replied.
“Oh, okay,” the arborist shrugged and started to walk back to his truck.
“No. It’s not okay. We’re separated.” My heart pounded, my chest tightened with adrenaline. “Do you have a phone?”
The arborist fumbled, said he didn’t have his cell phone on him, and went back to his truck.
While he looked for his phone, I walked closer to the stone wall separating the garden from the promenade of stately camphor trees by the sidewalk. Bodo*, my then-husband, sat perched in the middle of the tree, his khaki pants rolled up right below the knee. He wore a slightly unbuttoned white shirt and swung his bare feet over the thick, craggy branches. He held a worn paperback song book in hands and belted out unrecognizable gospel tunes.
I looked up at him.
“Was machst du da?” I asked him. “What are you doing there?”
“Ich singe,” Bodo answered, matter-of-factly, as if he were reading the weather report. “I am singing.”
He sang a few more bars of what might have been “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” but sounded more like “Sving Lohhhh, Sveeeet Charrreeeott” in his heavy German accent. He paused and looked at me, quite serious.
“Wann ist Mittagspause in Amerika? When is the lunch break in America?” Bodo asked.
That was my moment of clarity, my breakthrough. This marriage was definitely over. The hokey plastic-wrapped dreams I had about us reuniting as a happy little family unit vaporized. The enslaving chains of codependency shattered.
I knew what I needed to do next.
I said nothing, turned around, walked back into the house, and called 911. I told the operator that my estranged husband from Germany was sitting in the tree singing gospel music. I told her that he had been abusive when we were together and that I wanted him to leave. The operator assured me that the police would be on their way soon.
As I waited inside my mother’s house for the police to arrive, I could still hear Bodo crooning hymns outside.
As soon as the police pulled up, I headed into the yard with baby Mina close to my chest. A few police officers appeared, like they had just beamed themselves from the Star Trek holodeck. One of the officers walked up to the tree and asked Bodo calmly what he was doing. He talked Bodo into coming down from the tree, frisked him, and asked him if he had been using drugs or alcohol (which Bodo denied).
Bodo grabbed the backpack, put both straps over his shoulders, and walked down Mountain Avenue towards Twenty-Third Street.
As he disappeared into the distance, past Twenty-Second Street, the police officer suggested I obtain a restraining order. Bodo became smaller and smaller in the distance until he was the size of a small plastic action figure.
I was free. I haven’t seen him since.
*not his real name