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Breaking Up and Walking Forward

Foxes are following me. They've caught my scent; they're on my tail. One salivates as he burrows into the rabbit hole at my feet. One are slowing crosses my path, stopping to listen before moving on. One crawls into my lap and ducks her sharp nose under my hand, coaxing my fingers through the embers of her underfur.

Somewhere along the way in the last two months during divorce negotiations and personal reinventions, a fox motif adopted me. A gorgeous red mother and her pup taunted the dog while we looped the neighborhood last night. A skinny lone fox darted across a major road a week ago. At first I thought it a lost dog, but the light flipped and I saw his legs were just a tad too long, his face a sharper triangle.

More and more foxes appear. I met someone named "Fox." A designer sends me font samples to consider, and they all say:

a quick brown fox jumps
a quick brown fox jumps
a quick brown fox jum
a quick brown fox

I stare at each "x" until the ink swims and muddies the "o's."

Here's where the foxes started, at the end: during the last big relationship talk we tried to have. It was May, and we had been struggling for a long time, separated since March. We sat on a park bench at dusk overlooking a small pond, and we didn't face each other much. We were tired, from the day, from the year, from eight years. Our silence was only rarely punctuated with rapid-fire facts and guttural, spit-filled crying jags. Before, on a park bench we would have held hands; now we stared at palms inexplicably full of dirty broken glass pushing deeper beneath our swollen hands.

It was time to let go.

In front of us, between the pond and our separateness, walked the first fox.

Just an animal by water in a quiet part of a park. But it felt as though something had happened. A red fox, appearing before us as though it's walking out of the flames of everything that is burning--that's something, isn't it?

And then the other foxes have followed. Or is it that foxes are always everywhere and I'm seeing them now, because I want to make sense of it all, and that fox happened to be there at that moment. Bench, pond, fox--is it all the same? Am I projecting significance to coincidence?

I don't know. But I can't avoid the fact that in a few weeks time, there have been so many foxes, so many. I'm invited to hear Alison Krauss--at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta. I receive mail addressed to "Ms. Deb Fox." Foxes circle and circle and dance with me.

But so what, what if the fox does carries a secret message clamped in his jaw, what does it mean? Let's pretend it matters, this motif. Foxes are smart survivors, crafty and clever. Am I being told: be smart. Or am I the fox, or is she? Foxes are tricksters, deceitful predators who think they are beyond the farmer's law. Was I the fox or was she? She saw the fox first, calmly said "Fox." Am I the fox? She has been a farmer, is a gardener. So I am the fox. I think.

I think about the fox in The Little Prince. "“Apprivoise moi,” he said. Captivate me, befriend me, tame me. The Little Prince did, and then they became special in each other's eyes and belonged to each other, unlike all of the other little boys and foxes. Soon enough, though, the thrill of knowing and taming turned, of course. They had come to rely on not being alone and were sad to break company.

Foxes. Foxes. Sour grapes. Chickens are missing. Hounds on their tails.

I read about kitsune. In Japanese folklore, kitsune are wise and magical foxes (some good, some evil) with the special ability to take the shape of a human. Their transformation is often imperfect, however, and their true identities can be discovered when their foxtail is seen. There are tales of beautiful seductresses marrying unsuspecting men, forging a happy marriage, only later to accidentally reveal themselves as foxes. Often then the vixen is rejected by her ashamed husband, or sometimes he wakes up from a fevered dream unsure of what has transpired--but without fail in story after story, once discovered, the fox leaves her human form and bolts into the woods.

The fox is ashamed her tail has been seen.

The fox has seen the look on her spouse's face, his judgement of her flaw, her true self.

Was I the fox or was she?

Were we both the fox, both the Little Prince, both the husband, confused by what we saw, by what we thought we knew and by what was changing?

How is it possible to leave what you thought had been tamed?

It is. It turn out it is. I am walking away, walking forward. It's time. I'm good. The fox walks by. The Prince leaves the fox, the fox says it was worth it, he'll remember the color of the boy's hair when the wind moves through the golden wheat. The vixen burrows into the woods, her true self once again, at least for now. Maybe she was happy with her beloved, for a time. Maybe she's happy to run free now. Maybe she'll miss the hands she left (both her spouse's and her own), or maybe it feels right to have four paws on the dirt again.

Maybe she'll see herself as she walks away, her true fox self, reflected in a pond, tail pricked high for balance on the hunt. Maybe behind her reflection she will see two lovers walking away from each other, all three of them walking in different directions, having crossed paths for a short time one summer day.

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