When I was growing up, I lived in a state of confusion. The state that I lived in had autumn, like all the rest, but never seemed to know it; that, in turn, confused me. All the books in my kindergarten library told stories of piles of leaves, frigid winds, and acorns, all of which I had never spotted before.
One glance out the window on an October afternoon, and you would see sunny skies and kids running around, enjoying the warm weather. Then one day in November, the temperature would drop, and that would be that. Winter was there. It’s almost as if autumn never came.
I never thought about why the leaves never turned red, or why we could wear shorts and t-shirts well into the season. It was just the way it was, the way it had always been. Even the trees seemed to ignore the season.
Often during my walks from school, clutching my mother’s hand, I would take a moment to look at the sky, and the canopy of green shadowing us. The giants towered loftily above me, waving their green leaves just out of my reach. They taunted me, willing me to jump and reach them. I would try every time, and every time I would miss by a mile. A breezy laugh fluttered their green leaves. ‘It will be a while still’, they’d almost say, ‘until you can pluck our leaves.’ I promised I would one day, but the breeze just kept on blowing. Every year, it would be the same. The trees would stay green.
I moved to a new neighborhood the year I turned 7. I liked our new house better. It was taller, and there was a hallway to play ball in. There wasn’t a hallway in my old house. Our house lived at the corner of a circle, where the stop sign was. The road curved around it in a loop, swirling through the suburbs and back again. As soon as it was cool enough, I was going to ride my bike around that circle. My bike was purple with pink flames, and when I rode it, it felt like I was flying. Every looping pedal took me farther and farther away from my cares and worries. It was on one of these bike rides that I finally spotted it.
One warm October evening, I rode through the setting sun. The air was thick with humidity, making my hair stick to my forehead. After countless laps, I pressed on the hand brakes so I could catch my breath. I had flown many, many miles, I thought. As I glanced up from the sidewalk, my eyes startled.
There it stood, right in front of me, brave as can be under my questioning eye. Right at the corner of Quincy Lane and Rosalind Court was a maple tree, its leaves piercing red. At first, I thought it was on fire. It certainly looked aflame, with its curling branches twisting through the air, lighting the area with a reddish glow. But I realized quickly that it wasn’t. It wasn’t fire red; more like a red tomato, sitting in the sun. It looked so out of place there. All the trees around it seemed to curl back in disgust and envy. It was making too big a scene for their taste, I suppose.
I quickly abandoned my bike on the sidewalk to investigate. Up close, it didn’t seem too different from any other tree. I ran my fingers up and down its bark as I walked around it, balancing on its knobby roots. The texture made my fingers buzz. Even its location seemed ordinary; any tree might have grown on this corner. Why did this one choose to be different?
I paused my circling to glance up through the leaves, and the light warmed my face. There, dangling in front of me, was a small branch holding at its end a bright red, flaming leaf. It beckoned me closer, extending towards me. Hope and excitement coursed through me, and reaching on my tiptoes, I grabbed it. Victory filled my heart as I slipped the silky surface between my two fingers. I slowly turned over the leaf and my thoughts. Even its leaves seemed strange to me. It was so much softer than I expected, so different from the waxy green leaves that littered the sidewalk. No jagged edges that poked my fingertips. I pressed it to my face, feeling the soft texture beneath my cheek. 'Surely,' I declared to myself, 'these leaves must be what fairies sleep on.'
I looked up once more, and the tree swayed pleasantly in the wind. I smiled and promised to come back again, turning swiftly back to where my bike rested on the sidewalk. I wanted to fly home and show off my treasure. ‘This tree really is strange’, I thought to myself as I rode home. All the other trees suddenly seemed a lot less desirable and a lot more snooty. Like an old lady who walks with her nose in the air.
Over those passing weeks, the bright red maple tree became my friend just as much as any of my classmates. I proudly showed it off to my new friends, but they never seemed quite as taken with it as I was. After stupid Tommy Fillager started throwing rocks at it, I stopped showing it to anyone. I decided that some happy things seem happier when they’re just yours.
Circling the tree became boring quickly, and soon I began to bring things with me. Sometimes I brought books to read, leaning against the trunk and watching the people go by. Once in a while, I would bring my little cloth doll with the red polka dot dress, and tell her my stories. But most often, I lay on my back and stared at the leaves, listening to the whispering of the branches. I’d look at the leaves and hold up my hand to the sun. The bright light would make the veins appear, pumping blood slowly through my body. I’d stare at each one in turn, examining the hues of purple and blue through the warmth of the bright red light. I had never really realized until that moment how alive trees were.
You were told as a child things that were impossible to believe, things you couldn’t quite wrap your mind around until you were older, and perhaps wiser. It was at that moment that I fully grasped the idea; trees had veins in their leaves. Just like me. They had life flowing through them, a power I had never fully known. It was beautiful. Magical. My imagination quickly began to run away from me. If trees had life, did they have thoughts, too? Emotions? Dreams? I made a solemn promise to my tree, that I’d dream of her the same way she did of me. I walked home that day, calm and confident of my new feelings. This tree had grown there for me. It was my new companion, my caretaker. Its strength comforted me through many of my most difficult times.
One crisp November afternoon, on the days before the big winter drop, I scurried over to the corner of Quincy Lane and Rosalind Court. I was covered head to toe in my winter gear; fluffy coat, scarf, and hat. It was 50 degrees, after all. Wouldn’t want to catch a cold. As I turned the familiar corners, shuffling in my bulky boots, I breathed in the fresh air, letting it sting my lungs. Today I had brought a new chapter book about a boy wizard and his magical scar, and I was eager to dive into its pages and explore worlds unknown. I turned down the final corner, anticipating the usual greeting of bright red. What I saw instead rooted me into the ground. There, surrounding my beautiful tree, was yellow tape. A crew of workers with chainsaws in hand circled the area like hungry vultures. I felt all the life siphon out of me. I felt sick.
I rushed over as quickly as I could, dropping my book right there on the sidewalk. “What are you doing?!” I cried. “Stop it now!” The men barely took any notice of my cries. I ducked quickly beneath the tape and ran over to my tree. “Stop it!” I threw my arms out in front of me, tears streaming down my face. “You can’t! You can’t cut it down, it’s mine!”
There were shoulders shrugging, looks of confusion. A woman ran over to me. She told me to get away, that it was dangerous. How could I leave? I wouldn’t. She grabbed my arm and tried to pull me away. I threw her hands off of me and screamed in desperation. I was disoriented, distraught. Every second more was another ice cube dropping into the pit of my stomach. I was wailing, crying, trying to make them listen to me. This was my place! How could they take this away from me?
My mom soon appeared on the scene. The woman was a mom from my school, and she had called my parents. She grabbed my hands, trying to calm me down. My eyes stung with tears, and my throat hurt from screaming. I felt dizzy. She pulled me away from the corner, spoke soothing words. “It’s going to be fine,” she cooed, “Just calm down and tell me what’s wrong.” I could barely articulate my thoughts; it all came out in a jumble of words, tumbling to the ground like a ball of yarn, slowly unraveling along with my sanity.
She held me close as I babbled, and began to walk me away. She whispered there was nothing she could do; the tree was on their property. It wasn’t mine. It never was. I heard the sickening sound of chainsaws buzzing. With every step closer to home, I felt a jab. Gone. Gone. Gone…
I heard it hit the ground with a thump. It shook the streets.
All I could think to do was cry.
Posted in response to the challenge Fall: Writing.