The Tree

Sara Smollett

August 28, 1996

In fourth grade everybody got an award. Some were for "best looking" and "neatest cubby" and others were silly like "most likely to ride a unicycle." Mine was "most flexible," which I suppose had to do with my gymnastics, because otherwise I am anything but flexible.

Most of my friends think that I am relaxed, easy-going, but they don't know the truth. I am never comfortable. I plan every action; every word is tested before it is spoken. Why am I like this? My mother says it's not healthy. I don't know. I don't like people who act carefree. Maybe I seem relaxed because of this control, this self-restraint to keep me from looking foolish.

But now my gymnastics days are long over, ended because of my fear of heights, and my awards from elementary school have been torn off the walls of my room, leaving behind only sticky residue for that new family to clean off. They will wash me away.

I have lived in that house, grown in that house. It is me. The tall oak tree in the backyard is the tree that I climbed in. I loved that tree, so large, graceful. The way each branch moved under my feet, shaping itself to fit me. Perhaps it was from that tree that I first learned gymnastics. I wrote my poetry there, leaning against the wide bark of the tree, and I read there. "It is the tree of life...." That oak tree the tree was where my brothers built a tree house, and where my younger sister came to her death. Why did she climb so high?

All of these memories erased, and our home becomes faceless. Empty, just a house. No longer does it contain our sofa with its big hole. I cannot trace my feet along the pattern of the dirty rug. Nothing. In a way I am glad because I can try to erase the past. I'm deceiving myself. I can't erase it; it can't be erased.

I can try to forget, but I don't think I want to. I don't want to be forgotten, nor do I want my sister to be forgotten, her life made void by indifferent time. Every day I see her tree (I call it hers because she spent more time in that tree than anyone else). And when I look at the tree I can see her again. She is always there to guide me. Without that tree she will cease to exist. The only thing that we will remember will be her death. Tranquillity in her body sprawled under the tree, eyes closed as if resting, her skeleton limp and empty. Blood and my horrific screams from under the shade of the tree. I am afraid to move on.

Most of my fears and anxieties are based not on sentimental value, losing my home or changing my family. They stem from my resistance to change, to grow up. I never liked change. When we were younger, my brothers and sisters would play in a pile of leaves below the oak tree each October, and I would just sit and watch sadly. And in March I was just as content to have the trees stay naked and dormant, as I was to have them grow anew. I never liked to travel either. My roots are firmly planted here. I don't need to climb high above the ground to see the splendid view of the ground, which I could be standing on comfortably. I have no desire to see Europe or Asia, or a new school fifty miles away.

I don't want to meet new people. In fact, I'm scared to death. Not of them, but of me. I can now change my identity. I am someone no one knows; someone even I don't know.

I am not ready to leave. I am not ready to watch them cut my tree down. I don't want them to destroy the tree. It is my tree and I should be the one to do it, if it must be destroyed. I will burn down the tree myself. And maybe she will be erased from my memories, maybe the tree will just disappear. Or maybe a bird will fly out of the tree singing a melancholy song of remembrance. From the ashes of the tree, a new life will spring forth.

Who am I kidding? I am not ready to live a new life.