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Beneath the Trees
It was the summer of 2003. It was a warm Saturday in spring and the dandelions lined the front yard like an impenetrable gate. Mommy always tried so hard to get rid of those modest pesky weeds, but to me they were alive and delicate flowers. Daddy and I were packing up our sleeping bags and getting ready to camp for our first time since Mommy’s death, 5 years ago. Spending a weekend outdoors was going to be a substantial challenge; Mommy always loved the outdoors.
My dad’s name is David and my mom’s name was Denise. When they got married, Daddy said people kept commenting on how well their names went together, “David and Denise’s Wedding.” It sounded like it was meant to be, like nothing could touch their unfathomable love for each other. Daddy said Mommy wanted an outdoor wedding. And that’s exactly what she got.
It was a beautiful day on June 10th, the day of their wedding. Mommy was dressed in a simple pure white spaghetti strap wedding dress. She had angelic, little white flowers scattered everywhere. Daddy said she refused to wear a veil; she was too simple of a woman. Mommy and Daddy got married at 19, their love too strong for time. Daddy still has a hard time talking about their wedding day and how beautiful Mommy looked when she walked down the aisle, pale as a ghost and untouchable to the sun’s rays. Mommy never liked tanning, her natural pure skin too delicate to be harmed. Daddy said she loved the outdoors, that when she was outside her anxiety and depression went away. I wasn’t too sure what depression was back then but Daddy always described it as someone going into a dark tunnel that is very difficult to escape. But on this day Daddy said she was happy for once, that nature had cured her, if only for that one day.
On their honeymoon, they didn’t go to some high island resort that would cost thousands of dollars. They went camping. Camping was Mommy’s escape from her own mind; she once told me when I’m feeling afraid, not to go hide under a blanket, or sing my favorite song to rid all bad thoughts. But she told me to go outside and look up at the trees. She had a fascination with trees that no one but Daddy and I would ever understand. She told me they would always be standing over me, looking out for me and I always believed her until the day she died.
Her death was a shock to everyone. I was 8 and in second grade. I remember I was at school; it was 2:30 p.m, and I only had one more hour until school let out. Daddy worked as a computer technician and traveled during the day but always made it home in time to pick me up from school at 3:30. And most of the time he would go back to work after he had dropped me off at home. Then around 5:00 in the morning, Mommy would come home; she was a night nurse at the local nursing home. She would always come in my room and kiss my cheek as I was dreaming. She always said she knew when I was in a deep dream because she could see my eyes under my lids dart back and forth. I miss her kisses and the way her clothes smelled of old people when she came home from work. But this was the last day I would receive a kiss from Mommy at 5:00 in the morning. The last day I would smell old people on her clothes and the last day I would hear Mommy and Daddy kiss in the kitchen when she came home every morning. On this day I was at school with one more hour left, when I was called to the office. I was nervous, being good in school I’d never been called to the office before. When I walked in Daddy was there running to me saying, “Sweetie we have to go, I need to talk to you.” I could see the fear in his eyes. The fear to tell his young daughter that her own mother hanged herself from the very trees she seeked out when she was afraid. On this day, everything would change.
When Daddy told me I cried. I cried for hours, days and months. He never told me exactly how her death went until I was older. I’ve never been able to look at another tree since the accident. Trees no longer healed my fears, they beckoned them on. In fear that the memories of Mommy would be all too strong for us to handle, we would never go camping again, until today. Today we were going up north to camp under the stars, in an attempt to find closure. And that’s exactly what we found.
As I opened the car door, it was a combination of beautiful and forbidding. There was a stream and a cleared out circle beneath the trees; this was where we would pitch our tent and start our fire. Never had I seen such beautiful lively trees, with immense roots crawling over the surface of the ground like spider webs. I thought I’d be afraid, but to my surprise I found comfort in the fact that I was being watched over by such beautiful giants. Daddy was rummaging through the back of the car taking out our sleeping bags, tent and food. It was about 1:00 in the afternoon now and we had already started a fire and pitched our tent. We were roasting hot dogs and enjoying each other’s company when the sun went behind the clouds and the trees began to sway.
I looked at my father and said, “It’s just Mommy saying hi.”
“That it is Honey. I suppose it makes her happy to see us finally camping.”
As the sun began to go down around 7:00, Daddy and I rolled out our sleeping bags and took down our tent. We both agreed to sleep under the stars and beneath the trees tonight that night.
“Mommy would love this.” I said to Daddy as I stared up at the trees and the stars that glistened just behind them.
“Oh she does Honey. She’s with us right now…beneath those trees.” Daddy pointed high, as we stared at the trees. This was the first time I had come to peace with trees since Mommy’s death. I stared up at their glory, feeling closer to Mommy than I’d ever have before. I was staring so intently at the intricate details on the trees’ leaves that I didn’t even notice the leaves beginning to fall swiftly to the ground all around us. The wind was still, and the trees were silent, but for some reason the leaves kept falling off in immense amounts. It was in the middle of summer, so there was no way autumn was already on its way. But nonetheless they continued to fall. In shades of stunning greens, which was odd to see since when I always saw leaves fall they were amber colored and crunchy. But not these leaves; these leaves were filled with life, not death. These leaves were fresh and young, falling as if time had no order. It got to the point where I looked at Daddy and started to laugh; he laughed with me.
Now we were being unconditionally showered with leaves. Daddy and I jumped up from our sleeping bags and began to dance around beneath the trees and stars. Laughing and throwing our hands up to the falling leaves, nothing could touch us now. Perhaps the leaves were a sign that night. A sign that not only were the trees always watching us, but so was Mommy. Maybe it was Mommy letting us know that she’s doing better and has made her way out of the dark tunnel. Maybe it was a shower of tears or perhaps it was her trying to make up for 5 years of absent kisses. Whatever the case, she was there with us, beneath the trees.