Dogwood Tree

October 13, 2008
One summer, five houses down from mine, the fire hydrant broke. White water spewed out of the yellow canister like Old Faithful. The eruption leaked a stream that grew into a river, mixed with oil and sand, on its way down the street to my house. Out front there was a loose brick path that lead from the sidewalk to my front door. I filled my six year old arms with as many bricks as I could carry, and wobbled to the street to meet the water. I made an open circle, first laying down the perfect burgundy bricks so that the opening faced the on coming stream, then the brown ones on top of the burgundy, and the splotchy bricks with bits of green moss that covered the red last. My wall was knee high to a kindergartener. Water collected in the pool I constructed under the dogwood tree that hung over the street. I played Tarzan in the oily rainbow lake with my mom's old stuffed monkey, Cheetah.
Cheetah and I were in the jungle. We climbed my dogwood and I pulled him out onto the limb that spread over the water. He sat face down on the branch, his yellow glass eyes reflected in the water, making sure no alligators were lurking in the depths, waiting to jump up and eat us for lunch.
The canopy of my forest was in full summer bloom. The leaves were green, and the beginnings of acorns could be found at the ends of its twigs. Cheetah fell, and by divine chance, missed the water. He landed in the grass at the bottom of the tree. There was a smack as all of the beans inside of him hit the ground. I scrambled down thinking he had been hurt and was relieved to see nothing broken. I decided we shouldn't climb again for a while.
There was a patch of dirt on the side of the road so I took a handful and threw it in the water to make ripples. The sound was beautiful. I let some of the dirt escape through the space between my pinkie and palm, at the bottom of my fist. A stream hit the water and sounded like tiny light droplets of rain on a tin roof. The ripples subsided and I saw the sky reflected perfectly in the water. I watched the image of myself and the sky distort and reform when I ran my finger in circles on the surface.
By the end of the day they'd patched up my geyser and dried up my lake. All I had left was my tropical dogwood tree. But the leaves reddened and soon fell. The branches were twisted, gothic tendrils against the gray skies of winter. The branches--twigs tipped with growing unopened buds-- looked too brittle to climb.
One night before school started back, I was playing with the other children in my neighborhood, Eliza and Jessie my neighbors, Big Joe from down the street, and Andrew and Rich, two brothers that lived a few houses away. We were playing tag in my neighbor's yards, and my tree was base. All of the neighbors knew us and let us come and go as we pleased, as long as we didn't trample their gardens. Andrew was it. He chased us into the Sterkmin's yard and Rich lost his shoe. Andrew picked it up and hid it in the bushes. We carried on playing until the sun began to set. Joe left, then Eliza, then Jessie. Andrew, Rich, and me were all that was left of our game. Rich told us he had to find his shoe before he went home, but Andrew wouldn't tell where he'd hidden it. They argued, yelling empty threats, until Andrew decided to go home, leaving the two of us to look for the shoe. It got dark fast and we still hadn't found it. My mom said I could help look until nine, an exciting privilege for someone who's bed time was eight.
The fireflies were out. They blinked around us while we crawled through the bushes, feeling blindly in the the soggy dirt, like moles, digging for the lost shoe. Rich turned it into a game, pretending we were in Jurassic Park. I had never seen the movie, but I played along. He was two years older than me, and I had always had a bit of a crush on him. His hair looked black in the dark, but in the sun you could tell it was a deep brown, like wet bark of an oak tree. He had low intense eyebrows and smart eyes, the same borderline brown as his hair.
We crawled on our stomachs, shouting on fake walkie-talkies to look out for Pterodactyls or T-Rexs, the only dinosaur names we knew. It was warm outside. We finally found his shoe in a patch of monkey grass by the sidewalk. We walked back in the direction of his house and of mine. Fireflies floated by, landing on us from time to time. I caught one and held my hands, cave style to my eye, waiting for it to blink. When it did I rewarded it by setting it free. I glanced over at Rich.

"You know, I kind of like you," I said.

"I kind of like you too," he said. We were quiet.

We didn't talk much after that night. I moved away and he grew up. His brother had some problems and went to rehab. I think he was dealing crack.
I visited a few years later and found the street exactly the same as I left it. I didn't see anyone I knew so I sat under my old tree and built little houses out of fallen leaves. My old neighbors, who were still friends, came by a while later to say "Hi". Then they went off to play basketball in the driveway. Rich came back and asked me if I wanted to play. I was embarrassed, so I said no. He only shrugged and went back to the game.
They all came back later to tell me they were going to make "roadkill" and asked if I wanted to come. I fought back my timidness and agreed. We went to Andrew and Rich's house and Andrew found an old sock, while Rich rummaged around in the wooden drawers for plastic bags. We filled the bags with ketchup, mustard, and every other mushy substance we could find in their fridge. We sealed the bags, put them in the sock, and tied fishing line to it. Then we scouted out a place to put it.
We wound up putting it in the middle of an off-shoot road that connected our street to the main city road. We hid behind a thick bush and waited for cars. Andrew, who was the oldest, held the string. When a car came by he pulled it under the wheel. The bags, filled to the brink with mush, exploded on the road. It was a success. We left our roadkill where it lay and trudged back up the street to Andrew and Rich's house where my parents found me. I had to leave. We said our goodbyes. It seemed more final than when I moved. I didn't know when I'd be back to see them again, or even if I would be back.
I did return a year ago to see my old house. The new owners completely redid it; the way my mom always wanted to. My old neighbors were still there, with the exception of Rich. He killed himself a few months earlier. I hadn't seen him in years. I doubt he remembered looking for his lost shoe in Jurassic Park with me.
My tropical dogwood looked a bit smaller, but still climbable. It had the same red leaves in fall, and I'm sure it had the same white blossoms in spring. I'd like to sit in it again. To look down into a man made lake and be fascinated by the sound of dirt cascading downward onto its surface. To drop my stuffed monkey and worry that it was injured. And to play outside in a city, alone, under a tree, not worried about anything except a lost shoe.

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