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The Tree of Life
The sun gets tired, lowering itself to sleep over the Western wall. It pulls a soothing blanket of yellow, orange, and purple over the Negev desert. I am not comforted. My legs are planted at the base of the peach tree, located on the outskirts of the village, the fragile branches looming over the desert. My hands turn a fallen peach, dizzy and desperate to be still. The sinking sun showers littered Yahrzeit candles and tattered ribbons with light. Realizing this may be my last peach from this tree, I unlock the juices as I unlock my memories, nectar seeping towards the ground.
I do care.
When I showed my friend how to shake this gentle, yet massive tree, our gap-toothed grins were brighter than the sun. Rough bark on smooth hands. Too lightly and the fruit won’t fall. Too hard and the fruit is wounded. Everyone chuckles at the memory of two tiny girls attempting to sway the proud, tall tree.
I did care, I do care, I will care.
My eyes linger on the tree before I pivot and walk away.
Tomorrow comes, and builds where Yesterday left off. The commotion outside my bedroom compels me to draw open my blinds. The entire village is gathered around this tree. My stomach feels my inner turmoil, and heavy silence follows. I drag my limp body from my warm cocoon, and stagger forward with the weight of dread. My legs want to stay where they are, but my mind wants to go. My drive thrusts me forward.
A final prod from my parents sends me into the masses. The grains of sand sift through my numb fingers, stretching beyond imagination. I push my way through the throngs of people, all chattering in a language familiar, yet unwelcoming. Chaim, chaim, chaim—a cloud of words rises above the crowd and settles on my head. Sharp words create a cacophony in my brain. My frail mind attempts to sort through the chaos. Did Moses feel this way? Unwanted in his own land?
Courage propels me to the front of the crowds. My anguish, my tears, my passion for saving something so insignificant to one person, so precious to another, ignites my heart. People said I didn’t care. Can they see me now?
The Americans are to blame, including me. Do I have anything to do with this act of stupidity? Hey God, does Yafaella even remember us, so little, so caught up in a moment? All of our silly ideas? My twisted emotions pour over me, transporting me back to childhood.
Yafaella was my first friend in this place. When we were four, my mother gave us a peach to share. The slightly bruised peach was golden and bright, much to our excitement, hers and mine. As Mom cut up the peach, she sang the popular Jewish kids song, Tree of Life. I cringed, embarrassed at her high-pitched squeal, as she hummed. It’s the tree of life to those who hold fast to it, and those who hold fast are…happy! We sang that corny idea as an idea was sparked in both of us. We chose a fertile spot, approaching the edge of the desert. We dug until the peach pit fit snugly, and we covered it with dry soil and sand. We jumped at the chance to nurture it together.
When we turned nine, I was still the same tomboyish girl I had always been. Yafaella had begun to change. When I suggested a climbing contest, she simply shrugged and sat down on the ground, wiping her shorts as she went. Perched on the ground near the roots of the tree, toes buried in the sand, she whipped out her knock-off purse. She daintily swiped her lips with bubblegum-pink lipstick. I climbed to the fruits, alone.
I close my eyes to escape harsh reality. The tree is plunged into swirling blackness, but I can see Yafaella’s parents’ tears, crying for someone so out of reach. The image is forever etched in memory.
The time we were thirteen, I started to accept her cold demeanor. She never gave me the chance to save our friendship. God, was it my fault? I used to blame myself, until I realized she was to blame, too. She came running back, eager for my love and compassion, but I couldn’t bear to accept her again. She tried to apologize, though. The first time she came, her group had abandoned her. She moved my tray of falafel and chocolate milk and plunked her lunch down next to mine. Silently, I moved to eat at my locker, hands full of chickpea mush and a cup of blandness.
The next time she took a crack at breaking my hard exterior, she came to my front door. I opened it, and contemplated what she might say. She started to talk, and my mind got lost in the carefully planned speech she recited. I gently closed the door. Not slamming it so she felt hurt, but I needed her to get the point. Her last attempt started off with a stalker-like run-in at the tree. I was doing my math homework, sand burying half my body, when she came up. She didn’t say anything-she was afraid of my reaction. Instead, she dropped her bag on the sand, kicked off her cork sandals, and stood, waiting for my recognition. She captured my attention, and ran with it. Her face was bare of makeup, no bangles stacked up her arm, only our school uniform covering her. Finally I saw the real her. Nothing to cover her, no weapons to arm herself with. Only the intention of winning me over.
She shimmied up the tree, fraught with the fact she couldn’t make it up to me. She stood, so triumphant on that brittle branch, and grinned, her arms raised above her head. Agape, I nodded at her, so confused at this apology. And the story goes that the branch snapped, and Yafaella snapped with it. She spiraled down to the rocks and dirt below. My parents found me, silent as I sat at the base of the tree, fingers feeling her wrist for a pulse. My face was pale and eyes were blank. As I sat unresponsive, they called 911, Magen David Adom. Her neck was broken, and skull was fractured.
Apparently it was all my fault. I had caused her all that trouble, hadn’t I? I meant no harm. Why couldn’t anyone understand? I recognized my love for that girl, that bond that no matter how much you stretch it, it always bounces back. It came too late, though. As sad is it is, I still can’t shake the taunting I told you so haunt me in that memory. My heart tells me to let it go, but I just can’t forget the unintentional pain she inflicted upon me.
It is her fault.
Now, as we are fourteen, she and I have trimmed the loose ends. God, you took away the girl, but do you have to take away the tree too? The last symbol of our friendship? We grew together as we grew with the tree. God has signaled the end. He has the final say.
Everyone looks forlorn, as if Yafaella is the main focus of this event. I watch as the Israeli starts to chop down the last earthly tie with Yafaella, my childhood friend, the one that died for me. If you don’t like to look at something, why don’t you look away? The chainsaw cuts through the meaty trunk, and as the tree of my life begins to fall, I look up wistfully and capture a glimpse of Yafaella, moving with the wind. She looks down at me from above and gives me a nod. Does she lament our cut ties? I watch as another life begins to fall, one life that hasn’t been given the chance to grow stronger.
People tell me I’m screaming, but I can’t hear my voice.