My heart suffocated from the pain, the extreme hurt, as I squeezed the steering wheel, threatening to tear the leather. My vision blurred from the flow of tears streaming down my cheeks, smearing my mascara and sprinkling onto my new black dress. I prayed that this wasn’t happening to me, that I didn’t have to go through this. My bedraggled hair had somehow escaped its silver clip and hung limply around my neck. A pair of headlights blink into view, and as the startling horn shatters into my mind, I suddenly swerve to avoid the oncoming car. The meandering road seemed to be rocking, swaying, as the wind compelled me off the pavement.
Droplets of rain like immobile diamonds sprinkle my windshield but I don’t even bother to remove them, and soon they roll away from existence. I couldn’t stay anymore. I couldn’t stand there and stare at that pitiful stone with the meaningless scrawl upon its face, surrounded by people who loved him, but didn’t know him. It didn’t fit; it’s not what he would have wanted. Emerging from the clutches of the small wood, I catch a glimpse of the Tree. It appears over the horizon, standing tall and strong, and for a moment I am happy.
During the summer of June last year, we lounged in the soothing shade of the towering oak. Hands behind our heads, we observed the passing planes and the steady beating wings of birds soaring overhead. We were silent and enjoying the peace, taking in what the world had to offer. You whispered in my ear, “Let’s name him.” My eyebrows scrunched in confusion as I replied, “Who?” You met my inquiring gaze and then glanced backwards. “The Tree,” you murmured, as if it was to be kept secret.
I stop the car on the side of the road. My shoulders heaving up and down, I stumble outside, leaving the door hanging open. Rain and tears drenched my hair, and my knees buckled, forcing me to the ground. My hands scraped, I felt so tired, so alone. I strained to see my sanctuary, and when I saw branches beckoning me, determination surged through my limbs like wildfire. I began the steep climb forward.
“Careful,” you warn as you hoist me up, and then I immediately scramble toward the top.
“Don’t worry, I got this.”
I heard you chuckle beneath me and I laughed along. I arrived at the first branch and planted myself near the trunk. You came up right beside me a few moments later and wrapped your arm around my shoulders. I rested my head on your chest.
“The sunset always amazes me no matter how many times I look at it,” I mumbled.
“Same here. It’s beautiful.”
We swung our legs in unison, occasionally bumping into each other, and watching as the great, fiery ball disappeared from sight. I smiled as a serene darkness presided.
I was nearing my destination. My thighs burned as gravity threatened to suck me in, and my ankles were aching from the strain. I kicked off my heels and kept moving.
Exhausted, I stumbled and fell flat on the cold, wet ground, mud covering my body. I moaned and sobbed, angry that I had to rest when there was still a task to carry out.
A’ 90s rock band blared from the speakers. The windows were rolled down and we bellowed the lyrics for the neighborhood to hear. Then you pulled up adjacent to the steep hill and switched off the music. I glanced at the clock and began to worry.
“We have less than thirty minutes for me to get home,” I cried. “We need to hurry!” I blasted out of the car and sprinted up the hill. I had reached the top and was leaning against the trunk when you got there. You sauntered into the shade, brushed a few stray leaves away with your shoe, and sighed. I pulled my knees into my chest, hugging myself.
“What’s the rush?” you asked, your eyes closed.
“My parents have set up a curfew for me because they think I’m ‘up to no good.’”
“What do you mean?”
“Like, they think that I come here to drink and smoke. But you know I don’t.”
You made no response to this, so we just swam in our own thoughts. A slight wind blew, cold and chilly, sweeping hair across my face, and I huddled even deeper into my thin cardigan.
“Well, first, don’t rush yourself. Even if you risk getting in trouble, just enjoy life as it comes…and about your parents…just prove to them that they can trust you.” While you said this, you shrugged off your brown coat and draped it over my body. Then you glided your hand across my cheeks, catching the stray strands of hair, and tucked them behind my ear.
“You could bring them up here sometime.”
“Hm, that’s a thought.” I added hesitantly, “ How about right now?”
“Yeah, you could, I wouldn’t mind,” you said.
I pulled out my phone and called my parents. When they answered, they began scolding me for missing curfew. Dad was warning me into the kind of punishment I’d get once I got there, but I readily assured him I wasn’t doing anything bad. I knew he doubted me, but I ignored that fact and invited them over.
Ending the call, I stated, “They’re on their way.”
“Cool. Speaking of which,” you said, lowering your voice, “we haven’t given him—or her— a name yet.”
“Why don’t we ask my parents for some ideas?”
I took in a couple of deep breaths, allowing the rain to splash and bombard me for a little while longer. When I had regained my strength, I sprung back up and ran the last few meters. Slowing as I reached the boundary of its comforting shadow, I approached with quivering footsteps. I couldn’t believe it was still here, still waiting for me after all that has happened. Wrapping my feeble arms around the trunk, I hugged the tree so tightly, so full of love that I never wanted to let go.
“Hey, can I ask you something?”
“Have you ever wanted to carve your name into a tree?”
“For the longest time. I just could never remember to bring a knife.”
“Well luckily, I did!” I flashed out the small pocketknife, flaunting it like a well-earned trophy.
You laughed aloud. “Where—no, how in the heck did you get that?”
“My dad gave it to me.” I watched your eyebrows spring up in surprise, urging me to continue. “I was just like, ‘Hey Dad? You know in those movies where the characters had their initials carved into a tree?’ And then he was like ‘Yes.’ So I explained to him how I wanted to do that. Since last week, when he came with my mom to the tree, he completely trusts me.” I grinned, as if I had accomplished an incredible feat, and then was instantly trapped in a tight bear hug. You gave me a huge noogie, refusing to let go, even after my threats to hurt you.
I squealed. Finally you released me, and asked, “So what do you want it to say?”
“I don’t know…maybe just our initials…and then, possibly a heart around it and have ‘4ever’ at the bottom?”
You gave me a look that seemed to say ‘you expect me to write all that cheesy crap?’ so I blurted, “Or not. Just—” You pulled me in around my waist, gave me a warm kiss, and set to work.
My fingers traced the deep indentions that were already present in the rough bark. My other hand clutched the handle of the sharp blade, preparing to complete the chore at hand. I plunged it into the heart of the tree, going up and down, up and down. The rain was pouring even harder now, but the canopy of leaves and blossoms acted as my warrior, protecting me from the elements.
I tried to wipe my tears away, but they just continued to come. My skin was scaled with goose bumps and my bangs plastered to my forehead. Blisters formed on the palms of my hand and my breathing came in short, loud sobs. The downpour of water never seemed to lament, with the empathetic cries of thunder ringing through the sky, and flashes of lightning sizzling the clouds.
When I was halfway I stopped and rested, burying my face in my arms and just releasing my feelings.
You were taken away from me, and now, I can never get you back. I want you back. I want you with me. I need you right here, holding me. I ache to see you again, to talk to you again, to touch you again. I love you so much…
I realized that I must finish this now because it’s the only thing I can offer him, offer myself, after all that he has given me, I must give this to him.
The Tree began to bleed, to weep with me, when I dove even deeper inside. Splinters embedded painfully into the soles of my bare feet, but the miniscule pain was nothing compared to the slice in my heart.
The knife was dull and scratched as I dropped it to the ground; my torn thumbs were evaluating my achievement, exploring the altered bark. Surprisingly, the corners of my mouth turned up. I leaned against the trunk, worn out. My fine midnight dress clung to every corner of my body and it seemed that I had spilled tears of black. I gazed up to the uneven letters, the crooked writing, just above a heart that seemed to be carved ages ago. The rain had abated into a gentle drizzle, and I could hear the leaves whispering their new name.