And He Says I Never Listen

July 15, 2008
By Anonymous

I was born in a city. For the first three years of my life, the only nature I knew was from the manmade park near my house, what I saw in movies, or read in books. However, I was content with this fact, simply because I did not know of anything else. When I was almost four-years-old, my family and I moved to the suburbs, or “the country,” as my parents put it plainly to me and my older sister. We still live in the house we moved into thirteen years ago. The back of the house faces a spacious yard, and beyond that, woods. Woods. As in a living, breathing, thriving natural environment. For a young girl who had only seen grass and maybe a tree or two together at once, this change was immense. The grass grew wild, the trees grew tall, and I was warned by my parents of poison ivy, ticks, and snakes - all of which had been foreign to me up until that point.

My by-far favorite part of all of this nature was the willow tree. My mother and I would sit under the willow, and gaze at the clear blue sky and twinkling sun that peaked through the long, spider-like branches of the willow. The cool breeze would sweep over my body, helping me breathe in the fresh, “country” air. We would talk or read and eat lunch under that tree, or just lay there silently, and absorb the serenity around us - the polar opposite of the bustling city we had left behind. The willow was my play thing, my source of magic - and naively, my friend. Despite my young age, I knew my view on nature had forever changed, and would continue to change every day I spent laying under that willow.

One morning I awoke to find my father and some hired gardeners near the willow with chain saws. They were cutting it down. I ran to my father and asked why he was cutting down the tree - my tree. He told me that willows were ‘bad trees;’ they’ll grow out of control and ruin the entire backyard. He said it was a mistake for it to be there, that a bird must have taken its seed and dropped it in our backyard, causing the out-of-ordinary tree to grow. When I began to cry and plead to him, he looked firmly in the eye, and said steadily one phrase that I will never forget, “Tough luck, kid. That’s life.”

All that was left of my willow by the afternoon was a short stump of what once existed, and the first little scar on young, delicate heart.

I have always had a soft spot for the proud individual. By going through the everyday experience of attending a high school full of teenage insecurities, I admire the one who walks tall; who acknowledges their differences and embraces them with open arms. I think that’s why I was attracted to him.

He stood at the end of a long line of uniform fir trees; he is an oak. I’ve always liked oaks; they’re big and welcoming, and comfort me in the way a wise grandfather might. There he stood, all alone, separated from his identical neighbors. For someone who has always felt a little alienated from her peers, I recognized a slight connection with him. I sat on a big, smooth rock at the base of his feet, swiping away the leaves that had fallen from him, and littered the ground below. His branches swayed in the chilly breeze, and he reminded me of my long dead willow.

The first day I admired him from afar. The second day I wanted to take a closer look. I walked up to his thick trunk, and gingerly inspected it with my hands. Dark brown cracked bark, moss, and surprisingly, no visible insects. Tiny little pink buds sprouted every so often on his trunk, puzzling me a bit. My hands were moving slowly yet swiftly over his bark, when, suddenly, they were stopped. Something hard and cold jabbed my finger. I pressed my nose to the bark - a nail. One might not even see it, for the old nail was so rusted that it seemed to adapt the almost same shade as the bark. I couldn’t believe that someone had done this. Someone had deliberately taken a hammer and a shiny, sharp, now dirt-streaked nail, and pounded it into his otherwise flawless flesh. Who would do such a thing? Why would anyone hurt a defenseless, harmless tree? At first I felt anger. I tried to wedge the nail out with my fingernail, but it was hammered so deep into the bark, that the only thing visible was the flat circle at the head of the nail. I gave up, and slowly felt the anger leave me, as heavy realization set in. My father’s voice echoed in my head as I stared numbly at the beautiful tree and the ugly nail that had ruined him. Tough luck, kid. That’s life.

That is life. The harsh reality of life. The side of life no one welcomes, or wants to accept. Having a nail put into his bark wasn’t fair and it wasn’t right, but that’s life. Life wasn’t fair when it gave my sister cancer and robbed me of my childhood. It wasn’t fair when it took my grandmother away from me, and then my grandfather. Life isn’t fair when people walk into ordinary places - schools, workplaces, airplanes - on horrifically extraordinary days. Not fair, not fair, not fair - I could whine about it for days. But that’s life. Life can cut you down, or pound you until you bleed, because it’s life, and that is what life does.

Life’s injustice is mirrored in both nature and humanity; an animal dying from an oil spill, a human being killed in a random homicide, a tree being vandalized with graffiti. We stand still with the cycle of life rotating around us, throwing us from joy to despair, from contentment to poverty. As much as it torments us, as much as we try to fight and resent it, there is no stopping it. The power has been taken out of our hands, and been placed in another’s.

God? No, I don’t believe in God.

Fate? Maybe, I’m not sure.

I don’t have the answers; I don’t think anyone does. What I do know is that whenever something “unfair” happens: I have a bad day; someone breaks a promise; or I study hard for an AP test and still don’t receive a passing grade; I can’t help but hear my father’s voice reverberating in my head, soft but firm, as he passes on the only known knowledge on the process of life to his little daughter:

Tough luck, kid. That’s life.

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