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Roots and Branches This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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The sun playfully flickered and danced among the rich green leaves swaying gracefully in the soft summer breeze. Slowly, I rubbed my hand over the rough bark of the tree trunk, feeling each groove and bump, and remembering. As I pressed harder, the surface caused my hand to bum and ache, the same feeling that engulfed my heart as I sat there pressing, remembering. This had been our tree, it belonged to the six of us, better known as the "six pack." When we were little we spent hours playing in the branches of the enormous oak tree which sat defiantly in Chelsea's front yard.

After meeting in first grade, Courtney, Nichole, Chelsea, Maggie, Sarah and I took it upon ourselves to establish our pact of friendship. It started by sharing Crayola magic markers, to after school play days, elementary-school crushes, swapping snacks, and bonding over games at recess. Whether we were involved in sports, Girl Scouts, dance lessons, or summer days at the beach, we were together; it was the only way to be.

For a moment I paused, the echo of childish giggles and jibber-jabber rang in my ears. I felt the pain again as I gazed at the tree's outstretched arms that seemed so full of many memories. The aching crept from my warm hand to my stomach. The tire swing was empty, hanging from the tattered rope, worn from years of tugging and swinging. I thought of the tire, swinging silently on what seemed to be its last rope, nowhere to spin but in circles with the wind. I wondered when the rope began to fray and tear, if it was aware of its deterioration. Over and over I traced the grooves of the trunk with my fingers, searching for the memories.

I traveled back, suddenly we were in middle school, crushes became more serious, we were interested in hair spray, music, shopping for matching outfits, everything was done as a whole. School dances were the most important social events, no one could miss even one. Our plans for the future changed weekly, but no matter what, we promised to be together. "Never forget the six pack."

Before we were ready, off we went to the high school. The reaction upperclassmen gave us came as a shock, they actually thought we would someday grow apart. But ideas like that were ludicrous, we had a pact, no one could break that apart except maybe one of us. When the whole group wasn't interested in playing soccer, it seemed even crazier – we were supposed to act as one! But that was part of growing up, we learned that each and each of us was different and liked different things. Sometimes this reality hurt, as growing does.

I breathed in deeply, inhaling the scent of the tree, continuing to rub the grooves and even its weather wounds and scars. I wondered if the tree was hurt by them, if it still felt the pain caused years before. I thought of the summer the first real fight occurred and how the words spat out

unintentionally still stung each of us inside. How we tried to cover the anger with smiles, but underneath was scarred. The branches seemed to sprout from the trunk wildly. I found it ironic how they diverted from the same origin but yet were so different.

My eyes blurred over, the tree became fuzzy as hot tears streamed down my cheeks and fell onto our tree. I ached so for our innocent days filled with giggling and carefree attitudes. What did it take to erase the words, the actions, we had never planned in any of our futures? Burning spread throughout my hand that traced the grooves while inside of me the burning continued as I traced my memories.

My tears ceased as I studied the tree and began to discover an almost relieving realization. Like the branches of our tree, we may have grown in different directions, yet our roots would remain as one. Our lives will always be a special part of the other. Sometimes it hurts to realize that we have moved on from our past, but the past only makes us stronger and ready to welcome the best that is yet to come.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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