The Tree of Life
There is a tree at your childhood home. An oak that has been there for as long as you can remember.
You remember the thickness of the branches, the structure of the bark and the view from the crown. From there you could see your best friend’s house, your neighbor’s black tin roof, hot in the sun like a frying pan. You were eight years old and it was summer. If you peeked out you could sight the sea and the seagulls, smell the seaweed. The air felt more fresh up there. Sometimes you and your best friend would sit in the crown and tell stories only for you and the leaves to hear.
Your thoughts start to wander more often to your childhood home by the oak. You wonder what happened to it, what it looks like today, who lives there and if they have kids. If they are happy.
After your wife has gone to bed, you enter the garage. Instead of turning on the lights you feel your way to the car in the dark. The streetlights illuminate the road in an amber hue as you drive outside. You know where you’re going.
You think of her, she who lies alone at home. You drive to the tree, to another time. Remember how the two of you carved your initials in the bark on an August day so many years ago. You wonder if other couples have carved their initials in the same tree and if they still are together. If they are happy.
You pull over and look towards the oak. You light a cigarette and blow the smoke out from the open window. You know that she will notice the smell of smoke, so you step out of the car and throw the cigarette down a street drain. You look around. The street is empty. The lights are out in your old house, so you walk up to the tree on the lawn. The oak stretches up high above you. It’s too big to embrace. Some of its longest branches touch the ground. You place a hand on the tree and feel that it is still warm from the faded sunlight. You look for your initials but your fingertips can’t discern them from the rough bark.
Your nightly visits become routine. You drive off after a fight about yet another petty thing. By now you know the way there by heart. You have noted the exact time it takes to get there. Darkness on the Edge of Town scratches in the stereo. Soon it will be broken. Even The Boss is tired of playing for you.
You roll up slowly to the tree and stop the car in front of the family’s Volvo. You look at the house and see that the TV is on. Inside, you see four silhouettes on a sofa. Two large, two small. A black Labrador stands guard by the window. You feel watched.
You finish your pack of cigarettes. As the man in the family turns out the lights in the windows, you crouch down as not to be seen. You’re ashamed. You exit the car, high on nicotine. The air is exceptionally cold for a summer night. You walk slowly to the tree and hug its massive trunk. You place your head against the rough bark and cry in silence. Fucking treehugger. That night you sleep on the couch.
After a session of couples therapy, you down three glasses of whiskey and find yourself once again in the car, even though you shouldn’t. When you make that familiar right turn onto your old street you aren’t met by the crown towering high above the rooftops. It doesn’t register until you have went outside the car. You squint in the dark and see nothingness.
All that remains is a stump. A large circle with innumerable lines that tell a tale of all the years it has been there. You go down on your knees and trace the rings with your fingers. It might be the booze, but you get a feeling of sadness like the one after the passing of a close friend.
You remember when you fell from the tree and broke your arm. When you helped get the neighbor’s cat down. You think that it’ll probably be a Domino’s pizza place here in half a year.
You feel like kicking the remains of the tree that laughs at you in its absence, but then you’re struck by the thought that something that has been around for so long shouldn’t be cut down, even though it’s sick. Old trees have roots that will always be a part of the earth.
You pick up your phone and call your wife. She answers after three signals.
“There was a tree at my childhood home,” you start.