A big, beautiful tree once stood watch in her grandparents’ front yard. This was back when the town’s textile mills ran three shifts, six days a week. Its thick, solid arms hid the porch from the neighbors and passersby while the ebony-haired child sang songs and twirled – her favorite entertainment.
Today the girl steps out onto that porch to collect her mail. As she twirls a bit of grey-streaked hair around her right index finger her gaze falls onto the front yard. When did her grandparents cut down her guardian tree? She’d forgotten it until now. No wonder she feels unprotected, living back in this town with her road-less-traveled life exposed – split wide open for all to gawk at and judge.
Late that night she arrives home and finds more come-to-our-church-so-you-won’t-burn-in-hell paraphernalia stuck inside the door knocker that still reads Mr. & Mrs. Grandparents. A sigh moves throughout her entire body and she’s overcome with weariness. Where exactly was her tree? She walks around the yard trying to recall its location with her arms spread out in front of her. It feels like the right thing to do; she doesn’t care if she looks silly.
The next night there’s a missionary magazine addressed to her grandmother in the box. She abhors its message - we must force the entire planet to believe exactly what we do. She drops her head to her chest, shakes it sadly, and walks into the yard thinking how much some good tree energy would help her at this moment.
Sleep is evasive that night. Out of frustration she wanders around the house going from window to window staring at the stars and moon. Soon the house starts to shake as the jarring noise of an 18-wheeler moves. She buries her face in her hands and sinks to the floor.
Before long she is a little girl again, snug in her grandmother’s lap on the porch swing. The street is quiet; together they count the cars as they pass by. She uses her fingers and doesn’t reach two hands full. Her grandmother smiles and waves at the drivers. From the other side of the open bedroom window she can hear her papa’s guitar and twangy bluegrass voice. The smell of his pipe tobacco means cozy to her.
She awakens with a sense of contentment but realizes that it will soon be ten years since she’s heard that voice and now she lives in his house. She misses him and even though it’s the middle of the night she goes out onto the porch seeking his presence. He too sat here for hours at a time but he watched the squirrels and birds instead of the vehicles. She is surprised to see her tree proudly displaying its greenness. Is it always here while she's sleeping? Quickly before it figures out that it’s not supposed to be here she climbs it – something she never did as a child. Near the top she finds the perfect resting place – the branches are strong and the leaves are soft and earthy smelling.
Before long the sun rises and the town awakens – this town that has greatly changed yet really not all that much. The obese, bow-legged lady next door waddles to her old sedan, obviously in pain. She drives through her yard to the next house over, struggles to the door and settles in for a day of tending her Alzheimer’s-stricken neighbor who no longer recognizes her. Across the street the usually cranky, twice heart attack victim is admiring her dozens of potted plants that are stuffed onto her tiny porch. The neighborhood nice guy, a 60-plus year old bachelor, bakes pies filled with artificial sweetener and passes out slices to the diabetic ladies. It seems that he is incapable of keeping any of his opinions to himself.
She has witnessed their nightly gatherings, usually on the bow-legged lady’s porch. They watch the traffic pass, discuss Wal-mart’s weekly sales and gossip. What else do they have to do? They’re retirees of the now closed mills. Those jobs and their kids – except for the bachelor man – were their lives. Their families are all grown up and moved away. They are their own little family now. They don’t realize that their words hurt when overheard.
We are all connected – we are all one. She firmly believes this. We are all doing the best we can with what we have. This too she believes. These ideas could be called her religion. Yet she knows that she is different from these well-intentioned people. I don’t belong here. I don’t want to turn into these people. She says these things to the morning sky. “Then why are you here,” the tree asks her. She is not surprised to hear its raspy yet warm voice. “Because it’s the right thing to do, my family loves that I am here but I am unhappy.” “Who says it’s the right thing to do? You don’t have to live here to love your family. Go! Be Free! Be happy, child! Find your own people.”
So she went. She made a new family with people of her own tribe – creative people, people who read for fun, people who make her laugh hysterically. She loves her biological family from less than an hour away. And she loves trees now even more than she did before, for they are as wise as they are beautiful.