The Thinking Tree

There are times when you want to strangle, twist and literally shake your child -even when they are almost 29 years old. Children, no matter their age or distance, can do that to you…they pry open dusty vistas that had been hidden amid a forest of brambles, viney undergrowth,  and fallen trees.  Memories encapsulated into synaptic discharges – just waiting for the right switch to bring them forward where in that micro second spring loaded reaction, surprises can happen.  Today – – surprise, surprise – – out of the woods steps my 10 year old self.  Bringing with her all the smells,  emotions – even the color of the room tinged by an on-coming storm.  Fifty years gone in the blink of an eye.

Sobs, scared, sick-to-the-stomach, shaking self, that lost her way in the woods, stands before me, and once again, I am she as she is me.  That night and  today’s spaces of time swirl together.  An eddy of pain sucking me back to her time – her space.   A daddy having a major heart attack — a son’s facebook posting stating a check-in to a cardiac unit switches the neurons to the vision of my first fallen tree.  There was no one else round when I was ten — there were too many around today.

Sobbing, scared, sick-to-my stomach, shaking self that was surprised how swiftly and how strongly the child pushed through the forest of years  to stand beside me.   My long, white hair twisted within a large barrette and contact-filled eyes contrasted sharply with her long dark hair, pulled back in a bang-less ponytail and dark eyes behind thick glasses.  Both of us  focused on the words on the screen in front of us.  I felt her hand cover mine as we clicked the mouse for  more information, but FB posts in an e-mail notice offer little succor.  Even now her tears drip down my cheeks, and I am – somehow –  comforted that she stands with me.

When you are 10, summer days stretch ad infinitum.  Wake up early, practice piano, run next door to play with my best friend “sister”…Barbies to dress, magical horses to fly, home-made paper dolls to create, bicycle rides to circle the town, front porch board games to compete over, reading to pass long, hot hours, afternoon trips to the local dam for swimming…a typical 1960 summer day in a small town.

In reality, I don’t remember exactly what I did do that day, and apparently, my 10 year old self doesn’t want to tell me; I just know how I spent most days.  What I do remember is Aunt Vi moving to Ashland.  Daddy  and Mommy busy all day helping her; maybe I did, too.  I certainly remember sitting in a room full of boxes and watching The Lone Ranger, which we never got at home.  But most of that particular day…I don’t remember.  It is what happened that evening that molded my life as roots released their hold on the wet clay under my feet and the  tallest tree in my primeval forest fell silently at my feet.  As darkness descended,  I could sense The Tree of Life – usually, far off in the distance – move closer… reality – concrete – visceral.   I stood…under its wide branches and reached out my hand to catch the golden apple as it fell.

Daddy began feeling ill by late afternoon…tired…sick to his stomach.  Between them, it was decided I would stay with Daddy while Mommy would make one more trip to Ashland with Aunt Vi.  The heat of the day was bringing a summer storm, and my “Thinking Tree” called me outside.  A tall (at least to me) weeping willow tree, just across the small driveway that led to our garage, was my new favorite place in the world.  Daddy had built a bench that completely circled the trunk and gave me access to climb into the crook of three limbs easily.  I could curl my feet up and lean back against one limb to read a book, or watch time breezily skip down our alley, or listen to the music of nature’s world clashing with the human world around me, or just think whatever thoughts passed through my 10 year old mind- hence the naming of it…”Thinking Tree”.

How was I to know that as the thunder began to rumble distantly and lightning penetrated the cool, willowy, green canopy, an even bigger storm was brewing inside my house.

“Brynie,” his voice hollered, “time to come in before the storm hits.”

I know I lingered.  Who wouldn’t? It was hot in the house – no air conditioning in houses – cars  – schools – at least in our small little town.    But eventually, the wind became too strong – the storm too close – for remaining comfortably in my hard seat, and I dragged myself out of the tree to run in the house just as the first drops began to fall.

“Daddy, Daddy, the storm is here.  Where’s Chico?  Is he still outside with Silver?”  I ran up the three steps into the kitchen hallway.  Chico, our little Mexican chihuahua, greeted me and whined to be picked up.  Of course,  I obliged.  He was the newest addition to our home and his warm, squiggling body was never far from me if I was in the house.

“Daddy?”

The house was silent.  I ran back down the three steps and into the basement.  Maybe he was working on one of his antiques in his workshop.  Still – it was strange.  The house was never silent.  Mom whistled – Dad sang – radio played – stereo whirled…but not tonight.  The sky grew eerily quiet and that pinkish gray cast of a serious storm seeped through the hallway screen door and filled the house with the pungent smell of its presence.

“Daddy?”

I walked a little slower as I climbed back up the stairs.  A storm had begun to swirl inside of me as well.  Hail suddenly pelting the door’s metal awning as I passed made me jump, and I turned, pressing my face against the screen to see the little white balls.  Chico wiggled, so I put him down.  “No, you can’t go out.  The wind would blow you away.”  My pets were my friends.  Talking to them was normal since  my only sibling was nine years older than me and my parents were – well…parents.  “Where’ s Daddy?”

I walked the rest of the way up the three stairs and went the opposite way this time.  Pushing straggling ends of hair back from my sweaty face, I finally spotted Daddy.  His face pale as he sat in the white plastic recliner.  Moaning sounds came from his mouth, and his eyes were so tightly closed that his cheeks seemed to reach his forehead.

“Daddy?”

My steps were very slow now.  My daddy had never looked like this before, and the storm that had been rumbling in my stomach erupted into my conscious world.

“Daddy?” my hand touched his arm, shaking it gently first and then harder as he did not answer.  The cry went out then.  Was it verbal or silent?  I’m not sure.  Since I was little, turning to My Father has always been my instinct.  What were the exact words?  I don’t remember.  I do remember crying out to My Father. Closing my eyes, holding tight to a promise that I have never doubted, I heard the music.  Music that was music and not music; words and not words.  Yet, I knew what to do, and Daddy’s eyes opened.

“Daddy, you need to go to the couch,” tears clogged my voice and garbled my words, so I repeated them.  Even though his eyes looked at me, I could tell he   did not hear or could not hear.  The music was fast and urgent in my head, and I started pulling on his left arm.  He cried out, but his eyes focused and the recliner tilled forward as his bare feet made a soft thud on the area rug.

“Come on Daddy.  I’ll help you, but you have to stand.”  Somehow we moved to the couch.  My laughing daddy, strong-as-an-ox daddy who told me bedtime stories and taught me to dance – my little feet standing on his solid ones, leaned heavily on my shoulders.   How we managed to move at all still makes me wonder who really held him up to move across the room.  Past the big round coffee table, he sank into the old, middle cushion and leaned back.  The music words began again…strident – dissonant – insistent.   “Daddy, you’ve got to lie down, now!”  My voice matched the sound in my head.

“Can’t, Brynie.  I’ll be okay.  Just let me sit here.”  Short sentences.  Ragged. Jagged spaces of time with no comfort.

“No, Daddy, now!  Lie down,” and he did.  Head flat, abutting the couch’s arm, as I pulled the pillow out from where his head would land.  The notes were still directing and wordlessly, I followed.  Slowly, I lifted his legs…one at a time, to rest on the other arm of the couch while I put the pillows beneath them.  The music had quieted…sotto voce…adagio…still.   I stood watching him…willing him with all I had to stand and laugh and sing and be my daddy again.  With tears finally easing from the corners of my eyes, I sank down on the floor beside him.  Crushed between the coffee table and the couch, I held his left arm,  the tree’s golden fruit, carefully and I rubbed – as directed – in beat to the music I heard.  Up…down…up…down… 

My 10-year-old self rubbed my left arm today…up…down…up…and I breathed deeply.  Help had arrived again in answer to a prayer.  A 10-year-old’s mother returning home to call the doctor who would later call the ambulance.  A cell phone text message.  I step over the newly fallen tree and thank God for the invention of cell phones and a son who knows when his mom is desperate.  “I’m ok!  I just talked to dad.  Just wearing a monitor to find the issue.”  I guess I won’t strangle, twist or shake my child today…but, as I throw the golden fruit back up into the branches of the most beautiful tree in my forest, I think that – maybe – the next time…I just might.

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