My school is no ordinary school. The brick and mortar are the same style the state uses to build their jail walls. Even the thirty year old dingy blue plant imprisons me. Past the mangled branches of the Sycamore the cinderblock administration building obscures the view of my dungeon which the residential counselors refer to as cottages, perhaps in hopes that we might subconsciously assimilate them as a home.
My dungeon is not my own. I share one large room with seven smelly imbeciles. Each bed is a bunk, so even that is not our own. No privacy. No personal space. No warmth. No love. Just too much spare time. Too many rules. Too many people.
The first time I found refuge in the tree was about three years ago. I had just been moved from the intermediate cottage to the senior cottage even though I was only fourteen. I was given the bunk above Heritance. His mouth ran nonstop, even as he slept. He let me know immediately that I was in his way; no matter where I was or how much I tried to avoid him. The next morning, I had woken up to him pulling me from the top bunk claiming I had kept him up all night. I don’t know how many blows he landed to my face before I was completely awake and able to wrench out from under him, but when I did, I ran. In those days, I had not yet gotten up the courage to run off campus because I still feared them calling the cops on me. I had heard too many stories about Juvey. So, as I ran around the administration building, that Sycamore reached out its branches and lifted me up, wrapping its branches around me. I stayed there all day. The ants didn’t seem to mind that I was there; they just marched over my finger. The squirrels ran up and down the trunk and branches as though I belonged there. The birds sang directly to me. That was the day it became my tree.
Nowadays, when I have had enough of the guys, the teachers, the staff, the rules, I run. But my tree always calls me back. Those branches are always reaching, reaching for something higher. They mysteriously twist and weave. I begin to follow the course of one branch when it crosses another and only with careful scrutiny can my eyes reach the tip. What are they reaching for? Will it ever reach its goal?
The lowest branches are almost parallel with the ground and only a few inches higher than my head. When I step on one particular protruding root, I can reach far enough around the branch to support myself as I hoist my feet up. Shimmying around the branch permits me to climb like the squirrels until I come to a large fork in the trunk almost at the top. It forms the perfect seat. So I sit.
Sometimes, the world just goes by. I don’t have to do anything at those times. No school work. No talking. No fights. No planning for my life or its end. Had anyone planned for this tree or did it just accidentally begin to sprout here? How long had it taken for it to get to this point that it could support me, the squirrels, the birds the ants and what ever else relied on it? Did it ever get tired of us?
Sometimes, on long Sunday afternoons when there isn’t a cloud in the sky, I search for the identity of the thing for which the tree seems certain is out there, somewhere. What is it? Or is it a who? Or am I just hoping that there is. Something. Somewhere. Some how. Something larger, greater, better, farther than what is here.
Sometimes I just look into my English class. Why does Mr. Yeight say he cares? Why does he push me to do better? When did I ever give him the impression that I wanted him to care? But, I never ditch those Friday afternoons in his class. He gives those hours a hideously stupid title: TGIF. Let’s see. The T stands for thoughts. The G and I stand for good ideas. And the F stands for feelings. I don’t need a label for it, but he didn’t ask me. But then again, who does?
As I write, my tree inspires me. The way it moves and twists and reaches force me pull and wrench and coax the agony of this existence out onto the paper. The writing and my tree are the only two things I have ever looked forward to. No one has ever celebrated my birthday. No one I know sends me Christmas gifts. No one chooses to be with me. My writing and my tree never press for our time to be over. It is almost as though each appreciates me as much as I do them.
Amid my purgatory, there stands a tree and a time to write. It stands. I write.
Today is Friday, and I sit and write. As Mr. Yeight placed my notebook in front and the pencil that smells of fresh whittled wood, it is as though he is placing the leeches onto my heart. Today the toxins are so thick, I wonder if any blood is left amid the ooze.
Yesterday, while sitting and listening to Mr. Yeight read of the boy who ran away from home, found an old tree and lived in its trunk, I watched the red ribbon which was tied around the trunk of my sycamore blow in the afternoon rain, fraying the ends ever so slightly. I closed my eyes as the branch tapped at the window. I was sure it was reminding me it would be there when I needed it even begging me to join him at that moment.
Or maybe it knew something I did not. Just as it reached for something out there that I couldn’t see, it was saying something I had no idea could be said from a tree. Maybe it was telling me all that I had yet to learn from it. Maybe it knew my time with it was too short.
Because as I walked to the cafeteria for breakfast this morning, a man with a chainsaw waved to another man sitting inside of a pick up truck whose hitch had a chain tethered between the two branches which made my perfect sitting spot. The sturdy trunk had the ugliest triangle cut out of the side which faced the pick up.
The engine roared, and the sound of cracking wood screamed as the branches buckled under the enormous weight of its trunk as each reached the grass. Before I could object or even demand for it to stop, it was over. The branches should have never been forced to touch the filth of the ground. This was where the assaults, the ravaging, the abuse occurred. The air was clean, pure, hopeful. My sacred sanctuary lay defiled on its side. I mimicked it as the other delinquents who had been behind me mocked and kicked me passing on their way to gorge themselves.
I did not cry. I did not move. Not until two security guards linked my arms in theirs and dragged me to isolation for insubordination. My counselor talked in circles that the tree was too close to the school, that the roots were causing damage to the foundation, that I needed to be sure to clear out the over crowding in my life so my foundation wouldn’t be compromised.
The fog lifted amid her tangent, and I remembered it was Friday. I assured her I would try. Forms were signed and filed away in my folder, and I was dismissed back to class.
So, now I sit.
I have written.
And my two hours of bleeding is coming to an end.
Where am I to go now?