It seems serendipitous that today’s Daily Post, a WordPress forum with daily writing prompts, offers the theme, “Tree.” I have been torn about which story to tackle for my writing challenge today, and am frankly trying not to burn out and skim through the process.
At the same time, I have recently been submitting a longer essay (related to trees) to several creative nonfiction-related magazines, in hopes to expand my writing style. Because of this, and because of today’s theme, I’ve decided to include a small excerpt from the essay I’ve been passing around (with no luck so far). Because of the lack of response, I plan to give it a complete makeover, while still trying to tell the same story. I’m not worried about “publishing” the excerpt below because:
A. This is just a very small piece of the essay and,
B. I plan to rewrite this portion
Still, writing with any allusion to my childhood is a rough journey that I am only beginning to travel. Basically whenever I even start to anything, however small, I have to go for a walk, I often feel physically ill. But perhaps sharing is the first step to getting over my fear–and will in turn help me edit this puppy into something more publishable.
So, thank you for reading.
Okay. Here we go.
Excerpt from “Seven Eighteen”…an essay in progress
Rain slipped down my forehead as I sullenly glared at the spot where the tree had once stood.
Of all things to get rid of, I thought, of all the trees to cut down.
The house didn’t have a lot going for it other than that hundred-year-old oak. I grimaced at its absence and considered Ben’s reaction as we waited there in rain-peppered silence. He glanced back at me with kind, patient anticipation, waiting for me to give the green light. Waiting for his cue to comfort, to move, to say anything worthy of a place unworthy of words. And yet, instead of doing what I came here to do—collect dirt for a ritual in our upcoming wedding—here I was, frozen, looking down on the new owner’s abysmal landscaping choices.
I didn’t expect everything to stay the same, it’s been over 16 years since we left—suddenly, without a forwarding address for neighbors or friends—but still, this is definitely not the image I turned over and over in my mind as we made the white-knuckled drive down the highway. Already, the scene I had directed in my mind was veering off from reality.
But heartbreak often arrives in the space between expectations and truth. And this small, unexpected change—the loss of a once-unmovable tree—left me irrationally angry at my decision to even come down here in the first place. Why do people cut down beautiful trees?
I’m rarely stubborn about tradition, or pushy about preferences, but when we made the decision to come here two weeks ago, I insisted on one thing—I wanted to drive. This was just part of the ritual I conjured up years ago, back as a teenager. This trip had been in my head for years, but the time—and the company—was never quite right. Driving put me in control; it proved that I chose to be there. Otherwise, I worried I might start to panic like cat in a carrying case on its way to the vet. Or that I’d start to view Ben as my captor—forcing me to revisit this place I had pretty successfully stuffed back into the closet of my mind until now. I was worried, above all, that I wouldn’t have the option to leave. But we stood there, car key in my hand, getaway Honda waiting behind us.
The homes surrounding 718 had changed drastically, improved even. New, eco-friendly cars in the driveways, linen curtains in the windows, mowed lawns—all blanketed by the peace that accompanies a weekday afternoon when a neighborhood has hustled off to jobs in the city. No foreclosure signs, no boarded-up windows, not seedy men lingering on the corner. But my house—what used to be my house—was plunging into rapid decline. The paint hadn’t been updated; it peeled off like skin after bad sunburn, exposing the dark green wooden beams underneath. The dollhouse-white shutters I had always admired were now slipping to one side, hanging in front of my parent’s bedroom window. The shingles on the garage, however, which had taken my dad six months to self-install (a long-running joke in my family), held strong like sentinels in the growing rainstorm.
And yet the tree, my tree, was gone—the gargantuan oak outside my bedroom window was reduced to a five-foot-wide rotting stump. Perhaps it was just its time; perhaps it was only there to guard our threshold, and made its graceful exit after we left. Its roots remained, as did its presence in a neighborhood that yearned for trees.
Three weeks before we moved—a feat that took over four years—I lied awake in my bedroom, listening to the familiar tones of a car alarm going off across the street. Yet unlike the other alarms that constantly flooded the neighborhood, this one was accompanied by a suddenly BOOM. And one moment later, BOOM BOOM. Then—fire.
I apologize for leaving things so up in the air here, I’m happy to either tell you the rest of the story in person, OR, hopefully, someday the full essay will be published somewhere! If you know of any places taking submissions, please let me know:)