Nana planted an acorn on her wedding day. You grew to be my best friend.
As a baby, I was protected by your thick green foliage, lying on a blanket, wondering at my fingers and toes. As a small child I rocked on the tyre swing Dad had made, safe on your strong limb, holding me as securely as Dad held Momma when they danced.
Golden summer days, picnics and barbeques, skipping through rainbows made from sprinklers, you stood smiling, squirrels racing among your branches. I hugged your rough skin and learned to climb to your crown, queen of all I surveyed; sitting there I could see for miles. I hid in you whenever I didn’t get my own way, until Momma would coax me down with sweet words or the promise of cinnamon milk.
“Good night” I’d whisper, and kiss your bark, your reply a sigh as I ran to the house.
I learned to count with your acorns, learned my colours in your autumn glory. Made leaf mountains, then dived into them, swooping gold and brown and orange into the sky. Raked them all up, to do it again and again and again. I swear you laughed with me, shaking your canopy in the wind to give me more to play with.
Dad teased me when I worried for you when the snow came.
“You want to put your scarf on it?” he asked. I said that was a good idea, and Nana helped me knit one long enough to fit around you. Dad just shook his head when I proudly tied it and gave you a kiss, then made snow angels to celebrate.
“Sometimes I wonder about you”, he said, then he and Momma joined in. The shapes of us stayed, side by side before you, until the thaw.
Before the next summer I woke one night to commotion, anxious voices in the hall, Dad carrying Momma to the car, her saying over and over “It’s too soon, it’s too soon”. Nana tried to hush me to bed, but not before I saw the blood covered sheets. I ran to you and watched our car till the red tail-lights blinked out of sight. I wanted to stay up there all night, but Nana said I’d only be causing Momma more worry and she needed me to be good.
I wasn’t good enough, Momma never came home. We buried her on a grey wet day, like she had taken all of the colours with her. You stood bowed as I hugged you; branches dipped low to shield me as much as you could. Dad drank and cursed, walked away when I tried to hold his hand, shut himself in their room. Nana said to give him time.
I found him hanging from you a few days later. Granddad took a chainsaw to your branch, angry as if you were to blame. Nana held me back as I screamed, but I never forgave him, any of them. Still, I suppose it was right we were both scarred from their leaving. We buried him with Momma. Granddad too, not long after.
In time Nana and I got into our own rhythm. She kissed me off to school, had supper ready for my homecoming. We sat outside every evening, in all weather, she on the porch knitting, I on a blanket leaning against your trunk, counting the stars.
Nana cheered with me when I budded, wept with me when I bloomed, shared my secrets, hopes and dreams. She became parent and sibling to me; weathered the storm of my adolescence with a quiet grace I hoped to inherit. I sometimes watched her from my bedroom window place her hand on the stump of your severed limb, counting out the rings of life her son would not reach. Nana was the only one who could understand how much I loved you.
My first kiss happened beneath your boughs. I pressed my palms into your bark as he pressed against me. Our romance blossomed underneath your shade, it was only right you should stand for me at my wedding. We dressed you with fairy lights and danced in your glow, paper lanterns on wooden tables, a stereo playing our favourite songs. I waltzed with Nana, her head against my chest.
“I’m so happy for you girl”, she said to my heart.
“Thank you Nana”, I whispered into her hair, “for everything”. But I meant especially for you. She left me soon after and we wept together, your leaves falling as freely as my tears.
Joe never really understood how I was with you. He tolerated it, for a time. But each month that I leaned my tear-stained face against you he pulled further away. I hadn’t meant to shut him out, I just knew no other way. Your children have spread far and wide, grown and multiplied. Joe and I hadn’t roots strong enough to hold our seedless love together. Once again you took the poison of my grief and breathed into me the strength to go on.
So many seasons have passed, with you as my constant, but I am growing bitter like the taste of your fruit. Grey hairs frame my wrinkled face; my limbs resemble your fallen twigs, dry and shrivelled. You are so much stronger than me, aging gracefully, still in your prime, I cannot last.
The knife feels heavy as I stand before you. I push away thoughts of your shock as I carve into your bark, exposing the smooth white wood beneath. I am doing this for you, to leave you something of me. I slice my flesh, press my palm against you, blood mixing with sap.
The wind rustles through your leaves and I feel a rumble beneath my feet. You open up the heart of you, as I step closer, spiralling as we are entwined. I should have known, dear friend, you would not let me depart this world alone.
Davena O’ Neill writes about moments, the small everyday events that shape us. She is a published writer of poetry, flash fiction, and short stories, and lives in Kerry, Ireland.