When my friend’s car pulled up to my childhood home, I always cursed the tree in the yard because it blocked my view. Anytime I decided to look out my window, the green and brown leaves fell like a waterfall especially when the wind hit the branches. As I walked outside, a parade of browns, greens, and yellows made a messy pattern and if I stared at the leaves long enough I could create a picture of an abstract piece of art in my head. The tree always looked like it extended its hands to protect us even when we weren’t looking.
Thirty three years ago, I watched and helped my father plant that tree in our yard. Even though I was young, I recall the source of pride on my father’s face. First house. First driveway. First mailbox. First tree. He took special care around the soil, toiling it with his hands and making certain he ensured the proper environment for the tree to grow. Through the years, it grew taller and taller and the leaves started to fall in the street since the branches extended and arched over the sidewalk. Notices would come in the mail warning my parents to trim the branches otherwise they would be fined. My father complied with the request and would employ the help of his best buddies in the neighborhood to trim it down. It would almost always be a Saturday morning event. The ladder, the electric saw, the rake and my father would work to keep the tree on its best behavior.
One of the most piercing memories that still stings me in my stomach is a video my father’s friend took of him working on the tree. It was post-cancer, but my father still insisted on participating in the bi-annual tree trimming event. Frail in his frame, he still did what he could by picking up stray branches and raking leaves. It is the last memory that I have of him not sewn to a hospital bed. His personality was summed up by that tree: strong, restless, moody, and resilient.
Last week, my mother called and told me that because she was in the same area of our old childhood home, she had an urge to visit where she spent most of her years with my father. The new owners have made it completely their own – something I expected would happen, but didn’t realize the effect it would have on me. In one sentence she knocked the breath out of me. “Rudri, they cut the tree down.”
I kept and keep saying it over in my head again. Not wanting it to be true. I keep rationalizing and saying to myself it was just a tree. But I know this isn’t authentic. It wasn’t just a tree. It was my father’s spirit. His hard work. His persistence. His happiness. His sadness. His proof that he was alive. A lingering sadness grips me as I write this.
I need to come to terms with this grief and acknowledge that it is a world without my father.
And for me, this world will never be the same.