In Front of the Tree
I decided to sneak out of the house without my umbrella. Mommy and Daddy were out to work. Granny said I should try to protect my young bones because they will get old someday – but I didn’t care. For too many months, I was protected. As she issued maternal warnings, her forehead and eye corners creased up, displaying her cosmic existence through well-defined facial lines. Instead of recognizing the wisdom of her years, I gathered my 80s style coat and silently escaped without a glimpse from her watchful eyes. The itchy fur from my hot pink, faux fur coat was too much for my mini, 6-year old body. Every time I slid into the Eskimo gear, I felt as if someone had locked me up in a padded room. This day in particular did not require such a plush coat.
After months of winter’s somber waltz, the dance was coming to an end. The weather was turning and seemed to be on the outskirts of redemption. Winter was being dismissed and spring was preparing to serenade me. Even though the rain was ever present these days, I didn’t care; there was a touch of rejuvenation in the forecast. The rain had temporarily paused while the clouds were lightened and without swirls. I inhaled the damp air, in full force. I wondered if I loosened up, would I be able to someday blow like the leaves on trees. At the moment, the branches were skeletons. But when dressed, the trees jittered and swung – with movements mimicking the high-pitched whistle of the wind. In early spring, the arms of the trees would become filled with cone-like treats, in shades of pastel. I enjoyed their conflicting appeal: naked and dull in the cool air, yet fully clothed and alive in the roasting sun.
As I headed to school with Mike, my well-adored older sibling, I was set on practicing my new saunter. About a week prior, while watching a black and white movie, I noticed a glamorous lady walking with a book on her head. Her form was perfectly in line with the black evening dress that embraced her curvy figure as she floated on the screen like a silk scarf. I made up my mind to be just as graceful, if not better than her. Only problem was that I had to sway rather than walk, every day. My daily exercises might seem excessive, but I felt like a lady in training. I knew Mike was fed up, but I’m his little sister and felt he needed to be patient with me.
“Jae, will you pick up the pace? You better not make me late,” he scolded.
“My feet are much shorter than yours. Go ahead, I’ll catch up,” I sweetly reasoned. As I stood at the edge of the corner, a rainbow-colored puddle caught my attention. It looked like gasoline might’ve leaked into the liquid, so I stooped down to take a sniff. “What are you doing? Get away from that dirty water.” Mike’s full brown eyes were becoming thin with grief. Although a year older, he was at least a full foot taller and carried himself with urgency. I raise my head to examine his dark, neatly chiseled face and wonder why girls went crazy over him. To me, he was my older brother, he was just Mike.
“Girl, you better stop daydreaming.”
He clutched my puny left arm and led me in the direction of Heywood Avenue Elementary School. We headed west on Lincoln Avenue and were about a block from Tremont Avenue. The only cars we saw earlier were the ones lazily parked on the streets. Maybe we were early and everyone else late – or perhaps we were late and everyone else early.
As we approached our midpoint mark, Tremont came alive with cars that revived the morning. Across the street was an old, dark brown building that housed the Orange police station. Back on our side of the block, to the left stood a plump and homely, green and white house. The huge emerald shutters flapped like eyelashes, but I was not scared. Instead, my expectation was for the house to reveal a burly grandmother on the porch, ready to offer early morning biscuits – the kind of fresh treats that warm every inch of your body with love. The only problem was that the image never manifested.
I shifted my attention from the house to the large tree that sat smugly, a couple feet back from the curb, to guard the intersecting corners of Tremont and Lincoln Avenue – in Orange, New Jersey. Although its eternal home was presently shared with the green and white house, the tree ruled the yard, the corner, the block and the city. From every angle, the tree maintained a vast perpendicular presence. Subtract the relative home, the police station, and all other non- living objects in the vicinity; but leave only the tree – the character of the location would still maintain its status in American history. On the other hand, leave all else and instead remove this root of the community; there would be a decaying hole at the very center of Orange. And the scent would be of a destroyed planet, just enough of a memory combined with the uncertainty of the future.
The posture of my wooden friend always reminded me of a security guard’s firm and ever-still stance. Maybe it was a thousand years old because it looked solid. The deep ribs that extended from mid-section to the screaming branches reminded me of an elderly person. The body of this aged tree held countless tales. For every naturally carved marking, I imagined a history of this world’s journey through a youthful and rebellious past; artfully recorded into the once smooth trunk of the tree. Both joyous and solemn tales were etched into the DNA, for all to marvel on. Experience and knowledge had burdened down this tree; however, it was still dedicated to the purpose of area guardian and historian.
I was jolted out of my thoughts by the screeching of tires. “Jae, get back,” I heard my brother’s voice quiver, as he pointed in the direction of the sound that dared to interrupt the peaceful setting. While the cantankerous downpour had completely ended long before, vision still resembled that of a transparent shower curtain. I couldn’t respond. My thoughts were carried from the dark earth creature to the right of me to the sloped hill that disappeared up Tremont. There was a huge commotion that instantly slipped in and became the nucleus of all focus. I saw red and green metal objects spinning around like the red ants I used to feed hot pepper. My brain could not immediately process the unexpected incident. There were objects slowly progressing in our direction. Someone apparently put reality into slow motion.
The once-fuzzy air had become completely clear to my youthful eyes, only to deprive me once again. My natural lights were diminishing. Within moments, I saw faded visions of large forms colliding in the intersection, but could not hear a single boom nor yell any longer. The actual cars did not register as tangible items, but rather as figments in my waking dreams. I attempted to utter letters, with the desire of forming legitimate cries, but the inward yearning would not materialize to outward expressions. My corpse chose not to cooperate with my brains, and instead remained frozen. I wanted someone or something to stimulate my young muscles because I was unable to shuffle, by even the slightest degree. I morphed into a tree, much similar to the one resting a short distance away.
Am I alive? The very thought induced an internal panic attack. I was to be 7 in September – would I not celebrate another childhood milestone? My entire body seized up on me and life seemed to be gradually exiting. My tongue was moist, tingly, and heavy; I could not swallow.
From the lower parts of my body, the numbing extended to my fingertips and chest. My head swayed and I no longer saw the commotion around me. No red or green cars. No pink fur coat. No brown police station, nor green and white house. No seductive trees to steal my interest. The weather was neither cool nor warm. Daylight hid its fresh glow from my curious gaze. Color disappeared from the scene and black took over.
I was uncertain of timing and solely existed in the spirit, without a connection to my human form. Thoughts dare not disturb my peaceful relaxation. No deadly pain interrupted my rest. I was totally out of touch with the objects and individuals of earth, but steadily in touch with a heavenly world. The length of time was immeasurable.
The sun burst through my closed lids and forced me back to life. I was not dead! As I strained to open one eyelid at a time against the glimmering light, there seemed to be at least 10 shadows of people standing over me. Momentarily, I was dazed; then I recognized a familiar face, Roger – the cutest guy in my class. He was moving his lips but my ears did not cooperate. My lips did not oblige; the numb feeling was still present but fading. My mouth was arid from the lack of proper circulation during the lost moments.
I felt a coarse object cradling my small frame. Successful at my efforts to turn, I was surprised to see my former role model as my bed. Thick, dark gray roots traveled from far below the paved blacktop to well above my limited height. As my senses returned, I heard the typical bellowing of an ambulance. The stench of burned rubber faded in and out as paramedic, policemen and bystanders tried to help accident victims.
A long white arm found my small frame, as a voice asked, “Are you okay? You got hit.”
“Jae, are you okay,” my brother echoed as he reached around the uniformed policeman that helped me up.
The scene was contrary to what seemed like moments ago. Lincoln and Tremont were filled with curious faces. The mighty sun had overturned the unfair ruling and the rain seemed permanently locked up. Unlike the start of dawn, everyone eagerly welcomed the day and marveled at the miraculous events that took place an instant before. Words fought each other in the air.
“The little girl got hit.”
“All three cars pinned her on that tree.”
“She was thrown through the air.”
“Is she alright?”
“I can’t believe she survived.”
“It’s a miracle.”
“The red car flew out of nowhere.”
“No way, the green car jumped the light”
“Let the medic get the lady. She looks smashed up.”
“Little girl, are you okay? Can you walk?” The arms helped me up. The moment I began to place pressure on my right leg, the tenderness of a dislocated knee shot my efforts.
I shrieked. My thoughts drifted from my painful leg and followed my eyes to Mike. Wet streaks were slightly visible on his cheeks. He stood still, no longer displaying a fixation on school. Instead he comforted me with, “It’s okay, Jae” and “You scared me.” Most importantly, he assured me that he was right next to me and was not going anywhere.
“Alright, let’s get you in the ambulance,” the policeman ordered, then quickly carried me to the bellowing emergency vehicle.
My companion for the trip was one of the driver’s from the accident, a pale complexioned woman with deep brown-spiraled curls and cherry red lipstick. She was laid out on a stretcher. Her eyes were both bold and scared, but she found the courage to dispel my fears with – “You’ll be ok!” I was a pedestrian but the only victim not requiring a cot. Although the cars never touched Mike, he was allowed to ride in the ambulance with me. As the vehicle climbed Tremont’s slope, my eyes were fixed on the tree that protected me throughout the ordeal. Time and inhabitants were born and expired, yet this wooden warden continued to survive as a silent witness to the events that have occurred at the corner of Tremont and Lincoln Avenue.
Janice G. Ross © 2010
(I wrote this piece as part of an assignment for my Narrative class, back in 2010.)