You’re the One I’ll Miss

The girl’s tears are soakers. They never flow enough to nourish me but that is not part of our bargain. She confides the secrets no one else can learn. I help her as much as one can by listening, hearing, standing beside.

We first met on an unseasonably hot day. She and Yes–dear shared my shade and Yes–dear wiggled fingers in the girl’s soft belly. The girl giggled and flailed, her smile the broader for having no teeth.

From inside their abode, a harsh bell jangled, once then again. Again. Again. Yes–dear pulled blanket and giggler into deeper shade and ran to the bell. Her feet stirred dust, white with sun.

The giggling stopped. The girl was cool — and safe, so young she could only flail. But she flailed alone. Already, the girl knew loneliness.

She so often is. Alone. But not lonely when I am near.

That first hot day, she flailed and she wailed. I rustled leaves, I wafted breeze. Until she smiled again.

I’ve always done what I can for her. My roots buckle and twist, with cavities to hide contraband. The tiny dump truck, not for girls. The windup music box, if he hears that damn song one more time. The cigarettes that I kept too damp to ignite, until she glared through that day’s tears, “You can’t stop me, I’ll hide them somewhere else.”

She wouldn’t. She depended on me. And I thrived on her.

When she was very young, she would sing, her small voice a lilting breeze, the more refreshing because she knew no melody nor lyrics.

She broke my heart so long ago. That day, she brought tears, which she hid in a fat plush bumblebee. She clutched its tattered wings and her whisper was softer than the April sun. “Daddy hurts me. He makes me. He scares me. My daddy. My daddy.”

Her small heart had no room for hate so I loathed him enough for the two of us. She couldn’t stop him, but I had an opportunity. Family reunion photo, enough wind for justification, an ailing limb. When my branch dropped, it smashed to the ground where his skull had been. But he had knelt forward, embracing her for the camera.

The near tragedy produced hubbub. In the commotion, the girl slid from Daddy’s grip. He stared at the gash where my limb had torn from my torso and said, “This tree is sick. It needs to go.”

He spoke of himself, not me.

I was happy to oblige when he approached with a rope. However, by the time he fashioned the noose, I’d realized. The girl would avoid me, should Daddy take his last vile breath here.

I shifted the angle of my limbs and his hands slipped. I shed bark and his boots slid. Cursing, he dropped to the ground, spilled the morning’s vodka. That was a large bottle and it poisoned my youngest shoot.

He returned to the abode, a shelter fashioned from the bones of my kind. Soon his shotgun blasted and rattled the bones. The screams of Yes–dear blanketed the morning.

I leave it to others to find compassion.

The family moved — fortunately, not far. The abode stood empty. I did not see the girl for months. By then, her gaze was years older. So silent. She rested a hand on my bark and stared at the ground, her back to the abandoned abode. Too silent. But what young girl dares rage?

At a minimum, she needed to cry. I poked a splinter under her nail to facilitate healing.

In most ways she blossomed, despite her tainted soil. Her childhood was varied and active. She decorated my limbs with medals from her sports tournaments. In my shade, she practiced her speech to become class president. She is an excellent orator and she must have secured the position because she brought no tears to me regarding it.

But I fear I was her only friend. Certainly she had no confidantes. “You’re the only one who can keep a secret.” She’d flatter me with a sheepish laugh and hide yet another item among my roots.

A girl so lively and lovely and brave must have her pick of companions. If she had no intimates, that must be by choice. When choice is made so deep, is it still an act of will?

I blame Daddy.

It was years before she sang again. And then, all too briefly. A boy came into her life. He was a visitor and would soon depart. Perhaps that made him safer.

She brought him to lie beneath me. He made her happy, so I approved. But he was going away. Under me, alone, her tears ended in bitter hiccups.

The boy visited one more time. He held her hand while she sobbed. I worked on my weakest branch. Yes, it was loose enough. But the girl had no drive for vengeance, so I tempered mine. Anyway, it was too late. He had already carved his initials in her heart.

From this experience I learned that the persons have different kinds of heart pain. The boy left her, but he left her with love, and this filled the space against despair.

Her visits were solitary, again, and so still. Only by the style of her breathing could I confirm she was awake. Yet in her stillness there was restlessness. Wind blew inside her.

She brought a small suitcase, filled with the peels of skin she calls paper. She moved from root to root, removed each treasure from my protection, wrapped it in skins and placed it within the suitcase.

I remember everything. However, in persons, memory is a rudimentary faculty, and so I was surprised when she hugged me in a way she had not done for many years. She embraced one section of my trunk, then shuffled clockwise and embraced me again. In this way she eventually embraced all of me, despite our differences in girth.

“You’re the one I’ll miss,” she whispered. Her tears soaked me for the last time.

Goodbye. My leaves caught enough breeze to sprinkle her with what was left of the morning’s dew.

She released me to tousle her hair dry. And she laughed. “Not goodbye. Farewell for now. I’ll come find you as soon as I get back.”

Goodbye.

I felt such gratitude for my success. I had sensed her intention to leave, long before she began to speak of it, plan for it, set ideas free around me to see which took wing.

I had succeeded in hiding my reality from her. I am not well. The next storm will be my last. Even her gentle squeeze this day shot pain from roots to crown.

I hid my condition, so as not to cloud her excitement. So as not to risk her departure.

She has caught a right wind. She must go. No one can know when the next right wind will come.

She fills me up. I have no room for despair.

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