Last night at midnight I said goodbye to you on gmail chat, drank bourbon out of a wine glass, and left my house in my pajamas. I walked down the street alone, past the cherry tree you tried to climb – though you don’t remember it, because you were too drunk. You only know that you tried to climb it because I told you, days later, in Confessional Park. All of its blossoms are gone now, and it is in what I like to think of as the Ugly Duckling phase: straggly weather-beaten petals strewn beneath it, the new leaves unfurling like feathers not yet grown, damp and awkward compared to the glory of the blossom that preceded them.
Walking further, I found another cherry tree and climbed it, quickly, scraping my wrists on the rough bark, finding the familiar footholds in the dark, disappearing into the dark nest of branches. I often escape to trees when I am unhappy and need to feel secure. Physically secure: the high ground. Psychically secure: I am still me, I am defiantly still me, escaping the world of humans and returning to the world of trees. I can run away to somewhere better, if you don’t want me.
In a few seconds I had settled myself in the rough hand of the tree, cushioned by my Cowichan sweater. It was knitted by my mother: another reassurance. Every stitch of the springy, well-worn wool has felt her fingertips. It seems possible to imbue such an object with protection. I will wear this sweater for the rest of my life, and when I die it will still be full of protection, and so much more besides.
From my hideaway I could see the bike route. It is always busy, even at midnight, and I watched the intermittent cyclists whisk by with their backpacks and bike lights and jerky stop-go at the intersection. They didn’t see me, of course. Cloaked in shadow and cradled by branches, burrowed in the heart of the tree with my legs stretched out along the long licheny boughs – even in daylight, nobody looks up. Hair collecting dead blossoms and moss, elbows crooked to make as many points of contact as possible. Not for balance, but simply to be a part of the tree. The day had been windy, outrageously 90 km/hr windy, and now the last breaths swept through the tree, swirling the leaves and ruffling my loose cotton pants around my bare ankles. The waving branches patterned pale streetlight across my arms.
I thought about you. I thought about the mistake I had made that afternoon: reading some of our correspondence from back in the Year of the Quasar, the Flying Squirrel, the Marigold, the Soapberry. The Year of the Early Radish. When everything was Murakami, in the absolute best of ways. It was a mistake to return there. I thought about you and held onto the tree and wondered what I was doing. Gusty midnight in the cherry tree, tin-can-telephones strung out from my heart to a half-dozen houses in this lonely city – including my own – but nobody picking up.
I watched a car pull up beneath my tree and discharge two young women who, laughing, never saw me as they entered the house across the street. Simplicity is easy to imagine in the lives of others.
You don’t like climbing trees, I know, but I have always gone to them for refuge. Maybe it was my earliest means of removing myself before I could be removed.