The Tree She Became
By Teresa Garcia
“Allow me to tell you a story that I know to be true, though you may think this to be just another old woman’s fantasy. I’ll remind you that I was not always in this nursing home as a resident.”
She always started her stories this way while rocking in the old wooden rocking chair we kept for her on the screened porch. She enjoyed the view and how she could see her old childhood home across the street which matched the converted Victorian our facility was in. She gestured today at the maple in the yard, resplendent in crimson and gold foliage.
“Today I’ll tell you why I always refer to her as she, her, or by Andrea.”
I settled into the much newer and less interesting rocker beside her after setting the tray of her snack and drink on the small table between.
“When I was a little girl still living across the way my best friend lived in this house. Andrea was a firecracker, a downright whizz at jokes, jacks, and snappy comebacks. Of course this was also back when two of those three things were discouraged in proper girls. Neither of us was very proper.” She giggled, and the mischievous pixie of a lass she had been shone through behind the leather mask of age.
“Sounds like someone I would have liked to know, Jackie.”
“You two would have gotten on swimmingly.” She reached across to pat my hand, careful not to spill the mint julep, then picked it up and sipped. “We ran around that tree and climbed in him when he was big enough, back when the first dryad of the tree was alive. Oh he was a handsome boy. I miss him. We never did figure out how he got sick and why he died. That’s when the tree died, and we mourned him so. None of the other trees on the street or even the forest would explain to us what happened. They simply said it was better this way and he loved us as much as we loved him. We were all of the same age, if you understand me.”
This was no where near the first time she spoke to me of speaking to trees and other plants. It had taken her repeating things I’d said to my mother under our own tree for me to believe there might be more to it than an old woman’s madness, and that perhaps when I heard animals whisper I was not insane. It’s not something that most caregivers will admit to if we want our jobs.
“So, you think he liked you liked you?”
“We got clumsy kisses on different occasions and tingly hand squeezes. I think so. I’m not sure what would have happened if we’d made it to adulthood all together. Andrea took his loss harder than even I did. I think maybe they might have married. She was 13 when that flu turned to a bad pneumonia and took her. She’s buried under the tree, though many won’t remember. This was back before you had to get special clearance for family graves on your own property.”
I couldn’t help the frown. How many times had residents and visitors walked over Andrea’s grave unknowingly? It seemed disrespectful to me.
“I see that. Don’t worry. She wouldn’t have wanted her grave marked. The tree she was reborn into is enough. When I die I want my ashes mixed into the soil to join with them, and we’ll all be together again. You see, when the spring came the year after she was buried there the tree returned to life. I knew it wasn’t our strapping sapling in that tree body anymore. It was her voice. Unlike the original soul of the tree though she couldn’t come out to play. This is why when I speak of that particular tree it is she, her, or Andrea.”
Jackie rocked thoughtfully and watched the wind brush loose leaves from the body of her friend.
“Do you think you’ll come back as a tree?” I found myself asking.
“Maybe. I don’t know. I suspect that when I die her body will die again. Maybe we’ll both go together to wherever dryads and whatever the boys are called. They call it the Summerland when they whisper. Maybe the three of us can reincarnate together all in a circle and intertwine our boughs to make a nice dancing spot for those that still hear the voices of the forest. I hope so. When I dream at night I dream of a skein of wool nearing the end of being spun. I think I’ve made a nice tapestry though.”
She closed her eyes, finished her julep, and slipped into one of her frequent mini naps. I knew she’d finish the snacks when she awoke, so I stayed sitting to keep her company and rocked. As I gazed at the maple for a moment I thought I saw the faces of a girl and boy looking out of the branches between leaves watching us. They locked eyes with me a moment before they vanished and sent a chill across the top of my head. Jackie murmured in her sleep and sighed.
“Please give me a little more time with her, to collect her stories. There must be others like us that will need them.”
The wind swirled around my head and I heard different whispers than when the animals speak. I could not quite make out what they said. One day, I knew, I would. While Jackie napped I pulled my notebook and pencil from my pocket and jotted down her story, knowing that I had watchers.
Dryad: Female tree spirit, Greek
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