Friday, April 17, 2009

The Loneliest Sight in the World

One forgotten night, outside my attic window, I first caught sight of it. While everyone in my family slept, as my brother’ soft breathing padded the bedroom we shared, I lay awake, staring at the striped pattern of light and dark along the ceiling. Unable to sleep, I pulled the covers aside (it was cool enough outside to warrant blankets but not cold enough to turn up the furnace), and quietly threw my legs over the side. Our desk kept our beds apart and a single window lay behind it, shutters closed but not closed enough to keep all the light out. I tip-toed over to the windowsill, careful to avoid the pattern of creaking floorboards I had almost memorized.

I don’t remember when I first saw the loneliest sight in the world; it must have been sometime in the fall of 1979. I would part the shutters and stare at it for an unknown while. I don’t know how long exactly each night, but I couldn’t allow myself to observe it too long, else it would swallow me up. From the vantage point of our second-floor attic bedroom, I studied the terrain beneath me with morbid fascination. Something unnamable drew me to it, attracted me magnetically, something amorphously evil and despairing and completely utterly heartbreaking.

A single tree grew in the center of our neighbor’s front yard, a few yards from the intersection of two side streets. A park lay just beyond, with swings and monkeybars dim outlines in the twilight, surrounded by a dilapidated chainlink fence. The witch’s tower, a twenty-foot slide in the image of an evil hag dominated the park, but that was just a dark mountainous shapeshift just beyond the reach of my sight. It is the tree in my neighbor’s yard that held my attention.

Across the street was a single streetlight, that odd off-color white, as if a tiny hint of purple or green mixed with its fluorescence, tinting everything beneath it an eerie green-gray. Granted everything the character of a nineteenth century etching. The tree swayed in the cool breeze, almost bare of leaves, solitary. Not a full-grown oak but certainly not a sapling, I could probably wrap my chubby adolescent arms round its trunk. I probably did, in the warmth and security of the day. But at night, there was something off-putting about it. I imagined it as a lonely sentinel, duty-bound to stand guard on our perimeter, keeping the vileness of the witch and that park at bay. A protector, but one you did not want to get close to, because .. perhaps … perhaps it could not distinguish friend from foe. I shudder to think what might happen to me had I been locked out of my house, pounding unanswered on the front door, that tree barely twenty feet away and towering over me.

More nights than I can care to recall I quietly opened those shudders, long after the house had fallen asleep, and checked on the sentinel. Did it see me, watch me as I watched it? I noted the piles of dead leaves accumulating at its roots. Soon the snows would come and its trunk would be the only object breaking the uniformity of the white grounds, its branches jutting out at rightangles holding up stoically under the weight of the snow. Holding up the weight of the whole world. It calls to mind another symbol, another tangible object I have seen, more and more of quite recently, and have grown quite fond of despite my fear as I ponder its deeper meaning.

Drove through the old neighborhood a couple of weeks ago, and the tree was no longer there.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

thanks for that one. brought back some memories of bike rides to the neighborhood and wiffle ball games in the backyard. I kinda even remember the tree.