It is four years ago. My husband and I are standing with our latest landlord in the courtyard of what will be our home, staring skyward at a crooked-trunked tree with a shaggy mane that every once in a while gently sweeps the upstairs window of my neighbor’s apartment with a fan of silver-green leaves.
“You can’t kill those things,” my landlady is saying in a way that makes me wonder if she’d rather it weren’t true. “Wacked off the top last year and before you know it…” She waves her arms above her head, flapping and wriggling like a child portraying a tree in an elementary school play.
“Well, I love trees,” I tell her. She laughs. “Ooooohhh – kaaaaay,” she says.
The house I’d rented before that one, I’d picked based to a large degree on the beautiful live oak that grew in the corner of the yard and that we named Jack. I left the apartment before that because the property manager had a proclivity for chain saws and constantly referred to “evening out” the branches of the oaks in front of my patio that rose from grey trunks I likened to elephants’ legs and counted on to steady me as I wound willy-nilly through six years there, a grad-school thesis, my mother’s cancer diagnosis, my wedding.
When I was little, I planted a maple tree seed. It grew. We moved it from New York to New Jersey and again from the first Jersey house to the second. It’s still there. It’s my tree. Any time it would come up in conversation as “Kitty’s tree” my sister would roll her eyes. “Oh my God. Would you shut up about the goddamn tree already?”
The quickest and surest way to stab me in the heart is to cut a tree down. My apologies to the thousands of people who cut trees for this blasted Christmas holiday, but I can’t stomach it. I don’t care if it came from a “tree farm” – something I find to be a perverse notion altogether.
In the past, Mike and I have tried buying small potted trees that someone shaped to look like the perfect triangle, only to have them reveal their true nature later, stretching out their pine needles all lopsided and unhappy. One such tree (Mel) is now planted on city property. We watered him religiously for the first year he was there. He’s grown to five times what he was when we made him suffer the indignity of tinsel. We visit him regularly. He’s never asked to come home.
Mike had been hinting about a tree all weekend. I’d said okay, we’d try again. Something small, something potted.
He leads me over to a fat four-footer – twice the size we had been imagining. It has a nice shape. Looks Christmassy.
Outside, a worker is guiding a chainsaw through the trunk of one of the unfortunates – though it’s already been harvested to die, he makes a fresh cut so it’ll soak up more water in someone’s living room before being left on the curb to brown.
Mike is circling the potted tree. It’s branches seem strong. “It’s nice,” I tell Mike noncommittally. “It’s big.”
He calls Isaac over to see how high he can reach on it. “Almost to the top!” they both lie.
“What kind is that one?” I ask casually.
“A rdwwo,” my husband mumbles looking off into the distance.
“A REDWOOD?? ARE YOU NUTS??? What are we going to do with a redwood?”
“Hang ornaments on it?”
“And where do you propose we plant a redwood after Christmas?”
“It won’t take up that much room. They live 800 years, how fast can they grow?”
I might as well have been standing next to the bathtub, a baby crocodile thrashing in the bubbles while he promised, “It won’t be any trouble, really.”
Becoming a mother has brought me more responsibility than I think I can shoulder. I haven’t slept in almost three years. Even while I was still pregnant, I posted a raving blog (you, Kitty, naw, go on) that talked about how some days the only reason I get up is because I feel guilty about leaving the blinds down for the plants. I once left the SPCA crying because there were no kittens I could foster. I take my commitments all too seriously and my dear husband knows it.
Do I have to tell you we have a redwood in our living room? This real estate collapse better keep on keeping on, cauz we need to buy a house with a BIG ASS yard for my new tree.