I see myself from air.
There’s an evergreen tree that stands as part of a collection of evergreen trees in the joint of two buildings that are part of the large apartment complex I live in at 12, which is when some of this happens.
From the tree, on the right day, I tell my parents I can see the Chicago skyline.
My five-year-old son calls it the Serious Tower and we don’t correct him because how they know those things at that age is holy. Sometimes in the car on a clear day I’ll point out the skyline in the distance. Yes, we see it, they declare, looking in the wrong direction. Their willingness to believe or satisfy is holy.
This, fortunately, is a story about sadness. Or, perhaps, it’s better for me not to call this a story as much as it is a reflection. In this reflection are moments, filled of the senses and other reflections. I tend mourn things ending before they end. I reflect on reflections. These unhealthy layers synopsize me, bring me joy, make me despondent.
At 40 years old I returned to the evergreen tree from which I could not see the city.
At 40 years old, I’m 12. I’ve been here before. At 40 years old, I’m 12 and the only thing that matters is this evergreen—here, this tree, this trunk, me, in amongst the slim branches, each space chambered in crosshatching sections of twigs. Amongst its arms, I move through units of space in a skeleton—climb through its woody ribs, rest in a mouth of needles. Roof high, light shifts on the branches, thin and knobby like the arms of a crab while the needles twist in their cuff with the wind, then fall, feathering through the rungs, and onto russet sprigs of the worn-over needles below.
At 40 years old, I re-dent the saddle, so to speak, that I tanned many years before when as a child, I climbed this same tree and sat on a limb, lonely and thoughtful about my world. And as 12-year-olds can be, then, I was also 40, and reflective, feeling like a person watching a movie that he’s living in, trying to recognize myself in a story, stumbling over a slippery plot.
I didn’t plan to visit.
In the tree, 12 or 40, I look around and I wonder, who I might be if I would be the version of myself who is sitting in a different tree, that one other tree, there, as if me being me in a space in the world ten feet away would make me someone else. Or, if me being me in a space in the world ten feet away would make me still me—me as a someone who is altogether new and, still, recognizable, familiar in those traits that transfer across planes of beingness: the same cowlick, the shirt wrinkled in the same spot from nervously twisting it, the same way I clench my teeth to make my ears ring, the same lips covered in strawberry Chap-Stick. Recognizable, familiar, but, divergent—me, but me who’s been on a different trajectory. I look over at the ghost of myself in the next tree, the ghost of myself looking over at the ghost of me, as we try to discern our differences, the ways in which we know each other, the ways in which we are incompatible. If I can imagine myself in a different gap, in one of the world’s gaps not yet filled, who, then, would that make me? Me, living within my own attribute but just living in shift, living over there.
I wonder, if the only thing that matters is that other tree.
At 40 I’m 12 and at 12 I know, at 40, I’ve been here before. At 12, I listened to the periphery: the air-pressured nail guns from roofers, that rubber wood sound of a flicking diving board that leads to the splash of a body, the pinched chirp of sparrows. High in the tree, I could see the next apartment complex over, new, with white-white window frames and balcony railings. Everything there, new. I touched the spaces where bark dust and seed-hangs from dried dandelions gathered in sappy dots on my hands and arms. I felt both peaceful and frightened in the tree—peaceful at feeling so small, at being just another sound in the world, but frightened at the way that sound was resonating. In the narrow-quiet of the green tunnels of the small pine forest set there, I sat in what I eventually knew by 40 was a form of meditation.
At 12, I dwelled on everything—about clothes I wore, about how I carried a conversation with someone, about my arm angle pitching a baseball, about being a good son and a good steward of my developing independence. At 40, I dwelled on everything—about a job that was just a job, about a worrisome bump under my arm, about another election: someday, about calendar dates and preset reminders about the significance of those dates, about being a good husband and a good steward of my well-ingrained independence. At 40, I knew so much about who I became. At 12, I knew so much about who I hoped to become. And it’s not that 12 and 40 were or are two polar endpoints on some type of continuum, that I had started then and ended 28 years later, but they were, are, significant. Points on a chart. Points that could be connected by a string, those points eyes looking at each other from crosshatched lines on a graph, eyes from two different branches in different places in discernible, familiar times: the ghost of me at one plotted point, the ghost of me at another looking over at the ghost of me, as we try to accredit our similarities.
The only thing that mattered was this evergreen.
At 40 I was 12 and at 40, I sat on one of its branches, a little closer to the ground than I had at 12, concerned for its sturdiness under new weight, and while I came back to this tree with the intention to sit and yield to my senses, to just be in that trance of when your body feels memory differently than your mind does, I eventually betrayed that intention. Suddenly, that day, at 40, I began to appraise my life up to that point, filleted and snapped off my legs, trimmed off the tips of my fingers, peeled back the skin from my neck and examined the ruttiness of age, of the marrow and vessels, the pink-gray of meandering brain ducts. This was a vivisection. The reflection was a recipe, made up all the parts that created my story. At 40 I was 12 and even then, a kid, I braised in thought over everything, reflecting of the webbing of dead possibilities, considering what I had done, what I missed, and, maybe more, what had missed me—those things I wasn’t in tune with, that had skirted right past me. At 40 I was 12 and at 40 I felt sad that I tasked myself with such weighty things so young. I looked at the ghost of my young self and wished that I could hold him and realign him, transfer over all that dispensable worry. The thing about ghosts, though, is that there’s nothing to grab onto.
I closed my eyes for a moment and when I opened them again that ghost of me was gone. Or maybe it was the ghost that stayed and the bodied me that left. Whichever way it happened, there, in one of those trees, time folded on itself and whatever holes that were punched in its line matched up. And through them I could see all sorts of versions of myself in different places, in all sorts of decoration, holding different body. These weren’t idealized versions of myself, just modifications. And in that quiet of review, in that spying on lines of different lives lived, the only idealization I wish I could’ve applied at some point during those years was this:
Let it go, child. Let that metered roar below your surface plink away like the end of a soft piano solo. Let the tree be the tree be any tree and let them keep within you holy. Let space be holy—space you hold, space the holds you. Let, and let it go. We are all God manifest and that means that our lives are records of God. In that manifestation, see peace. Hold it. It’s there. It’s there in the breeze and the needles falling up into their pockets, in the cracking of pebbles under parking tires and the squeak of the joint of a closing door. In voices and in the light, fluttering through thin afternoon clouds, warming, surveying, brushing over and up, holy. It’s there. It’s yours.
Remember you are sounds in world and your resonance is enough.
The only thing that mattered was that evergreen. And now the only thing that matters is you.