Our tree breathed. Its bark flaked like eczema-ridden skin; its insides thrived yet rotted like ours, stuffed with (gummy) worms and (chocolate) animals. Our tiny hands gripped the tree’s crevices as we climbed upwards, beyond the reach of our yelling father.
We hoped she would keep us safe.
Our tree breathed. The science teacher at school told us so. Our tree sucked in carbon and expelled oxygen. The clouds from my mom’s rusting 1979 truck choked us but fed our oak. With air we blew from ballooned cheeks, we provided our oak with snacks. But when the elderly mailman would come by, we rushed to meet him so he could be on his way. Our last dog died from being overfed.
We hoped she’d outlive us all.
Our tree sighed when we both fell in love for the first time. Both of our partners wanted to carve our names on the tree. We refused.
We hope she would be proud.
We knew our tree had stopped breathing.
Rushing from our downtown apartments, we jumped into our cars, rain pelting our windshields. Dad? Long gone. First loves? Long gone.
But we couldn’t let her leave like everything else.
The rain had stopped. Our cars turned the corner to see the tree ablaze but the house untouched.
We called 911. Threw open water bottles from our cars. Spat until our glands quit. Held each other while Dad smirked from above and Mom’s tears complemented our own.
We saw our lives in the embers of her leaves.