The Tree

I sat perched on the strongest and highest branch of the tree, feeling the rough bark beneath my bare legs. I was dressed in my favorite short denim pants and green shirt, but just now, nothing felt better than the familiar feel of the leaves clustered around me. Fingering the coarse surface of the cast around my arm (a habit I’ve taken to doing whenever I’m deep in thought), I took a moment to look around me. It has been over twenty years since my last visit to my thinking spot, but everything was still here, unchanged and waiting for my return. Climbing it had been more difficult than I’d remembered, but of course, with one arm casted, it would’ve taken a long time for anyone. Now as I sat, I felt as though I’d stepped back into time.
I knew without looking that there was a thick branch jutting out behind me, and leaning against it I sighed. Until nearly a month ago, I had been the happiest person in the world. But now I felt that even the beggars sleeping out on the cold streets of dim lit alleys might be better-off than me. My whole world had fallen apart; crumbled down to ashes that made it impossible to build back up again, and I alone had been left standing in the ruins. There was nothing else for me to do but come back here, to the only place that was still left for me, the only place where I could have my last cry. And after I wail out my whole soul, I’ll go someplace quiet and end it all. It’ll be all over soon, and I’ll be in heaven, which seems the place where I could be happy, and see all my loved ones again. But before suicide (it sounds weird if I say it like that), I just had to come here.
A flashing image of the horrible night came back. We’d been on a road trip through the country. I was sitting next to my husband in the dingy old traveling van of ours, laughing and singing along to the old 80’s music floating out of the battered radio, discussing about where to go the next day, about what we’d see there, who we might meet. It was dark then, and we were bouncing along on a rocky mountain road, headed for the nearest motel marked on the weather-beaten map I’d found folded neatly and lying near the windshield. We could hardly see what was ahead of us, except for getting a little help from the few street lanterns some blessed angel had set up, but after the last few appearances they disappeared altogether. An hour we had continued on in the dark, me fretting while complimenting Joe’s driving skills at the same time, him shrugging off my worries with a few laughs, but obviously nervous as he gripped the wheel. Neither of us saw exactly what happened: I figured later on that we must’ve bumped into some rock or tree stump or whatever damned thing that had been lying in the middle of the road, and Joe had lost control of the wheel, the car had screeched off-course and off the road, and down the cliff. All I remember after that was that I’d screamed for Joe or Mom or God or somebody, and my insides had fallen fast and crashed at the bottom of my body, and my arm had twisted horribly into an angle I’d never imagined possible for the human body to administer, and then everything had gone white. But all through that whole memory of the accident, I can’t recall a single thing about Joe. He must have said something, or done something, but all I can see in my mind are those fast clips of me. Just me.
We must’ve crashed somewhere in a road or place where people existed, because when I opened my eyes I was in the hospital late the next day, with the heavy cast around my wounded arm and bandages on my legs and face. There was a giant patch just above my brow as well, which kept heaving over half my eyes and made it hard to see. But after awhile I recognized something that seemed to resemble a nurse busying herself around my bed.
“What happened?” I croaked.
“There was a car accident, Mrs. Wilmer,” said the nurse. “Your car slipped off a mountain road.”
“Yeah, I know that,” I said rather snappishly. “But where’s Joe?”
The nurse checked her clipboard to see who Joe was, then gave a sigh. “I’m very sorry, Mrs. Wilmer,” she said. “I’m very, very sorry.”
“Why?” I demanded. “Why are you sorry?”
“It was after a time that someone called the ambulance,” she said. “And the terrain was very rocky in those parts, as I was told. The ambulance was a little late.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, my voice rising. “What are you talking about? I asked you where Joe was, and why aren’t you answering me?”
The nurse sighed again, which was making me more than annoyed. “He didn’t make it.”
“What do you mean?” I said again, my voice shaking, but knowing perfectly well what she meant. “What do you mean, ‘he didn’t make it’? Just say it, just say it!” I was nearly screaming now, sitting up painfully in the white bed, kicking away the deathly white blankets from my aching body, and feeling a spurt of pain in my arm.
“Please, don’t move your arms,” the nurse said, looking quite frightened. “Mr. Joe Wilmer has passed away. I’m very sorry.”
“No, you’re not!” I yelled at her. “You’re not sorry, you’re just saying that because you don’t know what else to say!” I heaved a rasping breath and calmed by voice. “Joe isn’t dead,” I said, looking at her. “He isn’t dead, you don’t know for sure if he’s dead.” It sounded more like a plea, a self-assurance that the worst had not happened. I angrily brushed away the tears that had welled up in my eyes.
The nurse gave a sad sort of smile, then walked away, leaving me on the white, white bed. White, like the whites of dead eyes, like the color of a face with no more life left to shine, like dried lips that would breathe no more, like the last thing I’d seen after the accident, just before I’d lost consciousness. I hated white.

So now I sat on the branch, crying again, stupidly glaring at the white sun in the sky as if daring it to blind me. It hurt, but it didn’t blind, possibly thanks to the tears. Wiping them away, I shifted my position, and felt something brush against my back.
Of course. There had been a hole in the branch I’d been leaning on. Long ago I’d stored all my precious possessions and treasures in that little tree-hole, ever since I’d been old enough to be allowed to climb trees. Now I reached into the hole with my free hand and brushed away the dead leaves. Everything was still there, and I recognized some: my favorite sea-shell from my first visit to the beach, the colorful stones I’d secretly stolen from the Japanese neighbor’s back yard when I was ten, the little cloth Raggedy Ann doll I’d received from Grandma on my eighth birthday, some bracelets and earrings I’d saved from my first high school prom, and the pretty necklace I’d dumped in after my first break-up with my boyfriend…and finally, the dark red little diary, lying at the bottom of the hole. I felt a little guilty about totally forgetting about it, but it was still the same, though a little worn and tattered in the corners. The bind had held, and the familiar crackling sound of rich paper still sounded when I opened it.

This is the diary of Anne Stacey Browlings
Don’t you dare touch it, because I’ll find out, whoever you are.
And, you wouldn’t want to be found out by me.

I smiled to myself and traced my fingers over the familiar letters, written in my old bouncy-loopsy handwriting. But I stopped smiling when my eyes fell on a jumble of smaller, darker and newer letters crammed into one line at the bottom of the page. It wasn’t my writing. Squinting, I difficultly made out what the words said.

Good to meet you, Anne Stacey Browlings. Nice hiding place. Who am I? Let’s just say, a Secret Friend.

“What the…” I muttered, and turned the page. There was my first entry, announcing with great pride that from now on I’d be keeping a real, genuine diary (‘genuine’ being my favorite word at the time), and that it would be a secret diary, as well as my best friend. And at the end of the entry I’d jotted down a few lines about myself.

I’m just a plain, ordinary girl looking like everyone else on the street, and no one would ever think I’d be the sort to keep a diary. But here I am, sitting here in this beautiful young tree with a pen in my hand….From now on, I’ll tell you my deepest secrets, my highest dreams that might take me to the stars, and the darkest thoughts from just the bottom of my heart. Because, like always, I want to remain as just the ‘passerby’ who would never be written about in the great history book of the world, and still be happy about it. I’ll live my life the way I want to, cry and laugh whenever I want to, dream and wish about whatever I want, and all the while smile to myself, enjoying the little secret that in my secret hiding place no one knows about, I have my own history book, the book that’s written about me.

And just below them, in newer ink, was the messy comment: “Of course, it will be yours and only yours to treasure for the rest of your life. But I’ll be in on the secrets, if you please, because right now, I just want to know all about you. So I’ll turn the page, and read this whole book about that wonderful person named Anne Stacey Browlings, and I’ll be your real, genuine friend.”
I couldn’t believe it. Who would ever climb up here, in my own secret spot, and read my personal diary? And who would even care? Mystified, I looked through the next entries. The secret writer had replied to everything I’d written in the diary, and from my best days to the worst he or she had laughed with me, cried with me, forgiven me, teased me, agreed, disagreed, debated with, and consoled me. In the blank margins he’d written his own thoughts and suggestions, always ending with the words “Your real and genuine friend.”
I had only written until about three quarters of the diary, and I paused to read the last entry.

I’m going to stop writing here, my handwriting said. Because I’m off to find a better life and to pursue my dreams. Mom and Dad are both dead, and I’m an orphan now. I still can’t accept the fact, but my life has come to a dead end. I think I’ll travel to another place and live there, and someday get married, have children, and be a mom. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to be, anyway. But dear diary, I’m thankful that you came into my life when you did, because for all these years, I’ve been so happy to just write away with no one to stop me. I’ll be hiding this into my secret tree-hole as always, and maybe, just maybe, one day I’ll come back and see it. But until then, it’s farewell, dear friend, because I’m off on a real adventure.

And beneath that, the words of the stranger:

I’m sorry you’re leaving. I actually found this diary here after you finished this last entry, and I started right from the beginning until here, the last words. So you’ll never know me, I’m afraid. Frankly, I was expecting more from you, but I’m also pretty proud you’ve made such a big decision to leave. I’m sure you’ll find what you’re looking for, and lead the best and most beautiful life ever. I’m glad I found this diary, because no matter how many times in your entries you keep saying that you’re just a ‘plain, ordinary girl’, I think you’re more than that. You have your own thoughts and dreams, hopes and wishes, and they make you a beautiful person. Good luck on your adventure, Anne Stacey Browlings, and if you ever come back here, many years later, like you say you might, I hope you read these words and not ever lose hope. Because life has its worries and grievous things, and no matter how sure you might be that there is really no more hope left and that you’re life has really come to a ‘dead end,’ you should always know that you’re not alone, and somewhere in this wide, wide world, there’s someone who’s still thinking about you and wishing you on. Make your own choices, because you’re the only one who gets to control your life and make all the difference you want. Don’t ever lose hope, and be brave.

All my love for the rest of your life,
Your real, genuine friend.

By the time I finished reading, I couldn’t stop the tears that were running nonstop down my cheeks. In my heart, I thanked whoever the secret writer could ever have been, and after a good long ten minutes of weeping, I tucked the diary gently back into the tree-hole and climbed down the tree with a determined heart. Giving the tree a last hug, I turned to face my future. There was still too much of my life’s road left to waste. And, most of all, there was still hope.
With the past safely folded away in my heart, I’ll be brave.

The Tree


Joined February 2008

  • Artist

Artist's Description

It’s never too late to start over.

desktop tablet-landscape content-width tablet-portrait workstream-4-across phone-landscape phone-portrait
desktop tablet-landscape content-width tablet-portrait workstream-4-across phone-landscape phone-portrait

10% off

for joining the Redbubble mailing list

Receive exclusive deals and awesome artist news and content right to your inbox. Free for your convenience.