The Ugly Tree

Well, today sucked.

There’s just no way around it. The Baby’s seizure activity has increased at an alarming rate, even from Wednesday. He had three seizures during the Zoom session with his speech pathologist. We’d be singing a song and he would just lose control of his upper body and then look up at me as if he’d forgotten who I was. It was a little surreal to just try to jump back in to singing “Wheels on the Bus” when all I really wanted to do was go crawl into my bed.  Also, the news that Texas schools will remain closed through the end of the year hit The Kid hard and his grief sure looked like anger and arguing today.

This was probably my hardest day yet.

When 5’o’clock rolled around, Alex walked out of the guest room/office and I metaphorically handed him the reins and then ran out of the house. Literally, I ran away from my house and if you know anything about how much I hate running, then you know that’s a big freakin’ deal. It’s basically me saying, “Here, Alex, you feed the boys dinner while I just go ahead and go DIE.”

I didn’t run far actually because I hate running with the fire of a thousand suns but I did go on a very long walk. I started to watch the trees. We live in a community that was built in the 60s, not one of those newer planned communities. The trees in our neighborhood were not purchased as saplings and grown with wires by landscapers with gloves and chemicals. No, our trees grow all willy-nilly over our properties, their gnarled, misshapen branches reaching for the sky.

As I walked up on these gnarly trees tonight, I was struck with how the tree looks completely different walking from 20 feet away and walking under it. It’s like one of those 3-D pictures on facebook where you can move the picture around to get a different perspective, except, you know, real life. I really like examining the tree as I stroll under it, seeing the pattern of branches and leaves that took years and years to form. The shift in perspective from the trees led me to consider how things might look different for us once we near the end of this pandemic, especially since it seems we’re still standing 20-feet-away (or at least 6 feet (HEY-O! Ba-dum ching))


I thought about how tree soothsayers can tell so much from a stump about the life of the tree that formerly resided there. Oh, this here means the tree withstood a fire. This ring here tells us it survived a drought that year. The whole life of the tree, laid bare in a series of rings that tell its story.

When I’m old and wrinkly, if you were able to cut me open and see my life as the rings of a tree, what will this time period show?  Surely, signs of stress and sadness and grief and fear but maybe a little hope and strength too.

I stopped for a few minutes to lean against a neighbor’s retaining wall and send a very long text message to a couple of friends who are parenting tough kids and then I just kept on walking. I made my way to my favorite spot to walk to- the highest point on a hill in the neighborhood. For some reason, most of the trees on that street have been cleared away so I can almost see the whole sky just like I could growing up in West Texas. At the tippy top of the hill is a tree. It’s not cute. It’s bark is tattered, it has weird tiny branches that stick out the bottom. The leaves at the top kind of make a V-shape for no readily apparent reason. Two branches veer off South, like they’re trying to leave this mess and go to Mexico.

This is a tree that you look at and think, “This tree has lived.” It certainly withstood the tornadoes that tore through our city in October. I’m sure it’s survived torrential downpours and Texas wind storms and pollution and dog pee and some kid whacking it with a baseball bat for no reason.

And it still stands.


The ugly tree

I identify most closely with that ugly tree right now.

This isn’t pretty, this day-to-day-survival. I do more swearing under my breath than I probably should and I’m on my phone too much and I was a grouchy bitch today because my only companions were a an adorable but newly epileptic bag of bones and a teenager who is feeling traumatized and isolated from friends and who took it out on me.

No, it’s not pretty but it’ll have to do for now. When we emerge from this, my eyebrows will be united as one and my hair will be a rats nest and I’ll likely have trouble fitting into my jeans, but I’m trying to look forward to the strength and patience and wisdom and compassion that are being imbued into our collective rings right now.

To the ugly trees who are still standing, I salute you.




3 thoughts on “The Ugly Tree

  1. Don’t forget the roots that run deep and the nourishment that holds those ugly trees upright. Its okay to get in the car and say “bitch” over and over again too. I’ve heard trees say it during dust storms.
    I love how you allow us into your life story.

  2. I love your analogy of looking into the tree stump and it telling their stories and how our lives could be like that too. I read an article today that said the most resilient people are those who feel the grief and the trauma but also look for hope and meaning. I see you doing that in the midst of this storm.

  3. The shutdown plus the son’s health crisis seems like a vise that is pressing on your soul.

    Your immediate pain is expressed here and your wisdom is extracted too.

    As a poet-philosopher, you found the tree analogy to share your painful insights.

    This too will pass. Then like you say, you will have been shaped in lasting ways.

    Grappling with the pressures of life shapes all of us. You just have a way of processing your transformation in this public setting.

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