Eight Pieces: A Single Tree

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The best days happened when she stayed at the casita. Sunlight poured across the cleared jungle and over her south-facing front porch.

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When she was two or three, she played in dappled sun beneath an oak tree. She hadn’t known the word “lonely” then; her playmates were acorns, sun shafts, and crinkled brown leaves.

She hadn’t known loneliness until she’d been married for a decade. These last twenty years, the ache had become habit.

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For a moment, she forgot the meaning of the word “lonely” now, for the sunlight, the sunlight, the pouring warmth, the comfort, the yellow, echoed in the rising blooms of the kitinche tree outside the mission chapel, the sunlight spread into all, and into her, as well. And she wasn’t lonely, she was alone. She was all one.

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She rested in solitude.

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That particular ache would never be filled, the one that stirred when they stopped listening to each other. He would never listen to her again. She could never listen to him. That option had closed.

But she didn’t have to hold onto that ache. Though it had become habit, it could be unlearned.

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When they got married, she thought, “I will never be lonely again.” She would always have someone to listen to her, and someone to listen to. She’d stopped listening first, she realized. It was because it was the same thing. And he held a snobbery behind his socialism. He scorned those who wanted to buy things. That’s what had made her stop listening.

“Look at those little rats,” he said, as they passed Walmart driving to the university. “Scurrying to the cellar for crumbs! Hurry, little scruff-bums! Scurry! Scurry! The sale is ending! Get your plastic bags! You can’t live without ten bottles of dishwashing soap! Buy it! Buy it all! Buy it fast! We’re selling out!”

She looked out the window to see a young mom holding her son’s hand.

Besides, rats were graceful, intelligent, resourceful creatures. First, you don’t criticize other people, especially when they have to work hard simply to establish a comfortable life. He didn’t know struggle. And second, what would ever cause one to think that another creature, another living being, would be something to be used for an insult? What does this say about how he perceives other living creatures?

She tried to get past that day, for it was still early enough in their marriage that their ritual of jokes and what she liked to refer to as their “herd chatter” served to maintain their bonds. But then, not long after, he stopped listening.

“I took a long walk during lunch break today,” she said on an early spring evening. “The dogwoods are blooming–have you noticed? And when I rounded the admin building, I caught the sun, shining through a storm of petals! It looked magical! Like the fabric that was the petal had become filled with something so pure, so beautiful! Like liquid love.”

But he had turned away and was washing his hands. And after he dried them on a towel–she still remembered, it was that red checkered towel her grandmother had given them two Christmases before–he left the room. Her eager speech rattled through her mind and settled below her larynx in a hard knot.

She had thought once that when you were married, you always had someone who would listen to your innermost thoughts, and that was what loneliness was: the discovery that this wasn’t so.

The kitinche tree rose its golden branches towards the late afternoon sun.

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It stood, alone, by the chapel door.

If she were a young girl on her way to Mass, she would look up at it.

Let me lift my face to the light, too! She would sing to it, “O holy, holy! Bathed in sun! O holy, holy! Solitary one!”

She didn’t feel lonely when she painted. She felt alone. All one. The thoughts, the feelings, the tiny moment that opened into the immense expanse of life! It all poured out onto her canvas.

One chapel. One bell. One door. One tree. One me.

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