When I was 7,
I used to climb the tallest tree in my backyard,
nestle myself in her open arms,
and we’d watch the entire world pass us by.
I named her Grandmother Willow, not only because I watched Pocahontas so many times the tape broke, but because this tree too could talk.
She would whisper secrets,
the chime of her leaves in the wind was our special code,
and she knew she was safe when she confided in me.
She told me of my neighbor, that he often stayed awake until odd hours in the morning,
that once she saw him kiss a woman who did not look like his wife in the middle of the driveway.
We were mortified.
We laughed when we learned the boy with sun-kissed cheeks and glasses had a crush on my mom.
Grandmother Willow learned this when he stuffed anonymous love letters into our mailbox.
And we laughed so hard, in fact, that she cried.
Her tears splashed across my body and they wouldn’t wash off in the shower.
But I kinda liked it.
Honey residue lingered on my hands,
slept with a piece of her in my bed.
And I could root myself in the knowledge that she was always with me,
watching out for me,
perched high in the clouds:
The keeper of all skeletons that danced along our street.
You see, a closet would have been a little too crowded,
Grandmother Willow stood watch.
But we stopped having heart-to-hearts as my body became too heavy for her branches.
The years carved us further apart,
and the taller I grew,
the less I knew about what Grandmother Willow had seen.
I wasn’t sure if she even knew that I’d had my first kiss.
or if she saw me steal the US Weekly from outside the house down the block.
I wanted to ask her, but her skin was peeling and I had forgotten how to speak tree.
So I pretended I didn’t know her.
That she hadn’t meant everything to me.
Did not flinch when her fingers were clipped.
Her bark began to fade.
And then one day, I came home to find her gone.
And for an entire week, I stayed awake at night with a lump in my chest
and no one to share my secrets with.
An only child
who was finally alone.
Recently, I came back for a visit.
Held my breathe as I ventured into my old backyard.
Places that had become overgrown and untouched,
almost as wild as my own racing heart.
A heart that for one moment stopped beating when I saw Grandmother Willow
again after so long.
She was still a stump.
But it was the little sapling next to her that had me awestruck.
It look familiar,
Like maybe it was her daughter,
Sprang forth life when I had been so sure of death.
A new chapter blossoming parallel to my favorite book’s end.
A new vessel to grow taller than my imagination,
and one day be a safe haven
to the next little girl
the next keeper of secrets,
the next believer in dreams.
Hidden like Russian Nesting Dolls in the perfect tree.
The next version for innocence to sit perched in her arms
and watch the whole world pass them by.
Grandmother Willow 2.0,
Maybe reaching heights that even her namesake couldn’t go.