A CHERRY TREE
Tucked in the corner of my backyard is a small, spiny trunk, clothed in pink and white blossoms, and adorned with bountiful flowers. The roots disappear like snakes, writhing downward into a blanket of petals at the foot of the tree, covering the same hard ground on which my brothers and I knelt when we planted it years ago.
We had planted it on a Tuesday, and I had watched in silence as my brothers’ gentle hands had packed thick soil around its trunk, laying a small bundle of lilies at its base. My older brother, Owen, towered over us from behind, shifting and spreading the rest of the sodden dirt back and forth around the tree. He wiped his furrowed brows with shaking palms, raw from his tight grip of the shovel, and paused every so often, pursing his lips to pull a drag from the crumpled cigarette he pinched between dirty fingernails. He wasn’t allowed to smoke, but no one had said anything that day.
It was this same Tuesday that I had heard my dad’s muffled crying from outside the bathroom door, for the first and only time I ever would. When the door swung open, he had already rinsed his briny tears down the drain, and wiped his mottled cheeks dry with the soft, white shaving towel he used every morning. He pushed swiftly by me without a word and left for work after getting dressed.
It was this same Tuesday that our neighbors started acting weird -- staring at us with sorry eyes every time they saw us at the bus stop and leaving flowers on our doorstep because it was too awkward to deliver them in person. My best friend Paige (who lived across the street) stopped coming over to play and the boys from the end of the road (who were always hanging out in our backyard) never used our trampoline again.
It was this same Tuesday that our relatives, whom we never see, started showing up -- aunts and uncles that were always too busy with work to join us for Thanksgiving or were annually sick for Christmas. My mom had rolled her puffy, bloodshot eyes as she welcomed them into our living room. We sat in silence, shifting uncomfortably in our seats and glancing unceremoniously around the room, trying to avoid eye contact. Uncle Rob, who I’d met once at a dinner a few years back, clasped his sweaty palms nervously in his lap and wouldn’t stop shuffling his feet against our wooden floor. I
felt bad for him.
It was this same Tuesday that I had found a half empty bottle of rum in our garage, discarded behind the metal shovel that I had gone to look for, and stained with the same burgundy lipstick I used to steal from my mom’s bathroom drawer. I had taken the bottle outside and given it a good whiff, slowly inhaling its bitter stench, before pouring the rest onto the lawn. I watched it soak and bubble into the dirt, drowning the tiny black ants and that filed through the grass, and poisoning the ground beneath them. I never told anyone about that.
It was also this same Tuesday that my older brother, Myles, had disappeared‒ gone with the sirens, anxious voices, and those useless defibrillators. I don’t really remember him anymore -- I’ve tried hard to, but forcing old pictures into memories is just a mind game. I do, however, recognize that small, spiny tree in our backyard. His bark, wounded from years of roughhousing and making trouble with us, had softened against the harsh weather the past winter had brought; but his little branches still reached up towards the open sky, just as my older brother had done to my mom when he was a boy. I know every crevice and crack on that tree, all thirteen of his branches, and those hundreds of small, papery flowers that stick to his limbs like bunches of cotton candy. When I drag my fingers over his rough bark, feeling the blistering skin of the trunk come loose beneath the touch of my hand, I can sometimes find my brother again, diffused in the sweet scent of cherry blossoms -- pink, white, and bountiful.