Sunday Reflections: The Story of the Tree is Our Story, a story of love and loss in the time of pandemic
At the end of February in 2011, our town in Ohio flooded. At that time, it was the most traumatic thing that had happened to us. I had to find a way to escape our flooding home through flooding, freezing waters with a two-year-old and an eight-year-old. That moment changed everything about our lives and what we thought we understood about the world. We carry that trauma of that moment with us every time it rains.
That summer, still struggling from the 2008 recession and now dealing with having lost 1/3 of our lives in a flood, we moved to Texas. We were barely able to buy a new house, having found a renter for our Ohio home and a job in Texas, before everything fully and completely fell apart for us. Our renter ghosted, we struggled to pay the mortgage and tried to sell a house in a town in a state that was devastated by the 2008 recession. Eventually, we would lose that house to foreclosure and have to spend the next seven years trying to fix our credit while standing in grocery stories crying as we tried to figure out what food we could buy as we lived – barely – paycheck to paycheck. We were like every one of our neighbors, barely hanging on and trying to raise kids in a word that was scary and fraught and unstable.
When we bought our house in Texas, besides the very low price that we could possibly afford, it was the tree that made me want to proclaim yes. This was a tree that a kid could climb and try to reach the sky. This was the tree of my childhood dreams. As a child of divorce, we lived in apartments. And as a military kid, we moved a lot. There were no trees for me to call my own, to climb and try to touch the stars or name the clouds or build a tree house full of memories. This tree was every thing my childhood heart longed for and everything my parental love wanted for my children.
Several years ago, tornadoes came through parts of Texas and tore huge limbs full of years of tales from the tree. Although the tree continued to get new green leaves each new spring, you could tell the tree was slowly dying. Once again, a storm had done immeasurable damage to our home.
The tree needs to go, The Mr. would argue. It’s dead, decaying, and the limbs are falling off. For the last few years, I fought him. There is still new growth I would proclaim, even as the trunk began to fall away and the tree became a bizarrely misshappen shell of what it used to be.
But I had already lost the home where my children’s growth had been documented in pencil on the door jam. I had said goodbye to friends I loved, traditions I held dear, and the place that I had called home. I had fought through years of depression and anxiety to finally, sometimes, be able to call this new place my home. And the tree was part of the reason that I could. I would sit on the back patio and watch my children climb this tree. I watched them tell stories, spin tales, and bask in the glory of the sky.
As The Teen became a teen, I watched her and her friends climb that tree so they could glimpse sneak peeks of the neighbor boys in their own backyard without their shirts on. They would whisper and giggle and I would pretend not to notice because I knew exactly what they were doing and why. Twelve-year-old Karen would have done the same exact thing.
It seems fitting, then, that as the world is changing once again, The Mr. and I took the time this weekend to finally take down the dying tree. It seems fitting, somehow, that these two moments in time are coinciding. The world as I know it is once again changing. We are in the midst of a pandemic, something I could have never fathomed no matter how many pandemic novels I read or movies I watched – and trust me, the answer to both of those is a lot, it was my favorite genre up until about a month ago.
Having been through traumatic events before, I know that the world will not be the same after this. I have no idea what the world will look like, but I know everything is once again changing.
The world is changing. I am changing. My children are changing. So it seems fitting that in this moment, the dying tree is finally being excavated piece by piece from my backyard.
And it makes my heart ache.
My heart aches because once again, a symbol of my children’s childhood is being wrenched from my landscape. My heart aches because once again, I know that my children will face traumatic life changing events that will change everything about who they are and what their future may be.
The Teen was born shortly after 9/11. At the age of three she almost died from a rare disease called Kawasaki disease. At the age of four her mom almost died in pregnancy and had to make the heartbreaking decision to end that pregnancy, it took me almost a year to fully mentally and physically recover from the events of that time. At the age of six her little sister was born with her own health complications. At the age of eight, our home and town flooded. At the age of twelve, her childhood friends were victims of sexual violence. At the age of seventeen, just in the year 2020, a classmate died from suicide, a fellow student brought a gun to school that was discharged, and now . . . we are facing a pandemic.
I think about my teenager and all of her fellow teens. They’ve grown up in a time of environmental crisis, post 9/11 wars, police and school shootings, a deep recession, and more. Rights of passage like prom and graduation and everything they’ve been hoping for are being cancelled. We’re all hunkering down in our houses and praying that somehow this passes quickly with as few lives lost as possible and as little economic damage as possible.
I’m not here to tell you that this is the worst time in history. I’ve learned that all times in history have been bad for someone, most often marginalized groups. And though my family has had its fair share of trauma that we carry with us in the fabric of our DNA, we still have a lot of blessings and privilege and support. I feel thankful and sad at the same time. I am already mourning as I fear once again how the world is changing around me. We are all living in a time of immense grief and uncertainty.
The grief of the world feels too large for me to carry today, so I will mourn this tree, a symbol of childhood lost in a time when our children are losing everything.
Stay safe and healthy every one.
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About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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