Perhaps it’s human nature that only in true desperation, the seemingly innate desire for survival comes to the front though as the water coated her lungs that instinct never rose to the surface.
She always felt a draw to the tree. During her pursuit to be away from the house, she ventured to places, never having a specific destination in mind. At first, leaving was solely to escape the turmoil in the house. To escape the plates that gracefully danced in the air only to hit the wall and crumble into hundreds of small shards. To escape the holes, made without meticulous care, that formed the shape of the slopes of knuckles, unveiling the soft insulation, and the ever-ear-piercing cries as skin made contact with skin. She always told herself that walking out was for survival. Everything revolved around survival. Until she found the tree.
She had ventured further than anticipated that night. It was quite a possibility that it was in reflection of the red-soaked spots that greeted her on the carpet in the afternoon, but her feet guided her past the broken wooden fence in her backyard and into the darkness of the evening sky.
The willow tree, still as grand and overwhelming in her memories, stood in the center of the field, surrounded by patches of wildly grown flowers. Pooled underneath the left side of the willow tree leaves was a small stream that ran to the lake. The gentle hum of the wind sang in her ears like a soothing melody promising temporary tranquility. If she could have bottled one sound to listen to for months to come, she would’ve chosen those mere fragments of words every time. In the days that followed, she found herself returning to the willow tree. Most times she’d simply let her eyes rest and listen to the silence that covered her in a blanket of solace.
She found that silence could immobilize you despite the screaming urge to run, or it could engulf you into the depths of unanswered questions that she found to only trace back to regret. She figured that only she had this cynical view of things.
At least that’s what briefly mirrored back at her in those minuscule moments her eyes struggled to meet his. She never dared to disrupt a pre-established routine perchance it would cause another disturbance in the grand scheme of her life. She chose to believe that as the reason for never acknowledging his presence at first. On some occasions, she would hear the quiet echo of the wind rustling as if it caressed an object, or the soft thud on the rocks as she hoisted herself towards the top of the tree branches. Out of the corners of her eyes, she’d catch glimpses of wispy red strands, leaning slightly in the direction the wind blew. Ultimately, she chose to ignore him.
She knew that each time she sat down, hugged by the roots of the tree when her body could only give out to save herself, he peered down at her journal despite her initial attempts to shield his vision. She would strategically shift her body to tilt the words away from his sight, but regardless of her conscious movements, when she looked up, only for a second, he seemed to be closer to her. In the later weeks, she stared down at the rocky ground and found their steps to be in sync. Her footprints always seemed heavier and rougher on the soil than the barely visible traces of imprints he made. She seemed to carry heaviness wherever she went. In the soles of her feet, in the way her body curved towards the underground, in her heart and mind, except for those later weeks. Except for that first day.
Writing was her form of communication. She knew, even now, that speaking without pondering over each syllable proved to be infeasible. Her subconscious spoke to her that it was the reason why she had let him sit by her side while staring intently at the pages filled with words. That day she wrote nothing. She stared at the empty page and let the warmth of his presence consume her senses. She welcomed it. Underneath the shade of the droopy willow leaves, the faint sun rays painted dashes of light across her cheek as she tilted her head back and closed her eyes, but at that moment she allowed herself to simply feel. Gentle particles of light and a vague speck of a glow appeared beneath her eyelids, and the desire to extend her arm out and grasp onto the hue split her mind between him and the lights. So it seemed in reality, she had extended her arm out, and as she set it down, her hand ever so slightly brushed his.
Together they found a routine. She would come home and bear the destruction that welcomed her with an embrace of normality, and in spite of that, she knew that he would be there: at the tree, now their spot, and together they would walk, nestled away from her distraught. He never pushed her or showed any inclination to change their habits. She grew to understand his behavior like the way his head tilted when a question developed beneath those eyes whenever she let her journal lay on the grass only for him to absorb. He’d lay flowers over her blemished skin and decorate them; that was the first time she looked at her bruises, truly looked at them without closing her eyes immediately. She took the flowers home and surely enough tucked within the pages of her journal resided tens of dried lilies. With him, someone besides herself knew of the memories and everything that followed her. She’d let herself fall asleep, burrowed close to the willow trunk and underneath the covered night sky, he sold her promises of a dream. Together she dared to dream beyond the present. Beyond the broken plates.
She found herself back in reality after that night. It wasn’t the first time her uncle hit her, but the first time he broke her bone. She could vividly recall the crisp sound as her knee buckled with a mere kick to her shin. She had dragged herself the next morning to the tree as it seemed to be the only place that could heal her broken frame as her uncle couldn’t muster any care to bring her to the hospital.
Her body had collapsed against the trunk as she sunk deeper into the grassy soil. The riverbank drifted against her legs and she made no move to move. But she could feel his presence lingering, shifting without regulation.
She knew in her subconscious that he would’ve been there, ready to soothe the crimson stream trailing down her leg that merged with the lake.
But he wasn’t. In fact, he didn’t return, not until a month later.
Never once in their last moments together did the pair meet each other’s eyes, but she longed for his presence and the reassurance that someone wanted her for once in her life.
“I can’t lose you. I can’t keep losing things,” her words came out as a mere whisper.
His fingers reached out extending towards her jaw, the gust of air stopping to create a direct path to connect the two, but his arm dropped.
His whispers trailed the atmosphere, like the goosebumps that gradually covered her body.
“I would have never forsaken you. You’re perfect.”
That was the last time her imagination let her dream of an escape.
At that moment she guessed that it was fated in the stars that everyone chose to leave her. When she was younger, her mother used to take her hand and walk to an oak tree. She’d whisper illicit dreams in her ear that only those who dreamed larger than life could have thought possible. She’d guide her eyes to follow shooting stars and show her the universe of hopes. That to be living meant more than simple motions. To live meant to feel alive and feel the intentions coursing through her body.
But even her own mother, the woman who taught her to live, left her alone with him. With his bruised knuckles that imprinted on every surface of her body. That turned her pristine skin spotted and covered in purple shapes that taunted her each time she stared down at herself. And after her own imagination gave up on her, she knew rest assured everyone left her, by choice.
Perhaps that’s why the deeper she sank in the calm waters of the lake, surrounded by the presence of the willow tree, she felt at peace as for once she made a choice about her life. The more she understood her dissatisfaction with the reality she simultaneously created, the lighter the rock tied to her ankle felt.
And oh, how desolation consumed her more than the water choked her lungs.