The Yawning Tree

Frothing bubbles of frustration, grief, and rage formed in Stacy Roger’s throat as well-wishers kept approaching her, all wanting to extend their unnecessary condolences. She’d always said she had no interest in attending her dad’s funeral, but now here she was, surrounded by neighbors she’d grown up with, uncomfortable with how familiar it felt to walk amongst them after so long.

She’d gone to see her dad just a week ago—for the first and last time in fifteen years. Entering his living room, her heart cramped when she realized the withered stack of flesh and bone, propped upright in a gold velveteen stand-assist chair, was once the six-foot something, bear of a man who’d towered over her childhood.

She’d stepped forward and held his hand. He was so happy to see her, making it easy to keep her internal promise of civility, to reminisce about the good times from her preteens, and to avoid talking of all the bad that came after. When she kissed his forehead goodbye, he said he was sorry for being so hard on her and wished things had been different between them. Her anger waned, as if love and sadness were a rich cream poured into hot, dark coffee.

Now, the reality of attending his funeral was straining her nerves, and every time someone touched her, they gave a warning twang that shortened her patience and her breath. She needed uncomplicated air and excused herself from the most recent group of sympathizers, eager to escape before she said anything too real.

Holding his wake at the family home meant she was near a patch of forest she’d loved as a child. It always offered her a peaceful refuge from the tensions at home, a place where she’d once created a world of honour and magic, a place where her actions never irritated anyone, and where she was always enough—a place she needed now.

After forty years, the forest seemed smaller and denser than Stacy remembered. Blackberry vines tugged against her skirt and she yanked herself free, heedless of the snags that she’d forever associate with her father’s funeral. She pondered the loss of the man who’d shaped all her relational traits—some intentionally opposite to his abhorrent examples, yet some so deeply engrained that in times of stress, his words flew from her mouth, lashing and stinging those closest to her.

A thin ray of light pierced through an opening in the tall coniferous trees and she stopped as the beam hit her face with a warmth she wasn’t expecting. She stilled, letting the moist scent of chlorophyll and damp, pungent soil swirl through her lungs. It grounded her to the forest and calmed her mind, offering peace—the first she’d experienced since her dad died. Following the light, she found herself at the edge of a small clearing full of tall grasses and wildflowers. It was a beautiful place. As she gazed at the clusters of colours that led across the field and around an abandoned woodshed, she placed her hand against a sizable maple tree. Her fingers unconsciously dipped and rose along the cracks and ridges of bark and when she turned her attention from the flowers to the tree, she found herself willing it to share its wisdom, willing it to offer her guidance from its centuries-old soul.

A cloud passed overhead and blocked the sun as thoroughly as the maple blocked Stacy from accessing its insights. She continued to feel her way around the trunk until she fingered something chippy and brittle. A piece broke off into her hand and she saw it was a flake of charcoal. It crumbled under her touch and fell to the ground, leaving a streak of black carbon on her fingers. She wiped the black smudge onto her black skirt and stepped into the meadow where she saw a gaping hole had been burnt into the very center of the trunk. At some point, a fire had threatened this tree’s very existence. She smiled as ashes to ashes ran through her head. Turning her attention to the dilapidated shed, she pushed through the tall grasses until she stood beside the moss-covered walls. How could the strong structure she remembered have deteriorated so thoroughly in the middle of a warm meadow? Then the sun reappeared and answered her question; the shed stayed in the shadow of the intimidating maple. She frowned at the tree, annoyed at the damage it had caused, and was stupefied to see that the charred hole was now a gaping mouth, with axe scars acting as eyes.

The tree was yawning.

All the emotions she’d suppressed at the funeral flooded through her system and she was seventeen again: insignificant, inadequate, and inconsequential, old wounds split open under the maple’s judgement. She tilted my head back and with fists held high, released a guttural roar. Meaningless, implied the yawn. Your female emotions flutter to the forest floor and have less effect than the leaves that fall and rot at my base. She stepped forward, fists now at her side and yelled toward its impervious face, “Aren’t you curious about me at all? How I’ve been? What I’ve done?”

She looked at the trees surrounding the mighty maple, all of them younger and of different heights and breadths. Their limbs were green, and flexed with the wind, their trunks clean of life’s trauma, yet their roots intertwined with their father’s roots, pulling nutrients and remembrance from their elder.

The tree continued to yawn.

Stacy relaxed her hands. She’d buried her judge and jury today. Her opinionated armchair-god had been laid to rest. This tree was nothing compared to him. What did it really know about her? It didn’t ask questions, it didn’t listen, and for her, that rendered its verdict too arbitrary to merit any real consideration.

Yet, its yawn had tilted her world and tapped into her pain.

It was only a tree. She looked down and saw the young girl she once was, face flushed and fists raised, standing beside her. The girl demanding to be seen, to be heard, to be appreciated. Stacy laid her hand on the girl’s shoulder and knelt beside her. Eye to eye Stacy said, “I believe in you.”

The younger version of herself looked up with a need for approval so raw that Stacy’s heart shattered, as much from knowing what the girl needed, as from having this opportunity to give it to her. “You are enough. You always have been. A new type of love is coming soon and the conditional, soul-crushing love you’ve known will wither under your light. ”The girl gave a tentative smile, picked up a rock and threw it at the maple tree. It hit aroot and ricocheted sideways, not landing anywhere near the tree. Her smile vanished, and wrinkled worry appeared on her forehead.

“You’ll never be known for your throwing arm,” Stacy assured. “Throw words instead. ”The girl nodded, took a moment, and said, “I hope someone cuts you down to size.” With her heart-words spoken, she moved closer, and as their bodies touched, they melded together. Stacy’s love reached out to the sad little girl inside, and she felt the girl’s confidence grow. It was time to go back to the wake. Her dad was wrong to bully her, and wrong to make assumptions about her based on his skewed notions about women. In the end, Stacy believed he knew he’d missed out, that he short-changed his own world when he dismissed hers. Yet as she glanced at the yawning tree one last time, she couldn’t help but yawn back.