“What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies.” -Aristotle
Sunlight. Chlorine. Coarse bark. Popping fuchsia blossoms. Climbing to the reaches of the sky. Touching the atmosphere and wishing your feet would stop kissing the earth, so grounded.
You jump. You fall.
The moment drifts away like childhood memories, lost in a haze of birthday candle tendrils and laughter that has no known origin and no known endpoint, it just echoes, empty.
Summer: Melting popsicles creating vines of sticky color, grass that turns brown on hot days, mirages on the black pavement, sweat stained shirts, and angry red sunburns on the bridge of the nose from a long day of plundering the neighborhood.
Pools mean chlorine. A poison deemed to be a cleaning agent and a sign of good cleanliness, but just a few scoops more and burning, rashes, coughing, asphyxiation, and maybe, maybe death.
But do all pools mean death?
An oasis in the summer heat, an excuse to unload children’s boundless energy under distant, attentive eyes, or maybe, it became a place to build bridges that eroded from calcified water and had fish floating in the far distance. Water shared between friends that looked clean and safe but was clogged with toxins that made you vomit and shit yourself bloody. Water that had too much chlorine.
There was a tree.
Isn’t there always a tree?
Summer: Catching fireflies, scraping chalk up and down the cement sidewalk, learning to ride a bike without training wheels, scrapping knees bloody from falling off a scooter, and earning scars while grinning at the progress.
Bonfires means fire. Fire when controlled is hypnotizing, warming, a tool for cooking packets of aluminum foil dinners and roasting marshmallows for smores, but when left unattended, utter destruction. Ninety percent of all wildfires are caused by humans. This all-consuming power leaves nothing but ash behind which flutters through the fingers like sand, floating away.
Why did you keep trying to pick up the pieces when there was clearly nothing left except for the remains of burnt bridges? Of frustrations of promises of doing better? Of forgiveness spoken while another match was already lite for the next wildfire? Of the insanity of repeated actions spiraling you downwards too? Why did you keep torturing yourself?
You were already on fire; why did you try to rescue someone else?
There was a tree.
The tree wasn’t majestic and expansive, but beautiful in its gnarled knots, and easily reached limbs that just begged to be climbed. The generous canopy of leaves and occasionally tight, magenta flowers becoming a different world, an escape.
I remember scattering those flowers, those petals on the scraggly grass, patchy from the deep shade.
I remember climbing to the highest limb I could dare. It wavered, as my hands settled on hard bird droppings and ants scattering its surface.
I remember the tight looks of my parents watching from the porch. Peering carefully as I reached to fly, even if I quivered like a newborn bird afraid to even spread its wings.
Maybe they weren’t really watching though, so caught up in chatter between themselves and them— the family friends— or maybe just listening to him— Q— watching him talk through the smoke of his cigarette.
I never flew. Faint grey whisps instead floated away, dissipating high in the sky.
Summer: Making friends with the neighbors, eating taco salad outside in the afternoon sun, hearing the buzz of mosquitoes hovering just by the ear, scratching small lumps from unknown bites, dancing around leafy poison oak entwined delicately through the bushes, and peeing on a tree in the middle of the night at summer camp.
Sunscreen means sun. Bright, blight light that shrivels un-watered plants and causes wrinkles and freckles and melanoma. Melanoma that when left alone from a blind eye kills. Plucks twenty Americans every day. And what defense is there? Chemicals, meant to protect oneself from UV-rays through deflection and absorption of the rays before they penetrate the skin.
Words are like sunlight. Wonderful, light, and something that exists but cannot be physically touched, but when too much comes out, when no protection is abided, cancer. Cancer of the skin, cancer of the mouth, cancer of the head, cancer of the heart, cancer of a friendship.
Why didn’t you notice it earlier? Why didn’t you use sunscreen, or just say no, just get out of the sun? Why did you persistently stay by Q when everyone left him, even his brothers? Why did you end relationships with friends you knew longer, had healthier bonds with, for an unknown connection? What did you see in Q that made you grasp onto him so tight that you became intrinsically bound? What words did Q say that you kept giving the money to him? Keep watching the repetitive cycle of letting Q borrow money, losing it all through gambling, through cigarettes and liquor, and asking for more?
Or maybe that cancer was already there?
Q used your weaknesses. Saw your addictions, played them, and gave you more.
The tree was a Kwanzan Cherry Tree.
It rotted out few years ago.
Buried pictures are all that are left now.
Summer: sizzling sparklers, booming explosions of color in the stark of night, long strolls on trails unknown, celebrations with warm potato salad, fresh cut watermelon, paper plate towers tipping over in a black garbage bag, and conversations with family last seen from the previous summer haze.
Grills mean charred fresh food: barbequed chicken, thick ribs, medium-rare steak, and blackened vegetables. Charring is a description of food caramelized and carbonized. It’s delicious, but like many things in life, cancer causing. At high temperatures there is a risk of acrylamide, a possible carcinogen forming.
And you, you cooked yourself with Q until both of you were black and brittle on the edges. Did you become a carcinogen or was it Q? You both became something toxic, you both became something twisted burning each other.
When did you realize this? When Q lost his driver’s license to a DUI? When you scrapped the side of your car against another in traffic, four beers in, me wide-eyed in the backseat after a track? When you got into physical fights with Q after rising emotions and inebriated states that left you with cracked ribs that groaned for weeks? When you would come home swaying and angry, shouting venom that still stings today?
Maybe two burnt things shouldn’t meet. They will inevitably crash and crumble into ash leaving others to swallow it in gulps, cancerous ulcers forming.
The fuchsia blossoms were my favorite aspect of that tree. At the peak of summer, popping color that lasted for eternity, and an aura of peace from admiring the quiet strength of a tree constantly heavy with its bounty, swaying side to side in the gentle breeze.
I would pick those silky blossoms, rub the silken texture between my fingers, and pretend I could get enough of that smoothness. I would find it again somewhere else.
I don’t think I ever will.
I don’t remember them ever having a scent though, but maybe, they had the most delicious, intoxicating scent. Something that just picked you up and carried you away to another realm, had you believing in the beauty of the world.
I liked that tree.
I blindly nodded my head when I found only the stump left. When I was told it was diseased for years and the difficult decision to remove it had to be made.
When it became an eye sore. A comment was never made about it again.
I still feel the phantom bark and sleek blooms underneath my hands.
Summer: long motorcycle rides on crackling black leather, clear blue skies that rapidly cloud with rain, cool nights with sighing breezes, shorts that seem to shrink every year, and golden tans that glow by the end of July.
Summer means relentless heat. Days where the rays beam hot, and the shade is even stifling. Days when forgetting to drink a sip of ice-cold water spells increasingly high body temperatures, profuse sweating, confusion, loss of consciousness, or even seizures. Days where the heat can kill.
On those scorching days was when we took a five-minute trip down the road to that pool. Where you would leave me to my own devices, and you and Q would disappear for hours doing God knows what. Maybe it was to talk the shit out front. Maybe it was to take a joy ride. Maybe it was to go pick up some more beer, some more wine, some more vodka, some more wine coolers, some more alcohol.
I like to believe those hot days made you confused, gave you the excuse for poor judgement. To buying those lottery tickets you don’t need, to feeding more of that drinking habit you vehemently deny, to picking up smoking when you never did, but to believe that narrative is to also forget to drink water and run circles outside during a heat wave. Just begging for heat stroke, ignorant to the symptoms.
The Kwanzana Cherry tree I knew no longer exists. I don’t know if it was ever replaced.
All I know was that at one point in the summer haze there was that tree. There was a little icy pool kept too cold. There was a black fire pit where we all roasted smores and sat around until the day blended into night. There was a deck painted clay red where we all sprayed ourselves with sunscreen and a slowly rusting grill that Q would cook shrimp and corn and steak and fish and onions on. There was a house with constantly blasting air-conditioning that had a kitchen we all congregated around when the seasons changed, but that is the past.
I do not know the future, but I do know you have claimed to fully cut out Q.
I do know that you don’t talk to Q. I know you don’t pick up the phone when he calls. You lock the doors when you know he’s close by. You whisper about Q’s crumbling marriage, and anxiously pace when discussing Q’s multiple failures of rehab, reflecting on that fact that you haven’t even tried. You side-eye Q’s house when we drive past, ignoring the memories now slowly fading, and that backyard with its bare stump, hidden from sight.
You do so much yet you have done so little. You are not better, but you are not worse. You exist, stagnantly and petrified. Will you become fully rotten or will you regrow and flourish? I do not know. All I know is that for you it all began and ended like that tree.