eedlings are pathetically weak. They lack the experience to stand up for themselves in this harsh world that does not spare the young. Whichever beast pulls at them, whatever rain beats them down, theyacquiesce. A silent surrender, just a quick puff of wind as they go down. They’re easy. So easy you can buy them in four packs or tiny balls wrapped in purple tissue paper. It makes it easier to place them exactly where you want them.
Not like me. I grew wild. It made me hearty, forced me to be strong. By the time I was ten I could endure the blizzards without feeling them. Sure, I still had a little give. Who doesn’t, in those adolescent years? I’ll admit I bent a few times. Mostly out of fear. If the mountain lion walks by and you catch his eye, better to bend than to be snapped out of the ground. I had a cousin who got snapped up. Roots and all. The worst part is that she made it…grew sideways from that point on. The crook is still there, at the base of her trunk. She’s good about it, I mean she’s just happy to be here, but you’d hate to carry that deformity forever, right?
I made it through okay. My leaves came in a little late, but I was on the edge of the grove, anyway. No one noticed me, and I didn’t notice them. I was tall, so at least while they ignored me I had the ability to search over their heads, look down the hill at those sad little stiffs in the square gardens. All lined up against the back fence, with their leaves cut off every so often, bearing their fruit far too young. That’s what happens to the weak. If you expect them to misbehave, well, you get what you ask for. I can smell the citrus rotting from up here. I always told myself that wouldn’t happen to me.
And it didn’t. I became stronger over the next few years. Some of the trees were still slim and green, but not me. I got my bark and I held onto it, put all my effort into making sure it was thick and heavy. I didn’t mind waiting on acorns, or having a little less foliage. You have to have a solid foundation. My mom told me, before she threw me out, to make sure I could take care of myself before I took on the burden of seedlings. I never forgot it. I watched friend after friend go down that path. Some were ready, some weren’t. I knew which side I wanted to be on.
So I waited until I was taller and thicker than any of my neighbors. I’ll admit it, it was sort of a source of pride. When they needed someone to shelter the new birds’ nest, or a crevice for squirrels to stash their hoard, or extend some new branches to shade some new sprouts, it was always me. I was the go to tree. Everyone talked about what a great parent I’d be…until they started talking about how weird it was that I wasn’t already.
I maintain that it wasn’t my fault. I did all the right things. I put my time and energy into strength. It was supposed to be the right move. It was supposed to be what everyone wanted. But when I got there…well, it wasn’t. Or maybe it was, but those trees with the heavy leaves and light branches got there first. What was left to have wasn’t worth having. Guess Mom got it wrong.
After a few decades it stung a little less. I got to watch my friends’ seedlings grow up. I taught them how to push their cells into their bark, how to stand strong against the wind that blew hard every spring and every fall. Once, when a little sprout looked like she wouldn’t make it, I brought up my roots to shelter her through the tough winter. I was so proud on the day that she began to put on bark, and I watched her soft green leaves breathe softly in the sun. She was almost mine.
Sometimes I still looked at the squatty fruit trees down the hill. I still thought about the freedom they were deprived of, the sad lives they led without the ability to see beyond their backyard. I still thought they were frail. But a part of me envies them now. They brought forth new life, over and over again. I will be here long after they have been replaced with olives, cypress, spruce trees. I will be strong. Almost strong enough.
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Emily Markussen Sorsher occupies space beneath a palm tree in Southern California. She writes grants, lesson plans, and young adult fiction, and has a bad habit of collecting the written word. She has lots of degrees that she doesn’t use. Emily likes her chocolate dark, her drinks strong, and her life just dramatic enough to be interesting. Her other contributions to Snake-Oil Cure, including her guest-edited stint, can be found here.