The trees in my backyard are menaces. One has storm damage, another grows mistletoe, a misleading foliage in neon yellow-green. They should come down, someday. It’s expensive, and I don’t want to see them go.
I’ve already lost enough, least of all these beautifully living things.
As the only female child in an overwhelmingly geriatric family, I played nurse, therapist, sitter, and intermediate caregiver for three years. At 24 years old, I had no idea what I was doing — neither for my dementia afflicted grandmother, nor my mother, my only parent, whose body was a cornucopia of lung-heart-and-liver disease. A feminine, nurturing nature must have skipped a generation.
I worked hard, but I was an awful caregiver.
The role of caregiver is expected to be adapted selflessly, but this is easier in theory than practice. My temper was short as a redbud, especially once my mom lost her mobility. I was tired, grouchy, and not taking care of myself properly. Many nights were spent sleeping on emergency room chairs, as some issues could not wait until the next doctor’s appointment. The unique stressors that come with caregiving are incommunicable experiences. There are no words to convey the strain, both physical and mental, that come with the subsequent burnout. I never intended it to be my life’s work.
Likewise, my arborist said most laurel oaks are accidents, loose acorns that never meant to become trees. Squirrels forget where they hide 80-90% of their acorns. Sprouts appear, and they grow quickly and accidentally, all “courtesy of the airheaded squirrels.”
Both my mother and grandmother’s illnesses came on suddenly, as did their deaths. I never expected to become a caregiver, nor was I prepared to watch them pass. My grandmother lost her battle to acute heart failure; my mother grew septic after a short stay at a nursing rehabilitation facility. I am now almost 30, unemployed, single, and alone with no direction.
It is as depressing as it is taxing.
Trees, too, can become stressed. According to Iowa State University, the stresses can be “very dramatic and obvious.” Stress can, quite literally, be a “tree killer.”
My trees aren’t dead, but they’re declining.
They are still here, and so am I.
I won’t let us give up yet.
I was supposed to “go somewhere.” I attended a good college, excelled in my chosen studies. I became a writer with the goal of being a published novelist before 25, maybe become a screenwriter and have my own show on Adult Swim. Then the illness happened, two months shy of my graduation. I adapted my unpaid, unappreciated role as expected.
Now, it’s just me, my cat, and the hazard trees.
I sit on my porch and play “Let it Grow” from The Lorax. I try to write again; short pieces, maybe a novel, eventually. The arborist trims mistletoe from decayed branches. Perhaps, he says, they will grow healthily again.
This is our rebellion: flourishing through decay.
Anastasia Jill (she/they) is a queer writer living in the Southeast United States. She has been nominated for Best American Short Stories, Best of the Net, and several other honors. Her work has been featured with Poets.org, Pithead Chapel, Contemporary Verse 2, OxMag, Broken Pencil, and more.