3 minutes, 56 seconds

All semester I’ve been asking myself one question. How do I get it back? I’ve asked a few people and besides the initial counter-question: “How do you get what back?”—No one seems to know. Even after explaining it, they still don’t seem to understand. Those who have had it and lost it seem to throw down the whole experience and bury it deeper than Atlantis.

Deeper than that. So deep that I think it becomes a phobia. When the conversation starts to cross River Styx, people shrink back as if they might drown. I think I understand. I often feel like I’m drowning too. I’m too busy saving myself to save anyone else.

I found a friend in a tree outside my bus window. He looked particularly lonely like the bird that carried its seed to plant it must have been a hero on an epic journey. That sounds nice, but honestly, it was only alone because it was surrounded by paved parking lots— which if you are setting out to humanize a tree, I’d found a gem. The poor thing had probably been grown elsewhere with lots of brothers and sisters before it was uprooted and separated. Shipped and then dipped into this hole dug just for him. Then every year he grew the prettiest leaves that he could until they too left him alone.

His branches were naked and they shuddered with each wind. I tried asking him the question and I got nothing but the biting wind on my cheeks. I expected as much. 

How did he do it? I couldn’t take my eyes off him. Every year he lost all his leaves and then grew them back as nothing had happened. I had lost my two brothers and my mother wouldn’t be far behind. Three leaves off my tree and I felt like everything was gone. My future fell with my younger brother. I drove around wondering if God would do me a favor and take me sooner rather than later. I didn’t want him to be alone up there and more than anything I was terrified that he was just gone. But I still stopped at each stop sign. I still ate, though there was a voice in my head that asked how I could eat another bite.

Then I had a dream. I was looking at a white picket fence that I had installed on my own and there was a small thin gap between the boards where I had measured wrong. It didn’t look right. From behind me, my brother who had no voice in life, handed me what I would find out later was a glue gun and a metallic piece and said, “I don’t know how it works but it’s this one.” I told my step-dad about it and he said, “He always liked to watch me work.”

I’d thought I’d found it that night—that naive happiness that the future holds some precious plan; some beauty to work towards. That climax of life that everything after it will just be icing on the cake. A retirement of leisure waiting to die a peaceful death like my grandparents had. I hugged Mom and told her that our lives are not our own and that everything would be okay. God must have a plan. There must be something.

Four months later Mom got sick enough that I thought she was dying. One trip to the emergency room and I found out that she was. I am reminded of that tree now pretty often. When I finish cooking something Mom probably won’t eat, when I walk to class, when I sit and eat, when I lay down at night. One month after that, my older and only remaining brother died suddenly while getting a cyst on his leg lanced in a regular office visit.
    How do I get it back?

Last night I was going through boxes from our most recent move and I found a tiny red leather-bound copy of The Rubaiyat by Omar Khayyam. I put it to the side and forgot about it for a while. Then when I laid down, I opened it up expecting something similar to sayings from Confucius but found this instead:

Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great argument
About it and about: but evermore
Came out by the same door where-in I went.

It may be different for each of us, but I read the last line and realized the truth of it. Regardless of what I believe today or what I believe tomorrow, when we die we all return from where we came. And that, in itself, is not- nothing. It’s something.