I grew up as a tree in Camrose. Just off of Marler Drive and Mount Pleasant Drive. In the park on 60th street and 41st Ave. The one with the Starship Enterprise jungle gym.
For years I was there in that park. I mean, I think I was there for years. It’s hard to tell really. Mrs. Michaelovitch, who lived on 60th street her whole life, said that I was in that park ever since she could remember, though she doesn’t seem to remember how far back she can actually remember. She was well into her sixties when her brain snapped because her husband left her for a high school girl. He then staged his own death so that the girl could claim the life insurance money, which she did before taking off with it and leaving him with nothing. He resurfaced after a few months, not quite knowing what to do, figuring that a life in jail was better than a life on the lam. My mom said that Mrs. Michaelovitch couldn’t handle it, living out her days on her measly social security while some floozy lived it up with her husband’s insurance policy.
Mrs. Michaelovitch also told me that she remembered when I wasn’t there anymore. She didn’t find me though. Scotty James did. He was five then. He lived across the street from the Starship Enterprise. His mother was an alcoholic who died wrapping her car around a tree when he was three. That tree wasn’t me, and I’m glad for that, because it would have made me feel incredibly guilty.
Scotty had been playing in the park one morning, and found me in the exact spot where I used to be a tree, or so Mrs. Miachelovitch claimed. Supposedly it was summer and I was laying naked in my own excrement. Scotty went home to tell his new mom, and his new mom came and fetched me and then called the police. The police took me to the hospital to make sure I was in working order and then put me in foster care with the Millers, who also lived on 60th Street, and eventually they adopted me.
Of all the places in Alberta to grow up a tree, Camrose wasn’t quite the place to be. If I had grown up a tree in the North, I would have had a lot more friends. You may wonder how a tree has friends, it’s actually really hard to explain to someone who hasn’t been a tree themselves. I’ve had dreams at night, ever since I can remember, of roots growing into one another, the sensation of other’s leaves blowing into my branches, of the oneness with nature.
There are a lot of things though that one doesn’t experience as a tree. For example music. Maybe trees feel the vibrations, but I don’t remember anymore. When I was young my mom put me in piano lessons. I begged to go to them actually, but I was horrible. Before the lesson I used to have to sit and wait in the hallway of the music school and from the different rooms you could hear the different instruments being played badly, but from my position in the hallway, it sounded like they were all coming from the same room. A cello screeching as syncopation to an out of tune violin with a piano clank-clanking along. It was beautiful and what I enjoyed more than anything else. Music is one thing that I’ll miss, when I become a tree again.
I suppose as a tree you hear, well not hear since trees don’t have ears, but respond to a different type of music. Don’t they say that if you play music to a plant it thrives? Or is that an unborn baby? No, no, it’s when you talk to plants. This is one of those hippy dippy new age type bullshit things, like you won’t get cancer if you have a baby before you’re twenty-five, or if you eat brown bananas, or if you think positively. If you’re the kind of person that talks to your plants, it stands to reason that you’re the type of person that has been paying attention to your plants and are more likely to water them. Nonetheless, as an experiment I tried just talking to my plants and never watering them. I read them books. Let them watch TV. Even played music for them. They all died.
You’d think I would have felt guilty for letting my plants die. That I would feel some sort of connection to them as a former plant myself, but I didn’t, just like how most people don’t feel a connection with all the people in the world who suffer somewhere else. Even if it’s just down the street, people won’t feel anything. That’s how I am. The psychiatrist that I have now says I lack empathy. They’ve all said that.
When I was a teenager, I had a therapist and he told me that I should stop telling people that I used to be a tree. He said that it alienated me. Made me stick out. Made me seem like a freak. He didn’t use those exact words, but he might as well have. This was after he spent a good year trying to tell me that I wasn’t a tree, but how would he know? Because he studied something unrelated to being a tree? Was he a dendrologist? I don’t think so. Like most of my therapists, he was just a know-it-all. Always busy just telling me what I was and what I wasn’t, never just letting me be.
I must admit that it did get easier when I stopped telling people about my tree past. I got picked on and beaten up a lot when I was still in Camrose. Even after I stopped telling people. Nobody forgot. Even when I was seven kids picked on me, threw sticks at me. Sticks can break your bones. My arm got broken by a kid when I was nine when he hit me in the arm with it while telling me that he was just giving me back what belonged to me.
When I moved to the city when I was eighteen my therapists just decided to focus on what drugs I had taken. I said, “Listen, I knew I was a tree from the first moment I can recall having memories. Drugs had nothing to do with it.”
I’ve wondered why it was so hard to believe that someone used to be a tree. People believe far crazier shit than that. What about people who believe in ghosts, disembodied spirits floating around taking the piss out of other people? My adopted parents believe in ghosts. They believe in life after death. They believe in shopping on Sundays. My mom goes to a psychic once a month, and yet she thinks it’s weird that I think I used to be a tree.
I used to ask my mom what her psychic said about me being a tree.
“We don’t talk about it,” she’d say.
“What’d you talk about then?”
“You know, this is something just between my psychic and myself.”
My mom desperately mixed up going to a psychic with going to a therapist. My mom has never gone to a therapist, because she thinks that she’s perfectly okay. I don’t agree, and I’m pretty sure that she has some sort of hysterical personality disorder. She flirted with every man that came within a 10 ft radius of her and claimed to me on several occasions that the postman, the principal, and her doctor, not to mention every other man in town she knew, were all madly in love with her. Then again, maybe she was just frustrated in her marriage to a man whose only form of communication was grunting.
I didn’t want to tell you about my parents though. I wanted to tell you about Flora. She changed my life.
We met in the city, in a pub a few years back. I actually don’t remember how many years it was now. I’d like to think that we bonded because her name was Flora and I used to be a tree, but actually we ended up talking about the band that was playing that night.
Flora had come to the city to study. She came from another part of the province that had a lot of trees, especially a lot of trees like me. She wanted to be a forest ranger. She studied forestry. She loved trees and knew a lot about them. It was her thing. And I liked her thing, especially the way her upper lip quivered when she got passionate about her thing, and I liked her thing so much that we started hanging out and then she moved in with me a couple of months later. I didn’t really care that much about other trees though. I guess that’s that lack of empathy again.
I didn’t tell Flora right away about my thing. I was still in the phase where I wanted people to like me.
Flora liked me.
It wasn’t just my therapist that had me stop telling people that I used to be a tree, it was also me. I suppose that I doubted it too for a while. When I started studying I realized, or thought I realized that it was impossible to have been a tree. How would a tree become a person? I mean, I could understand how a person could become a tree. You decompose next to a tree, you become part of that tree in some way. But the other way around? Still I had spent so much time thinking that I used to be a tree. I couldn’t erase it from who I was.
Flora and I liked to go dancing, and we liked to get high. It just so happened that on one of these occasions, being high and dancing, I leaned into her and said, “I used to be a tree.”
And she leaned away from me, did a little swivel of those hips of hers that I used to love having my hands on and then leaned back into me and said, “I know.” Then she kissed me and I kissed her back and then we danced for more hours.
The next morning while she was still sleeping, I put my face right into hers and I remember feeling her breath on my face. I remember how horrible it smelled, and how much I miss it sometimes now. Then I said loudly, “How do you know that I used to be a tree?”
Her eyes twitched under her eyelids and she smiled before opening her eyes. “You have tree written all over you.”
“Sure. Sometimes I can even smell tree on you.”
I decided to go home that Christmas to my parents and Flora came with me. She wanted to see where I had been a tree.
When I finally came out about it to her, she reduced me to it. Most of our conversations revolved around me being a tree. There was only so much I could say, and I found with time, I just didn’t want to talk about it anymore. We grew apart, and this tore me up. Finally I knew what I was, but now I felt more alienated than ever. I had loved her so much, and now I felt betrayed. The love was all a lie. Or so I thought, but I’ve often been wrong about a lot of things.
The afternoon we got in, Flora and I headed to the park. It was terribly cold outside, and I remember my nose hairs sticking together as we walked.
“I’m sorry I keep going on about the tree thing,” she said to me as the Starship Enterprise came into view. “It’s just really interesting, that’s all, and I kinda got too excited by it. How often do you meet a tree in your life?”
I shrugged my shoulders.
We crossed the street to the park.
“Where were you?” she asked.
I guided her to a spot on the corner of the park. “I guess right there,” I pointed to an empty spot and then I walked over to the Enterprise.
She ran up behind me. “You don’t want to come with me?”
“I’ve been there before. Besides, there’s nothing to see.”
“You know,” she took my hands in her, “I wish I was like you. I’m sorry if I make it difficult for you. I just want to understand. I want to be like you. I want to be a tree too.”
I crawled inside the Enterprise just like I had a done as a teenager and lit a cigarette. My legs were longer then a few years ago and I struggled to fit inside the tube of the body. Flora wandered slowly around the corner of the park, digging holes in the snow, looking for who knows what. I told her that there was nothing to see, but I realized that this was how she could connect to me. There was no one else around as I peered out the little windows until I finished my cigarette and then I felt someone looking at me. I turned my head to see a little girl peering into the one end of the Enterprise.
“Hi,” I said.
“Are you the tree?” she asked.
I just laughed nervously, wondering how no one ever managed to forget.
“I would like to be a tree too,” she said as she crawled inside with me.
She shrugged her shoulders, “I don’t know, because it’s special, I guess.”
“I guess it is,” I said as I crawled out the top, slid down the slide and walked towards where Flora was kneeling in the snow.
“I can’t find anything.”
Of course she didn’t find anything.
I knelt down next to her, feeling the snow soak immediately through my pants at the knees. “I can help you become a tree,” I offered.
She smiled and hugged me. It was what she wanted. She told me that she’d like to be a tree like the ones up by her parents house, so we borrowed my parents car the next day and drove the four hours to her neck of the woods. We stopped to get a coffee halfway and I put four of my mom’s sleeping pills in hers. Roadside coffee usually tastes so rancid that she wouldn’t have noticed at all, and she didn’t. I didn’t want her to see it coming. I figured that she’d get nervous, and I knew how important it was to her, so I couldn’t let her down. I did it for us.
We drove to the foothills. I started to look for the perfect tree. In hindsight, I think I should have gone all the way to the mountains to get us a real view, but trees don’t have eyes anyways. I had decided to just hit a dirt road up a hill and see what I could find. Eventually I couldn’t drive any further. I stopped the car and suffocated Flora with the pillow she’d brought from my parents, upon my insistence. She was too out of it to protest. Her thin, olive coloured arms had twitched gently as the last of her human life left her. I realize now that it would have been easier to just have kept her alive until we found the spot and shot her in the back of the head or something, though I must admit, that’s a little too gruesome of a death, and I didn’t have a gun anyways. I just wanted to make it easier for her. The transition. I struggled though carrying her. I couldn’t take her too far off the road, but I didn’t need to, or so I thought, because there was the perfectest, largest tree, looking out over the valley. I dropped her beside it and went and got the shovel and the saw that I brought. I’m pretty light stomached but I managed to cut her up. I had to take a couple of the valiums that I nicked from my mom to do it. I wouldn’t do it again though, cutting somebody up, and I wouldn’t recommend it either. It was fairly unpleasant, yet somehow I felt even closer to Flora doing it. I thought if I spread her around the tree it would work better, plus I was worried about animals digging her up and eating her.
I hadn’t been worried about getting caught. I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong. This is what she wanted. She told me so herself.
That was my mistake. I had started digging a hole for myself. I was a little worried about animals eating me, because I wouldn’t be able to bury myself. This was another flaw in the plan. I should have thought it out more. After dragging Flora up there and cutting her up in that blistering cold and digging that hole for me, I was wiped right out. I took the rest of the bottle of sleeping pills and crawled into the hole. I felt good, and then I slept.
Someone had seen me though. I don’t know from where. I woke up in a hospital handcuffed to a bed, and felt like shit. They dug Flora up that afternoon. She didn’t get a chance to decompose. I worried that I let her down. Her parents had her cremated. I tried to tell my lawyer, but he said the parents wouldn’t consider my wishes. Nobody would. But they weren’t my wishes. They were hers. See, I can empathize. The therapists and psychiatrists consistently got it wrong. This is the biggest crime. She died in vain. Or so I thought, but they never found her right foot or her right pinky finger. I know because they keep asking me where they are. I only hope it worked and she’s now that tree, and that some hungry animal didn’t make off with her.
I’ve been in jail for a few years now. It’s kinda like being a tree, in that I’m in the same place. I can feel a draft on my skin every night that goes through my cell. Not quite wind through my leaves, but I’ve got to make do, use my imagination. At night I close my eyes real tight and think about it until I’m a tree again, and I can go there almost every night now. I wonder what Flora feels like.
My psychiatrist says that we can appeal based on insanity. I tell her that I’m not insane, but then again if it gets me out earlier. I’m not a good liar though. I don’t think it will work, and I’m not sure I want to feel guilty about that, about lying.
I do really want to get out, and when I do, I’m going to find Flora, and I’m going to join her. I won’t screw it up again.