I’m putting this out there to see if anyone else has had this experience or is it my fate to be alone in this? I hope someone will contact me with an answer to add some logic to all of this.
It felt like we had unpacked all the boxes last week when dad’s job relocated… again. I guess constantly moving has its perks, like being able to see different parts of the country. “New Jersey here we come!” dad said in a somewhat overly cheerful voice as we pulled out of our suburban California home for the last time. The look on mom’s face was perplexed. I could not tell if she was upset or hopeful about the move. If I had to pick I would have said she almost looked relieved…
After a long silent drive with nothing to listen to other than my dad’s self-help cassettes, we pulled up to an antique-looking neighborhood. It reminded me of a place straight out of my mom’s favorite black and white detective movies. The “For Sale” sign in the yard looked as if it had been untouched for years. The paint on the front door was chipping and the hinges creaked loudly as dad pushed opened the door. The power was not on yet, which might have been a good thing. I did not want to see what critters were hiding in the dark crevices beneath the floor boards. I could tell my mom was not thrilled about the house. “Here we go,” I thought. My dad was going to get an ear full. Instead of listening to them fight again, I went back to the car to start bringing in boxes.
Standing in the front yard, I notice a large black walnut tree in the lot across the street. In the tree was a boy about my age. He had curly blonde hair and was wearing overalls with holes in the knees and a turtleneck underneath. He was really high up in the tree. I did not want to admit it, but I was impressed and slightly jealous. I don’t remember how long I stared, but it startled me when he suddenly turned and began staring back. I acted as if I didn’t notice and continued to bring the rest of the boxes in.
The next day was Monday, my mom took me to my new school. By the look on her face you would have thought that she was the new kid not me. It made me wonder what I was not catching onto. I was used to being the new kid; used to the looks, whispers, and odd stories about our past. None of the teachers made too much of a fuss about having to review half a quarters worth of lessons in a week for me. Surprisingly, I did not have to endure the baby talk either. That was the worst part about moving often: There typically was at least one teacher who thought it was nice to “take me under their wing” and talk to me as if I had only been in school a few days of my life. At lunch I sat at a table by myself, which was fine by me because who knew how long I’d be here anyway. Plus, who enjoys repeating their life story to complete strangers pretending like they care. The final bell rang and instead of taking the bus I decided to walk home, less likely to run into someone.
The air was warm and the leaves were bright and crisp. When I turned onto our street, I saw the boy in the tree again. This time he called out to me. I figured I had not talked to anyone all day, I might as well talk to him. At least that way I would have something to say when my mom interrogated me at dinner. The closer I walked to the towering tree, the colder I felt. I blamed it on the shadow of the branches not letting the sun come through. Before I had time to concentrate on the temperature the boy called out again. “Jimmy, the name’s Jimmy – what’s yours?” he was asking.
“Ben. I’m Ben” I replied.
“I saw you come in yesterday. How long you reckon’ you’ll stay?” Jimmy asked, almost yelling. He must have thought he was higher in the tree than he really was. Why would he ask how long we would stay we just moved in?
“Not sure, as long as my dad’s job keeps I guess, how long have you lived here?” I answered.
We continued our conversation for quite some time. I found out that he had lived in the same house his whole life. That must be a nice feeling, never having to pick up and move all the time. Jimmy was quick to say the same thing about my life. He said he wished he had been able to move as often as I did. The grass is always greener, I guess.
Everyday after school I would sit under the tree talking up to Jimmy. When my mom would ask about school I would change the subject and talk to her about Jimmy. At first she seemed upset, but after a while she began to relax as I told her more details and I could see that her smile was more genuine and less forced at the dinner table. Dad was always focusing on work, which gave me more time to talk to Jimmy. Looking back, for being so young, Jimmy sure did know a lot. He even knew what I should tell my parents in order to be able to spend more time with him.
Seasons changed and it began to snow outside. Jimmy did not have a jacket, but he never said he was cold. Jimmy said he went to a special school that let out early and so he was always in the tree when I left for school and when I came home. I wanted to go to Jimmy’s school so I could see him more often, but my mom could never find the time to look into switching me and she would not go across the street to talk to Jimmy’s parents. So I remained a loner at my school and Jimmy at his. Then spring came.
One afternoon when I came home from school, Jimmy was angry. I had not seen him that mad before. He told me that his parents wanted to cut down his tree. He was really distraught. What would he do without his tree? It was the only time I had seen him cry. I tried to calm him down. I told him we would find him another tree, but he would not accept that answer. He said he wanted my parents to talk to his parents in order to persuade them to keep the tree. He said that they would only listen to other adults and, whatever we did, not to mention him. He told me if they mentioned him then the whole thing would be ruined. It had to be my parents’ idea.
At dinner that night, I asked my mom what she thought of the tree. She told me it was a beautiful tree; a nice change of scenery from the California palm trees. I told her that they were going to cut it down unless she told them how wonderful the tree was. I begged her to talk to them. I could tell she was nervous. She coughed and told me that adults do things differently. She said she could not go over there and do that because adults mind their own business and cannot control what other people do with their property. Then her expression grew sad and she said that she sympathized with my love for the tree.
Jimmy did not take the news well. He told me that he was going to have to take things into his own hands, but I would need to help. He told me to come over to the tree at midnight and he would have a plan by then.
I did not sleep at all that night. I was so scared of what he was going to say. I didn’t think I was going to like his plan. Jimmy had been so upset. When the clock hit 12:00, I climbed out of my window and Jimmy was already in the tree. He told me that I needed to burn his parents’ house down. I told him that was crazy; that we couldn’t do that. If we burned the house down we would go to prison. He then began to tell me horrible, horrible stories of terrible things his parents used to do to him. He told me that the tree was his only safe place. I tried to calm him down again, telling him that I would come up with a plan and if my plan did not work than we would try his – but he had to give me some time. Jimmy agreed.
At breakfast that morning, after my dad had left on a weekend business trip, I told my mom I needed to have a serious conversation. I tried to explain how important the tree was. I wanted to start a protest, get the police involved, anything in order to keep the tree there. My mom was a nervous wreck. I could see that she was muttering something to herself, but I couldn’t make it out. My heart sank. She wasn’t going to help me.
I didn’t know what else to do. I knew Jimmy was serious about burning down the house. I had to stop him. I ran across the street. I passed Jimmy and covered my ears to block out his screams. I knocked on the door and a gray-haired woman opened the door. His parents were older than I imagined. I ran into their front room weeping, begging them not to cut the tree down. I had word vomit. I didn’t even take a moment to catch my breath. I told them how special the tree was to their son, Jimmy. The woman fell to her knees and stared vacantly at the floor. The man swore at me and then literally picked me up and threw me out of his house. He told me to stop playing cruel games.
I did not understand. The man followed me home and talked to my mother. I ran to my room upstairs, but I could hear their voices through the cracks in the floor. The man was yelling at my mom who was trying just to get a word in. He told my mom that Jimmy… Jimmy was dead. He said Jimmy had been dead for 20 years.
Why would he lie?! I snuck out of my window and went to get Jimmy. I didn’t even make it across the street before I stopped. A man was already beginning to cut the tree down. I looked up into the tree. Jimmy was still up there, but now he looked different. His skin was unusually pale. Underneath Jimmy’s turtleneck was a rope. Jimmy was hanging from the tree by his neck. He couldn’t talk to me anymore. I screamed. The whole town must have heard me. I screamed for the man to stop. I thought he was killing Jimmy. The man stared at me. He said there was no kid in the tree.
That night when my dad came home I could hear him talking with my mom. She was really upset. She just kept saying, “Why our son, why Ben? Why everywhere we go does this happen?”
And then I remembered: We didn’t keep moving because of my dad’s job. We keep moving because of the friends I keep making…