Witness Trees pt. I



When our house burned down, I was not as fucked up and freaked out as I thought I'd be. Between the flames dancing around me, I stood warming like toast. The hairs along my arms singed like crispy onion strings, as the heat devoured the oxygen my hairs curled and retreated to nothing. In the most frightening moments of it all, I had an underlying feeling of relief, what else is one to do when being devoured? The tense, unnerving feeling of being trapped liquifies your senses, and you begin to feel calm surrendering to the unknown space between the flame and you, like when drowning it feels good to give up. I spent years anxiously awaiting the fire to grow teeth and sink their canines into the walls, it was maddening waiting for this pile of sticks to finally go up. Any spark in this home electrified my blood, like licking a 9 volt it tickled me from mouth to finger tips. So when it finally happened I felt all my muscles release at once, all the tight spots in my bones cracked simultaneously, it felt like the yanking of a hot tooth throbbing in the back pocket of your mouth. The house had been drying and dried out for far too long, the walls held no fat and were without the strength they once had. Every time a small fire burst in the place, I planned my escape because I knew preparation would be needed when shit finally hit the fan. You learn early where worry is in your mind, it's nestled tight against the pain. You scoop that part of your brain out so's it doesn't stop you from your day to day activities. You learn that it is psychological, or kitty corner to psychological. It doesn't dismiss pain or worry as being real, pain occurs, bet that, but it doesn't necessarily mean to stop or if stopping will achieve anything anyway. Often by the time you seek any help, the issue is already under repair just as a broken bone will heal a little more crooked and changed, nothing goes unchanged. You will find that you were a firestone all along.

My little brother sat unmoved and didn't make it out when I did. He was like me, unable to move. Used to the uncertainty of that place, his response was to go with the flow most of the time, constant inconsistency will do that to a person. As the flames whipped around him, he sat idly, letting them snap at him, emotionless. I did nothing to save him, I was too busy getting myself out trying to avoid getting burned further. As the event came and went, we found him in the basement physically unharmed, like a piece of driftwood droughted by the sun. The flames became so preoccupied with themselves as they multiplied and choked themselves out. The framing of the floor became loose, and he fell straight through, placing him in the cold cement basement where he laid asleep, bored by the commotion when we found him. He trained himself to sleep when it got crazy; It was as if he was built for surviving catastrophic things like this.

Shit Changed in a flash. Shit does that, shit is always changing it's exhausting, and you become bored with every turning page. When everything in a book's story is going right, and you haven't hit the conflict, yet you fear every passing page, awaiting the moment you see it all crumble. If you don't flip that page, you will never learn shit, and it changes beyond with or without you. I've changed just as much as anyone changes because we all temper in time you never see it coming until you are on the opposing side of the lake looking at your old habits or self from a new vantage point. I caught myself changed when I wanted to react as I once did and was sad with a longing that could not be named I realized the revenant longing was just my unfamiliar molting skin. It's unsettling when shifts come with reluctant releases. In books, these points are where you are to embrace the possibilities as they become more significant than the pattern. In a lot of ways it feels good, and in other ways, it feels like I'm not shifting just the world around me, and I absorb it all. I don't hate change; it is just that I fear the day I feel nothing when things do.

Does it make you feel bad?

I was so bored in the hospital waiting for him to get out. Hospitals bug me out, when I am in them, I rarely look up. I could never describe to you the ceilings of any hospital I've ever been in. I could easily describe the fading mustard walls, the false granite patterned floor and the same elbow biting lobby chairs. I picked up a magazine and flipped through the pages and stumbled upon an article about Witness Trees. A Witness Tree is a regular tree in the ways that it begins as a seed from another tree. The seed falls not far from the source, it germinates, it grows, and it is a tree like any other in looks. The difference is that Witness Trees are present during devastating moments throughout history; they are unmoved in these moments and have no choice in the matter; they are overlooked yet integral parts of these moments. There are witness trees at civil war battlegrounds with bullets lodged in their guts, once the shots were a surface wound, an immediate trauma and instead of releasing the wound or healing from it the trees actually absorbed the bullet growing over each one they become one and the same, a divot in a ring. There are witness trees once used as hanging trees where crowds of people gathered to watch the lynching murders of some mothers son or daughter. The moments occur and time and people go on; the trees remain still as statues swaying in the subsequent silence rooted still as biological stamps of the past whether we care or not they are living connections to the past. I paused in the reading, feeling a bit too much, I think. Something in those words made me stiffen a little as the quiet hospital whispered. I have a head full of noisy thoughts that always make me feel bad.

When my brother finally came out, I looked over his wounds; not too bad. I gave him a loose hug as to not agitate his healing. He looked at me through his dark brown eyes, they are sincere and dark like mine and mine are like my dads, and his are like the father he never knew I assume. He is skinny, but not bone thin there is still some warmth in his skin, standing almost as tall as me, 6 ft, so he's more stretched than thin. "how you feelin"? I ask, "I'm aiight just a bit shook," he said back. "Damn ya know I was expecting you to look pretty fucked up coming out of this, but you look fine" I began circling him and in awe that he looks untouched by harm. "Yea I'm all good the fall wasn't as long a drop as I thought. I was mostly affected by all the soot I breathed in" I figured he was tired and as irked by hospitals as me, so we dipped out, and since there was no home to go to yet we drove to a park. We limped up to the grassy hill of the park we just sat silently for a bit, the sun hot on our skin. My mind was running around in circles, confused that he was so seemingly unaffected by the whole thing. I finally asked, "are you sure you're ok, man? That was some wild stuff that happened, I mean I saw some stuff that made me feel weird. I can only imagine what you saw." He was scratching at his leg, the grass is crabby as hell thick and a bit irritating to lay on, but parks here struggle to keep the good stuff. "Yea I'm ai' iight I just feel sleepy" he didn't look at me as he said it. "for sure I feel that" I reluctantly expelled that response because I wanted to pursue the situation a bit more, but I didn't want to push. Too much excavation of issues too early can be troublesome, and I didn't want him to completely shut down, so I shut up and decided to just enjoy the silence and sun and time near him but dogeared the idea of asking more later.

The article said that It can be challenging to determine a tree's age to confirm it was alive during a significant historical event. Boring into a tree can answer that question, but it can also damage a tree, so it's not often done. In some cases, witness trees aren't identified until they die of natural causes.

He looks so much like my dad, even his knuckles are similar. After noticing his hands, I looked down at my own and saw a similar hand. Love is buried beneath your breath and the hands of those whose touch makes you quiver. Because to some of us love is the thing we fear the most strangers hands make us feel nothing, but the ones we care for shake us like a leaf in the faint breeze. Living things become memorials of other living things good or bad whatever that even means. It makes me think of other markers of the past like how the bottoms oceans can often end up on the top of mountains, fossils of fish and seashells embedded in the face of cliffs. The ascent for the bottom dwellers is a long, arduous path and like most great things, they are only appreciated once they have expired. I never saw many of my older family members as influential or awe-inspiring until, of course, they left this plane, and now they murmur to me in different ways. I feel their impact in photos or trinkets left behind. Like a witness tree, I have a responsibility, I suppose. Sometimes it feels like we are waiting for things to die so we can love them again and honor the good things opposed to the bad.

So, that house we all knew was going to be gone someday. What do we do with all those memories? That was a while ago, and now we are all living separately, it was bound to happen, but I guess I wasn't expecting the fray to be such a vast chasm and so abrupt. I try to meet up with each family member when I can to keep on the up n up. I asked my brother over lunch. "What do you think you remember most from the house? How much you hated it or how much you loved it? Because I know its a jagged wave" he put a whole chip in his mouth and responded over the crunches, "Ya know I only feel the good shit, I can't tell if that's good or bad, but when I'm on a low day, I'm happy that house is gone." I nodded egging on some more response from him, "Ya know what sticks out sometimes?' "naw, what?" "I have simple memories, like not full stories, but little clips of things here and there. I have this one memory of us all during someone's birthday, and we are sitting at the cake, and I turn around during the commotion. I think I'm like 10 or whatever and grandma and grandpa are staring at me, I didn't think nothing of it, but they are mad smiley, and in my memory, I feel sad, like a happy ass sad. The look was like we reminded them of something like they dreamt us into existence, ya know"? My brother, the unknowing sage makes me so proud when he speaks, "I totally know what you mean" I smile one of those tight lip grinny nods because I felt a little soft in my throat and didn't want to whimper because I really felt what he said, but felt it all over. I took a few bites of my sandwich to recollect, "you should write these things down, man" he put three big ass chips in his mouth and said, "nawwwww. Some shit is too special to share," and with that, a tear rolled down my cheek salting my now falling apart sub. "Man why you always start crying, when I try to talk normal to you"? He's laughing at me. His smile looks just like my dads.

Richard Gutierrez