Why Willow Trees Weep
Why Willow Trees Weep
A Prose Essay by Kari Allen
In loving memory of Carrie Mae Allen. May you guard me for the rest of my days.
When I was a kid, granny took the same route to church every Sunday morning. She always drove across the train tracks and told me that we were entering the hood. Then she drove past the weeping willow tree and I always asked her why something so pretty was sitting in the middle of a place that was so ugly. Then she drove past the corner store that me and my best friends rode bikes to for quarter packages of Now & Later’s and dollar popsicles in the summer time.
I remember the first time I ever noticed the Weeping Willow Tree. I was sitting in the backseat of my grandmother’s brown 1984 Chevy. We were on our way to Sunday morning service again when she stopped at a red light in front of the corner store that me and cousin’s rode bikes to for candy. Granny would’ve lost her wig if she knew that we wandered that far away from home after telling her that we would only go a few blocks from the house.
For some reason, despite having already passed the tree more times then I could’ve counted, when I looked at its fully-blossomed branches sagging towards the ground. I felt like I was looking at it for the first time. It looked like it was crying. Green arms sprouted from its top and fell to the earth below it like tears. I asked granny why the tree looked so sad and she laughed to herself and then started to tell me about death.
She told me that the branches weren’t naked, so that meant that the weeping willow was alive. Then I asked her if it looked sad because it was dying and she paused for a minute and then started to tell me about death.
“Everybody’s gone die someday,” said granny. “Ain’t nothin to be sad about.”
“Well why does the tree look so sad then?” I asked again. Granny laughed again but this time louder and fuller then before.
“It’s not sad,” she countered. “It’s a Weeping Willow Tree and it’s just weeping.” I climbed onto my knees and slid them across the backseat like tired feet until I could press my nose into the window. With a perplexed look on my face, I tilted my head to one side and felt the tip of my ear lobe smash into my shoulder. I squinted my eyes at the tree just as the light turned green and granny sped off across the intersection. I fell backwards and onto the small space behind the driver’s seat and granny screamed at me to get up and put my seatbelt on before she got a ticket.
Ever since then, whenever I see a Weeping Willow Tree I think about granny. I think about how even when she looked like she was dying, she told me that she was happy inside because she was. Granny was never afraid of dying so I pretended that I was never afraid of losing her. Almost twenty years later when I walked into the hospital that she spent the night in, I tried to pretend that reality wasn’t setting in but it perched itself on my shoulder like a wild bird.
From where I stood the hospital hallway looked like one of those swirly roads from Alice and Wonderland. It was blandly colored but still looked like it continued forever. I had been fighting tears since the minute I woke up that morning and my throat swelled a little more with every footstep. Nurses dressed in mint green attire pushed carts back and forth across the intensive care unit with no urgency and it made me feel a sadness that I couldn’t explain to myself. The stark white walls reminded me of the film Girl, Interrupted and for a moment I took a break from reality and pictured myself as Angelina Jolie on screen but even the universe inside of me couldn’t protect me from the world that day.
When I reached the end of the trancelike hallway I fixed my eyes on the wide four-sided sign labeled “Patient Rooms.” With my heart in my stomach and undesirable anticipation growing with each passing second, I began to walk toward my grandmother’s room. Still unable to even fathom the thought of losing the most cherished person in my life, I slowed my pace. I stared at the round desk that occupied most of the room then a collage of white jackets and different shades of purple occupied my peripheral vision. The doctors all walked with purpose as I approached room 412.
The huge bed took up most of the room. Through the massive window on the far side of the room I could see the train tracks. Like the hallway, they too appeared to be never ending. The hospital machines and tubes confused me. Several IV tubes came from my grandmother’s arms. Her tiny body laid still and her big grey eyes were half shut. Whenever they were open she reminded me of new born babies and I always smiled. My little cousin had big grey eyes when she was a baby and I remembered granny gushing over how unusual but pretty they were.
Beginning to come undone, I walked to her bed and stood over her. “Hey Granny,” I mumbled. “Do you recognize me?” She responded with slurred speech. I took a deep breath to calm my insides but I couldn’t stop my body from feeling like my organs were about to explode. I reached down for her frail hand and she unexpectedly reached back. I stared into her big grey eyes and smiled. She squeezed my hand.
Unable to fight tears I managed to spit out the words “I love you so much,” and “Please hold on.” She squeezed my hand a second time and my heart felt like a pressure cooker. I gazed into her tired eyes and briefly scanned her petite body. The portrait of life nearing its end made me feel like I was dreaming.
“She’s lived,” I thought to myself. I stepped into the hallway and walked toward the nearest corner. Burying my face in the palm of my hands I began to cry like an infant. I pictured us together when we were both younger. I saw us on our way to church Sunday morning passing the most beautiful willow tree that either of us had ever seen. The nurse interrupted my flashbacks to inform me that my grandmother had to be taken to a different room and would return tonight. I walked through the double doors and down the elongated hallway and followed my aunt back to the car.
Later that day walking through the doors of my childhood home felt surreal. I immediately went into my grandmother’s room. Unable to conceal my hurt, I sat on the end of her bed and sobbed. Realizing that my grandmother could possibly be moving on made me feel nauseas. Sick to my stomach with worry I grabbed the Holy Bible. I thought about my childhood days and how granny taught me to pray.
Searching for the words to say, I pressed the Bible against my chest and begged God to please give me more time with her. I gave up the fight and allowed my tears to flow like hot lava. My desperate cry echoed throughout the empty house. I fell backward onto the red satin sheets to lie there. I stared at the grey ceiling and thought about her. With the Bible still pressed against my chest I scrambled to find words to say. I closed my eyes and spoke out loud,
I don’t know what to call my religion anymore.
I believe in love and I don’t think love needs another name when hatred has several. I guess that love is my religion.
I don’t know if I’m doing this correctly,
but I will never ask for anything ever again
if you give me more time with her.
I tried to ignore the phone as it continued to ring. I sat up and placed the Bible down on my grandmother’s bed. In fear of receiving bad news, I hesitantly answered the phone. My voice cracked and it was obvious that I had been crying. My mother’s voice came through the phone. I prepared myself for the worse. She called to tell me that granny would be home in a few weeks. Those few weeks never came. The next one came in its place instead because granny just wanted to come home and the few mornings after that I feared most came so fast that the pain completely numbed me.
I remember it like it was yesterday.
It was October 22, 2013, the day before my 21-birthday. I was lying in bed around 5 a.m. The moment I had almost most feared was right across the hall from me. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t cry. I don’t even recall being able to feel so I just lied there and stared at the ceiling. I could see particles of dust fall in slow motion and I found myself counting the cracks on the wall. They weren’t just cracks though. They were like lines of my family’s story because generations before me had grown up in my grandmother’s house. It was our home. That all changed that morning.
I heard my mother cry out to my brother “She’s gone! My mama’s gone!” I had never heard that kind of pain on my mother’s voice before. It was the sound of a dying voice that became more scarce every sob. I was numb. All I could think about was the good old days.
The days when granny held my hand and walked me to the old fruit market at the end of our street where we picked out fresh melons. I cried in 1999 when they finally tore it down. I saw myself holding granny’s hand on Easter Sunday. My Easter dress was always pinker and puffier then every other little girl’s in attendance. It was always the dress that granny picked out for me. I saw the simple days. The days when me and all my cousins ran circles around granny while she tended to her garden. Granny loved us all, but I’d be lying if I said that me and granny weren’t the closest. Me and granny were best friends.
I don’t remember what pulled me out of the bed but before I could stop myself, my feet were already in route to granny’s room. When I stepped into the room the I’d stepped into a million times before, it felt different. It felt bigger and more spacious. It felt it like something was missing. I felt a calmness come over me that I did not expect. Growing up I always knew that one day me and granny would have to part ways. I just hoped that she would be around long enough to meet my kids and family but time wasn’t on my side that morning.
When I walked to the side of granny’s hospice bed, I couldn’t quite form the perfect sentence. I must have mumbled to myself for ten whole minutes before I finally found the perfect word. The word was “thank you”.
Granny had taken care of me my whole entire life and ironically, she left just before the day I officially met adult hood. The irony will always kill me. She lied on her hospice bed still and peaceful like a new born baby sleeping. My mother had folded her hands on her stomach and tucked her blanket underneath her chin.
The day before I sat beside granny and she asked me a lot of questions, like; When you graduating? And, are you still best friends with the girl down the street? She read off a list and told me what to do. I still wonder how long she thought about her final words to me. She told me things like; Just make sure you’re independent, and never give up on music. I could say that I grew up right then but I hadn’t. No amount of goodbye time good of prepared me for the last moment. Yet, in some oddly freakish way that I still don’t know how to explain, I was prepared.
“Thank you for everything,” I said. I was still accompanied by the same peaceful aura that I met when I stepped into the doorway. I didn’t feel sadness. I didn’t feel worry. I didn’t feel anything at all but calmness. I felt so calm and light that I could have floated. I kissed granny on the forehead and placed my hands over hers. They were cold. I had never felt granny cold before. It’s hard to imagine because she had the warmest heart that I’ve ever known a person to have.
I like to think that in her final moments, Granny held on for long as she could. She waited until the day I turned 21. I like to think that she saw that I was alright and decided that it was time to let go; and so she did. The day after, I wrote a poem:
Now all my Octobers
Belong to Carrie Mae,
for 85 years,
She headed home,
Just as I arrived here.