The Tree of Hearts

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December 1, 2015 by The Citron Review

by Ann Tinkham


I remember the day I froze myself.

I had just started wearing bras and Kotex pads. I hoped neither was detectable in the pink pantsuit I wore into the catty student center. My sister and I sat cross-legged on our yellow wicker twin beds, she on hers and me on mine, our bedspreads a cheery floral print. At night we snuggled under covers with the promise of eternal spring. Outside our windows clustering trees formed a protective enclave, shielding us from the elements, from the world with its many hurts. The elms, maples, oaks, and hickories were more steadfast than my schoolmates and more dependable than my mother and her shifting moods; my mother, who never achieved the elusive state of marital bliss. Her emptiness was a contagious disease that bellowed through the echoing hallways of our A-frame ski lodge home in Indiana. She had designed the house to be somewhere else, anywhere but where we were.

When my dad sat on my bed, the comforting sink signaled madcap bedtime stories featuring a fox, a lion, and a monkey on deciduous-forest adventures, bedtime stories that ushered in deep restorative sleep. Never did we question why jungle animals might live in our woods. Never did we get bored with his meandering plotlines. Never did we want his stories to end.

But this time was different.

This time the bed-sink under his athletic bulk signaled something new. His booming Marine Corps voice tapered into a muted growl. “Your mother and I are getting a divorce.” The voice came from beyond; it wasn’t his bedtime story voice. It was the voice of a monster, the kind of beast he kept out of our bedroom.

Our 6’3” broad-shouldered hero could no longer keep the monsters at bay.

Even in the early 1970s, we knew the meaning of the D-word. I had heard the threat bandied about in distressed tones during my baby brothers’ splashy bubbly bath time. It came at me like a torpedo, through one ear and out the other. I stopped breathing just long enough for my sister to collapse into a messy blob of sniffles and sobs.

But I wasn’t going to be a mess. This wouldn’t ruin my life. My mother, who hid at the corner gas station while my father conveyed her message to the family wouldn’t break me. I would turn back time and freeze myself right before our family fell apart, right before I lost everything that was anything, right before she rearranged the world, right before I would never be who I once was.

I marched away from the calamity that minutes before had been my little sister, the one with messy dirty-blonde pigtails and fast skinny legs that she used to catch me even when I didn’t want her to find me. My sister, the silly, sloppy, disorganized one. My sister, the one my dad held together like the orange and blue bottles of glue that nestled in our school supply boxes.

No one held me together because I never looked like I was falling apart.

I pretended our nuclear family wasn’t exploding in our yellow wicker bedroom. I slammed the door to the adjacent bathroom and escaped on the cool white tiles, although I wonder if my toes ever touched the ground. I blasted the shower to tune out the bawling and the father’s booming voice of another family in a distant place. I soldiered in the shower for an hour, maybe a day, to wash my heart down the drain and deep into the soil that nourished the tree roots. Maybe my heart would take seed and grow into a towering maple that would be steadfast, a tree that would stand despite furious storms and deep freeze. And the branches would reach up and tell of a place where a girl’s heart wasn’t frozen, a place where her mother wasn’t hiding at a gas station while tearing her family apart.


Ann Tinkham is an anti-social butterfly, pop-culturalist, virtual philosopher, ecstatic dancer, political and java junkie, and Kauai-lover. Her fiction has appeared in the Adirondack Review, Word Riot, Toasted Cheese, and others. She writes about pop culture and politics at Poplitix.


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