a story from my american brother-in-law, ben

when i was a smaller boy, our family hosted an esteemed physician from
the U.K. for around a week. her name was alice stewart; she was renown
for her work on effects of radiation on the thyroid and came to
consult with my father who, at the time, was doing a lot of work to
investigate the radioactive leakage at hanford, in the Washington
desert. she took an interest in playing some pitch and toss with me in
the backyard one day, i think after having watched me pitching for
hours at the sprung toss-back device i had in those baseballful years.
she was honestly pretty bad at throwing the ball and within a few
tries, had thrown it into my father’s orchard, snapping a small limb
from one of the perimeter trees. i felt my viscera contracting and
heaving, predicting the reaction of my dad. i might have let out kind
of a shriek of alarm. the doctor and i examined the tree, she with no
trepidation and me with anxiety and slight trembling. she ordered me
to fetch some masking tape; i thought it her idea of a joke, or a way
of distracting me from my father’s OCD over his trees. she proceeded
to tape up the young limb and explained that she wasn’t joking, that
it would probably re-graft to the tree. it was so simple, i had never
imagined how useful tape could be. for years i knew where that limb
was in the yard… it grew in that part of my mind that anticipated
magic, and in that part of the yard the doctor had touched.

several nights ago a drunk driver ran over four of my new magnolia
trees in the parking strip at my house. it’s funny, the first feeling
upon seeing this was that gut wrenching knowledge that FATHER is mad,
that somebody’s in trouble. i could smell the grass in my old
backyard, and see the light shining behind that wise old woman
throwing errant baseballs. the second thought was one of relief: that
i wasn’t witness to this transgression… as i played out in my mind my
treatment of the driver. i busied about the trees for a few hours,
trying to re-root some of the branches that looked like they might
survive with some hormone help; i mourned the dead ones and cried a
little. the driver had taken out a very nice japanese pine i planted
on the corner; i called my dad to consult on the likelihood that this
species could re-graft. he said, “that tree is dead.” i felt like the
doctor for a moment, like, “what’s wrong with a little effort with
some tape.” i went out and carefully duct-taped the tree back into
place and said some prayers for the roots that are wondering where the
hell the rest of the tree is, that are pumping sap up into nothing,
now into a duct tape wound treatment.

it’s a longshot, but i’m hoping the tree will make it.

i wish that tree had been four years older and STOPPED the car that
ran into it. i wish alice stewart was still alive so i could call her
and tell her my sadness about this lovely tree. i wish sometimes that
men were different than they are.


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