When I was little, I thought I was the reincarnation of Pocahontas. There were many explanations for this delusion. First of all, I am an only child (only childhood leads to fanatic self-delusion born from a lethal combination of too much attention and too much alone time). Second of all, the maple tree in my backyard had a face. The face was really just a mask that the previous resident of our house had nailed through the bark. Why would you nail a mask on a tree, you ask? Well, to give a sort of roundabout answer to that question, I will describe to you the aforementioned resident’s idea of a “funky yet functional” bathroom.
Prior to my parent’s restoration, the bathroom was the biggest room in our entire house. It was furnished with all the fixtures that a single woman in the 80s who did a massive amount of cocaine would, naturally, need. This included (but was in no way limited to) a Jacuzzi hot tub, a sauna, a bidet and a full-length wraparound mirror that ran the entire periphery of the gigantic lavatory. I remember being four years old and getting the chicken pox. Thanks to all the mirrors in the bathroom, I could see every red blister on my body from all possible angles. It was only my conviction that I was Pocahontas which kept me from going insane with misery when I was sick.
At any rate, there was a decades-old weather-beaten face stuck on my backyard tree, and I was fully convinced that it was my own personal Mother Willow. I would spend hours in the backyard talking to her and trying to lure squirrels and birds onto my shoulder with pieces of bread and warbled tribal melodies I made up. My mother would watch me tenderly from the kitchen window and try to convince herself that I was going to grow up to be a totally well-adjusted adult and not even a little bit serial killer-y.
As I got older and started to talk to other human beings more than flora and fauna, I secretly saved my hope that I would eventually amount to something that was pretty much equivalent to the reincarnation of Pocahontas. I was realistic. I accepted that Pocahontas was a historical figure, not just a crownless Disney princess. I accepted that she was specific to a certain time and place that had come and gone. I accepted that I was of Eastern European descent and that I couldn’t run barefoot through the woods without making a sound or even hear the colors of the wind (do they whisper navy or granny apple green?). Still, I felt I would do something that would cause people to look at me and say, “You know who that girl reminds me of? Pocahontas. Totally 100 percent Pocahontas.”
Reality has been a tough pill to swallow. Benadryl (what I was given when I had the chicken pox) gives temporary relief and makes pain and itchiness more bearable. Reality, however, makes most discomfort more acute and harder to deny. It seeps into our bloodstream and slowly spreads so that even if we wish our hardest to be children forever, every artery pounds with the knowledge that we have to grow up.
A couple summers ago, a series of powerful storms hit the Midwest. My parents and I returned from vacation one day to find that the tree I once knew as Mother Willow had been hit by lightning. It now stood dangerously close to falling through our roof. When workmen came to fix the downed electrical wires, they informed my parents that the tree needed to become a stump. It was time to say goodbye.
That night, I went out to the backyard and sat in the dirt in front of my old friend. I felt silly and incredibly sad. The 21-year-old part of me said: what are you doing on the ground? The kid in the back of my head said: this tree had a face. It was special.
Are my dreams supposed to change now that I set my own bedtime and fumble my way toward a job? I don’t want to be defeated by the civilizing forces in my life, but stasis in the face of inevitable transformation has been proven untenable. So I try to find small moments of strange, innocent magic whenever I can: the way the fluorescent “open” sign mirrors a sherbet dusk or the satisfied wink my boyfriend’s puppy gives me when I scratch the soft spot under its left ear. I run in a long and hurried flight towards a place where I can be an adult, yet still be myself.