I don’t really remember it all that well. It’s sort of a hazy memory, honestly, but I remember the tree. I’ll never forget the tree. There was nothing really special about the tree, per se, but we just stood by it every day.
It was like clockwork. The buses came every afternoon, and we all gathered in the same place waiting and standing next to that tree. Its branches overlooked the principles’ car. I think it was a peach tree, but I’m not sure. I just remember that it was skinny and crooked. I sometimes wondered if it was about to reach out and grab one of us and threaten to keep us in high school forever.
If I had sunglasses, I would put them on and pretend like I heard no one, like I didn’t exist. I was that quiet kid that just stood there uninvolved but totally immersed in thought. Sometimes, I would wear headphones and listen to some classical music, which kept me from thinking about how no one would talk to me; about how alone I was, but at the same time, it made me imagine a world where I did have friends. And that’s all I needed – my imagination.
I’ll never forget the faces I encountered there. They are as clear as the tree, but I can’t describe them any more. I just remember their stories: one day, for example, I remember a girl crying and standing next to me, because she had just broken up with her boyfriend of three years. I had been listening in but was quiet as usual. I wondered if she was standing next to me so as to be a part of my bubble…the one everyone ignored. It was one of the only times I ever said anything to anyone, out of sympathy for her.
“If I knew what to say to make you feel better, I’d say it,” and with that she hugged me and wouldn’t let go. It was probably the only time anyone hugged me during those years.
But it all goes back to the tree we stood by. When I think of those moments, I think of that tree…that tree that witnessed the same things I witnessed…that tree that was just as quiet but firm…that tree that reminded me so much of myself. It didn’t belong there.
Or maybe I did. If only I had known it at the time: one day, one of my fellow bus companions who always talked to everyone whether you wanted to respond or not, looked at me and started asking several questions. He was one of those kids that always wanted to know “why.” He had more questions than a scientist, but that’s not what you would have thought when you first met the kid. You just think about how annoying he is, and you think about how to get rid of him. Chris, as I believed he was called, kept bugging me, “Do you study a lot? You look like you study a lot?” The questions continued, “I’ll bet you’re really smart. Are your grades good? I wish my grades were good.”
The questions were always the same…something about how smart I was, which I had to be the smart kid, because if I wasn’t, then why was I so quiet? He knew I was thinking about something. The smart kids are always the quiet ones. Or so everyone believes. It’s one of those stereotypes that’s blatantly wrong. You automatically assume that they’re either smart or rude, and if they wear glasses, they’re smart…when…the truth is – they’re the ones who are most lonely, most depressed, most cynical, and most shy…or at least, they think they’re lonely and depressed and shy. Then, eventually, they realize that’s it’s not like that. But even that’s a stereotype.
I always gave Chris terse responses. “I guess” was probably the most common response, although I always took slight offense to his questions about how smart I was, and I always tried to correct him when he said he wasn’t smart. But I was annoyed by his constant smiling and constant questioning. I wanted to be as happy as he was. I wanted to say something more to him, to be his friend…or maybe…just to have a friend, and hell, he was a nice kid.
Our tree grew spring leaves and summer came. No more waiting for that bus, and soon, I would be old enough to drive myself to school. No more Chris or crying girls. No more tree. No more yellow bus with loud, obnoxious kids.
Chris killed himself that summer at a Christian camp in East Tennessee. I still don’t believe it. He’s still that happy kid, and I’m the one who is depressed…not him. He’s still alive and just now experiencing the second semester of his freshman year of college. I read as much literature as I can get my hands on about suicide these days. I recently read about how Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, considered killing himself. At this point, he was probably imprisoned, and in the Greco-Roman world, suicide was an honorable thing. “To live is Christ and to die is gain,” he says (1:21), but Paul chooses not to kill himself, because he feels he can still do more good through his letters.
But all that knowledge doesn’t really comfort me. No knowledge comforts me anymore. No doctrine gives me any comfort. No book or professor or teacher or preacher or brother can tell me anything about the way they view life or see history. I used to listen to what they said, the scholars and those who have so much knowledge. It used to be all I cared about, and knowledge is a great foundation to have, but it’s no good without just plain faith. It’s of no use without love. It’s of no use without God.
Search the scriptures all day long and look for answers. Learn about Greco-Roman history and the Quest for the Historical Jesus. Learn about what Paul meant when he wrote the letter to Corinth or to Rome. But what good is it all, looking for facts…with no search for God in it? No doctrine will explain anyone’s death. But faith and love in God might give me enough comfort to explain all I need to know…or believe.
Our tree was cut down. Apparently, it died, and the school didn’t plant anything in its place, so there’s just a large empty gap where our tree once was, but I think I like it like that. It marks a change.
At night, I’ve been known to sometimes return to the bus stop and stand there for a few minutes. It’s a different world at night, and it’s a quiet world at night, but it has a ghostly presence to it. As you stand there in the dark, it’s almost as if you can close your eyes and picture those faces again. My tree comes back into my mind, and suddenly, it’s as if I’m there again – in high school…hoping to just get done with it all. There’s nothing at all wrong with a little nostalgia.
It’s a story there’s no resolution to. Or maybe there is resolution to it. I’m not sure.
I am sure that knowledge won’t suffice anymore, though. I am sure that if I don’t look for God first and knowledge second…I’ll get “know where.”
If trees could talk, oh the things they’d say. My tree turned green in the spring because the rain replenished it, and then, when it died and was cut down, it was sort of sad not seeing it in its place anymore. It just wasn’t the same high school. And, I highly doubt that the tree ever served any real purpose. It was too small for firewood and too small to be used as furniture.
But somewhere, that tree was thrown onto a pile of other trees, and it’ll rot and it’ll replenish the ground. …and maybe, eventually, grass will grow in the place the tree rots.
Chris’ name hasn’t been erased from my mind, but he still has a powerful impact on who I am…on who I want to be. When I think about the kids this summer, the first face that pops into my mind is Chris’. Chris…and an old tree…that I’ll never forget.