I love trees. The ones in East Texas are dripping with syrupy sap and prickly with needles and pine cones, but they are the best ones to climb because many of them reach heights of eighty feet, their slender limbs stretching high into the air. When you are at the top, it feels like you have made it to heaven. I shimmy up the trunk of my favorite one in Richard Hatley’s front yard. Richard climbs a shorter one next to me. I am eight years old and he is seven, and we are best friends. We pretend to be pirates on the lookout for invaders. The mast on my ship creaks, swaying gently in the wind as I gaze into the distance, searching for scoundrels and scalawags.
Suddenly, the top of the tree bends under my weight and in an instant I am upside down, scrambling to hold on to the soft apex. I hear a loud CRACK and I am airborne, holding nothing but a useless piece of wood in my hand.
Then Richard wants to play Tarzan and Jane, but I don’t want to be a girl because girls are sissies, so I say I will be Tarzan’s chimpanzee, Cheeta. Cheeta can climb the highest tree because Cheeta is agile and strong and bold. My fingers grasp ever higher branches as I ascend to the top of the tree. Exhilarated, I smell the acrid aroma of sticky sap that glues my fingers together. I taste it and the sharp, bitter flavor heightens my senses. The breeze blows cool and light across my face and I wave to Richard in his tree below, calling to him in my chimpanzee voice, “Eee, Eee, Eee”! I see Richard’s dog, Brownie, wagging his tail and dancing in the grass below. He barks a happy bark in response to my call and I smile, noticing that I am so far away that he looks like a furry ant below. Finally, I have come to the end of my journey and I am triumphant. Cheeta has made it to the top! I rest for a moment, looking up at the puffy white clouds floating by and wonder how much further it is to heaven.
Suddenly, the top of the tree bends under my weight and in an instant I am upside down, scrambling to hold on to the soft apex. I hear a loud CRACK and I am airborne, holding nothing but a useless piece of wood in my hand. My fingers grab at air as my body falls headfirst toward the ground. Pine needles sting my face as I descend, whipping me for being so foolish. When my body bounces painfully off of a limb, it knocks the wind out of me and I begin to spin. The rough tree bark scrapes my bare arms, adding to my misery. I am forced to keep my eyes shut to protect them from the tree’s assault. Panicking, I flail my arms in the dark. I try to scream but I cannot make a sound. I wonder if dying hurts.
The falling stops and I’m surprised that it didn’t hurt at all. Someone is holding my body in a tender embrace, the way a mother holds her newborn baby. And there are wings. I do not feel them or see them, but I can hear them and I know they are there. They make a fluttering sound, just as I realize I am no longer falling. I open my eyes and see that I am hanging upside down, the back of my bent knees fixed to a tree branch like a kid dangling on the playground monkey bars. I look down and the ground is only a few feet from my head. Gingerly, I remove my legs from the tree and lower myself to the ground. Richard shouts from his tree, “Are you OK?”
Looking in vain for the angel, I tell him I am fine.
“Wow, that was the best trick I’ve ever seen,” he yells, “Can you do that again?”
I am a Texas girl, born and raised! I have worked as a software engineer, science teacher, technical writer and private investigator. I am lucky enough to have had the opportunity to raise horses, learn to sail, pilot small planes, and study Spanish in Latin America. I have survived a tragedy that I thought was insurmountable but ultimately made me into a better person. I have raised three beautiful children who are the light of my life. Now that they are adults, I want to leave them something to remember me by, so I am writing my stories for them.