By Sonia Kurian
I had a friend named Martin, a gorgeous tall red oak tree with the most luscious head of leaves, in our forest. I watched him grow from when he was just a little small sprout, to when he was in his prime, to when he was no more.
One hundred and fifty-five years, Martin lived a wonderful and fulfilling life but died a brutal and abrupt death. His name is only remembered by the few of us who survived years and years ago. Now and then you’ll see a family jog by and take rest on his trunk, but otherwise his name was lost in history’s unforgiving archives.
Planted in 1865, our forest stood in front of a small farm in northern Pennsylvania. The farmers had a daughter, Ady, who would run by our forest ever so often. She was a small, bright-eyed redhead who was loud and playful. For her tenth birthday, her father built her a small, yellow swing on one of Martin’s branches.
Ady grew to love the forest and the secrets that burrowed beneath the layers of leaves and rocks. She’d spend her school days playing tag with her friends around Martin or competing over who could swing the highest. As she grew older we started to see her friends less, and slowly it was only her, Martin, and the swing set that connected them. After school, she’d run home straight to Martin and hide behind him. She’d zip her gray sweater up and burrow her head in her arms and cry. Slowly she found peace in the forest and with Martin. She bought a black, leather journal with her name signed on the cover and wrote in it every day after school. She would draw all of us in her journal and write about the sounds of the wind when it brushed our leaves and the squirrels who would steal her bag of nuts here and there. She wrote about Martin and the yellow swing set her dad built on her 10th birthday.
She grew old under his branches, and slowly her friends and family passed. The day came when she passed, and the swing set was left still and lifeless.
In 1972, nearly over a century after Ady’s passing, the old farm had become a town of houses. Word said they were this new thing called “Levvitowns,” every house looked like the one next to it. The one directly in front of Martin and I was a small, peach house with a family of 5. None of the kids really came near us until 1983; 7-year-old Jackson stumbled into our forest after arguing with his older sister, Maggie. A boy with the greenest eyes you’d ever seen. He violently planted himself in front of Martin with his hands crossed over his chest, his face redder than a tomato. He kicked, he punched, and slowly found himself asleep against Martin. After a couple of hours, his parents ran over in a panic and picked up their son and ran home.
We didn’t see him for weeks, but one day he came back and sat against Martin again. He whispered to the red oak, “Thank you for letting me sleep here.” And then he quickly fell asleep. It turned out that he struggled with sleep paralysis, his body was at constant panic during his sleep. He’d wake up crying at night after a series of nightmares that left him shaken. Martin helped him sleep, he helped him sleep soundly and peacefully. Maybe it was the sounds that left his mind at peace in our forest, or the birds who’d watch over him from the tips of Martin’s branches.
Years passed and Jackson grew quickly; he was handsome, shy boy. You wouldn’t find him socializing too much. One day he brought home a girl, Ava, a beautiful and quiet brunette whose freckles shined under the hot, Pennsylvania sun. They both ran over to Martin and sat against him, protected from the burning rays from the sun. They smiled, barely spoke, and fell in love. They carved their names in his trunk and hid letters in the soil under them. They grew old together, and now and then Jackson would still return to Martin’s embrace to rest soundly and for peace.
Martin died; many of us did, the day the lumberjacks came to make our forest into a lot. By this time Jackson was long gone and their house had become a small outlet where girls would shop for the newest brands.
Nearly 200 years of history was lost in a matter of seconds. The branches marked with Ady’s yellow swing set, to Jackson and Ava’s initials carved in his body. All the people, all of the houses, all of the stories each individual carried was lost in one blow.