I used to climb trees. Great, big trees whose names I never bothered to learn until I plucked their leaves for a seventh grade science project, and even then, I forgot them just as quickly as I had put the assignment together.
I spent years nestled high in branches, lost in my own world, letting my imagination run wild. I made up stories where I was some sort of girl Tarzan who lived in the jungle with a house high in the trees. I was a fairy princess whose best friends were birds; I was a scientist studying a rare species away from home. My parents never had to look very hard for me on days when I “ran away” from home — I would usually be up in the tree, living out a dramatic storyline as an orphan runaway. I probably borrowed from more than one Disney film, but I can’t be sure.
When I was little, my grandfather nailed planks of wood to climb to the trunk of the tree in my grandparents’ back yard. The lowest branches were just out of reach; this opened up a whole new world of play for his grandchildren and their friends. I always climbed higher than everyone else.
Part of it was because I was the smallest and I could get to those upper branches, the ones that thinned out, without worrying that they’d break. Part of it was because I was a show-off. I desperately wanted the attention, wanted to win people’s affections and admiration by showing them how good I was, how much better I was because I could do something they couldn’t. Part of it was because, up there, I could be alone.
There was one branch, thin, bendy, and bouncy, that we would shimmy out and hang off. It was the kind of branch that drove our parents crazy with worry — it was so thin that they were convinced, one day, it would snap under our weight and someone would get hurt. None of us ever listened to their warnings to stay off, especially not me. If anything, I would take the biggest risk and wrap my legs around it and hang upside down. I can remember how the bark felt against the backs of my knees, scratchy, but secure. I was fine.
I did it because it felt fun, because I could get addicted to that rush of blood to my head. I did it because it was another thing I could do that no one else could. My sisters were too little. My cousin was too old — she said it wasn’t cool to climb trees anymore, and besides, she didn’t want anyone to see her bra when her shirt flipped up. But I was always a little in between the big kids and the little kids and a little uncool. And I never had a push-up bra I cared about anyone seeing, anyway; I started wearing extra-small Limited Too sports bras when I was 10 because I worried that my non-existent boobs made me look fat.
Twenty years later, that tree is still there with its thin, parental anxiety-inducing branch intact. Only, it’s not my grandparents’ backyard anymore. They’re both dead now and their children sold their house a month ago.
There are no trees to climb in New York. Not without stares, at least. Lately, all I can think of is how I can’t remember the last time I climbed that tree, and how I’ll never climb it again.
Sometimes I feel very old, like maybe I’ve missed my chance. (At what, exactly, I’m never really sure.) Sometimes I feel very tired, like I’ve spent the past few years screaming out into this enormous, loud universe just trying to be heard, but no one is listening because only a whisper is coming out. Sometimes I feel like I don’t understand anything at all. Sometimes I feel like I’m not enough, and maybe that’s my whole problem.
Mostly, sometimes I just really wish that I could be that little girl again, hanging from a tree in a backyard, letting that blood rush to her head and put a hypnotically hazy filter on her view of things. Sometimes I wish things could slow down the way they did in those moments. Because, somehow, that was the only time where I didn’t mind feeling like the world was upside down.