The crabapple tree appears in one of my earliest memories. It is morning, everything still and steeped in daffodil light. I am in my mother’s arms, my cheek resting on the softness between her neck and collarbone, and brightness turns the insides of my eyelids pink. A warm current of air breaks over the grass and the blades turn their faces up towards the sun. She shifts, tells me to open my eyes, and when I do blossoms are falling in milk-white clusters, milk-white with just the suggestion of pink. Petals snow the ground.
Later I learned the tree’s name, climbing up branches to gather tiny, tart fruits. I learned the names of other trees, too, on nighttime walks at dusk with my father. The gingko, with leaves like ancient folding fans; the sycamore, piebald bark peeling in wafers; the cottonwood, branches silver and winking in light; none of them could surpass our tree. In the languor of midsummer, I spent hours folded into the fork of a particular branch.
In childhood, it was a castle or a fort, boughs bedecked with flowers like hand-painted screens. I used to swing until the sun went down, pretending I could kick my way to where the stars made pinholes in the night. Saturdays, my first friends and I spread a blue and white quilt on the uncut grass and sat cross-legged in a circle. Our laughter came in peals that blanketed the block.
Later on I leaned against it with Danny. We built an igloo under its bare limbs in wintertime, sipping cider with gloved hands. When the ground thawed and buds freckled the branches, I quoted a line from a movie I liked at the time. “I love trees,” the lead says; maybe it’s Robert Downey, Jr. “I could do nothing my whole life except just grow trees.” He laughed and kissed my forehead then my mouth.
I had a nightmare once that they had to cut it down. There was something in its branches, a fungus that made its bark buckle and bloat, or rotted the root that then surfaced in warped, bell-shaped saprophytes. I dreamed it before my first real diagnosis, but after the shiny-faced doctor said maybe Effexor will do the trick. It was the fall that I let the tree cradle me, my cheek resting on the softness where its roots hitched to ground. It was the fall that I started leaving football games or rehearsals to sit alone under the latticework of branches; cold, mute.
There was an ice storm that winter that rocked it and severed its branches, and then fungus, as I had dreamed. Nobody told me, just like when they put the dog down. I put a long strip of its bark with creased notes and old journals in the shoebox under my bed. I kept it for years before throwing it out.
They left the stump there for a while and then had it removed. As if in protest, the grass didn’t come back for long time. It still shoots up differently there, so if you look closely, you can just make out the specter of a trunk.