It stood in the northwest quadrant of the front yard – this terrifying tree of unknown origin. It could be seen from every window of our bedroom and the living room, and it looked like a giant clawed hand. We called it the scary tree.
It was an important distinction. There was the boring tree, which couldn’t even be climbed because the limbs were too high up. The crepe myrtle tree bloomed and caused Momma to sneeze every Spring. The climbing tree in the backyard was our favorite, and the giant tree, that cast a shadow on the house every afternoon, would kill us all if it ever fell.
There wasn’t anything special about the scary tree. It was quite normal during the day, but at night, it was a giant beast, clawing its way back to the earth from somewhere beneath us. We spent many a night averting our eyes from the windows only to hear the scratch of its branches outside. We imagined it coming for us, not because we were terribly naughty, but because we’d seen Poltergeist, and the only things scarier than clown toys were trees in a storm and possessed fathers, a la #2.
Locked in our room together, we’d huddle in a corner away from it, away from everything we feared, but we couldn’t escape it. It brought with it an intoxicating stench. When the lightning would crash and the wind would howl, we knew it was coming for us, or at least, someday it would. Until that day, we would be neither seen nor heard.
The scary tree was there after a late night return home when the silence in the house was not calm or pleasant.
The scary tree swayed at the sound of sirens at midnight or the sobs after a smack.
The scary tree convinced us we were worthless and needed to be taught a lesson, even when it never directly said it to us.
We wondered what life was like outside those four walls, but we never dared to leave or escape it. We just accepted it for what it was – a tyrant.
Back then there was more thunder and lightning than sunshine. (Or at least, that’s what my adult brain recalls.) Storms came frequent and fast, in trumpets and torrents, and we weathered them all – albeit frightened and alone in our little crowd.
The day came, though, when it all ended. The storm of our childhood started to settle down, and sunlight broke through the clouds.
Lightning crashed, shaking the house and our bodies, and the tree splintered in two sending a sweetness into the air. A soberness, as it were.
It wasn’t the same anymore. The claws, the sheer terror of it, was gone. But what it symbolized? That never diminished. It lingered there, a permanent reminder of the storms, until we moved and something else took its place.