My best friend when I was a little girl was my cousin, Lana. I wish I had a photo scanner–I’d love to share some pics of me and my counterpart! But in lieu of precocious portraits of Mini Me and my BFF, I guess I’m going to have to paint a picture…
Lana and I were born one month and nine days apart (she’s older–something I tease her about to this day). My first word phrase was “No-no, Na-na” because apparently she stole my rattles (I’m sure my infant self would never do such a thing). As kids we were both painfully skinny, more than a little dorky, and blind as bats (thus the matching coke-bottle glasses we were stuck in for years). But best of all, Lana and I were imaginative, passionate, and in love with life (we spent countless hours making up elaborate games, writing stories together, and creating imaginary worlds).
There wasn’t much that Lan and I didn’t share. Except for her tree.
Lana lived in a small development on the edge of town and it was rimmed by a stand of tall, narrow trees (poplar? ash?). One of our favorite pass times was tree climbing, but I was (and still am) a little afraid of heights, and she could always climb higher than me. I envied her daring, her ability to push herself just a bit farther and then a bit more, but I was never so jealous as the day that she showed me her tree.
There was one particularly hard-to-climb tree that required us to jump for the lowest hanging limb and then swing ourselves up and hook our legs over the nearest branch. That alone was a feat, but once we started climbing it only got more treacherous. The limbs were unevenly spaced and required us to stretch for purchase and swing out over empty spaces. I found it utterly terrifying, but I followed Lana because I had to prove myself as brave as her. Until we reached the point where we couldn’t climb anymore–and she kept going. At the place where the branches began to drastically thin, my intrepid cousin had taken her pocketknife (we each wore one around our necks) and sawed through a wrist-sized limb. In order to reach the next “safe spot,” she had to carefully put one foot on the hacked-off nub, shimmy her arms up the trunk of the tree, grab a branch high overhead, and then wiggle her way up. For several heart-pounding moments Lana had nothing at all to hold on to. Then she found purchase on the last sizable limb, pulled herself up, and grinned down at me from a distance that seemed as far as heaven.
I remember staring up at her and thinking, “No one can touch her.” No one could follow that impossible path. She might as well have been on Mars.
I’ve been thinking about that tree, and about Lana’s not-so-secret hiding place. I don’t know why she cut that branch or why she created a route that only she could follow. But if I had to guess, I would imagine that it had much to do with the desire to be alone.
It’s a scare commodity, isn’t it? A moment alone. Away from the hustle and bustle, the chaos of the earth below. Peace in a place where no one can follow. Doesn’t that sound like bliss? In my life I would dare say that sort of sweet, temporary aloneness doesn’t exist. But I think it should. I think today I would take that risk: put my foot on that sawed-off nub and hold my breath until my fingers found that next branch. I’d do it just so I could spend a couple of minutes utterly and completely alone.
Where do you go to be alone?