How to Build a Tree

This was my first essay I wrote outside of college. It is a study of how to live in a world that was once so far away and was now knocking at my door. A world back home, as an adult who has had the experience of living independently and discovering life on her own. This essay is about how I transitioned out of the graduate moving home, to the woman moving on with my life. 

How to Build a Tree

We move on, creating new horizons out of whatever we have to offer.

We find a job after graduation as an after school and, then, summer camp instructor, building out of what we find rewarding. The light bulbs we create above their heads screw into the new lamps we got from Ikea and their smiles hang on the walls.


Sitting in my parents’ house for the last night, I stare at the sliver of light in the sky. I wonder where the rest of the moon is, when we can’t see it. If it exists. If we can ever find it on our own. Or if we’ll ever know.


Memories flood, daily. Children are reminders of who we were, how we are different. We were their height once. We couldn’t reach the pink paper on the top shelf and had to ask too many times for the teacher to get it down, not understanding the meaning of ‘interrupting’. Or maybe we did, we just didn’t care. We colored pictures to hang on the walls, never suspecting that we would one day have to color our whole lives.


“I like it there.”

He gently places the leaf on the wall and I watch as he smoothes his fingers over it, along the edges, letting the adhesive grip the uneven space.


I smile. The tree is taking shape. “There.”


“One of my kids said something funny today.” We are pulling back the sheets, ready for bed.

“Yeah?” he answers, turning out the light and settling down beside me.

“The class was coloring and, all of a sudden, I hear, ‘They’re in a symbiotic relationship’. The boy who said it just turned seven.”

Our wonder makes us laugh.

“And our little one, she’s five, she’s adorable. Today I taught her how to buckle her own seatbelt. She was so proud of herself in her little pink princess dress.”

He laces his fingers through mine and squeezes.

We lay there, listening to the rhythm of each others’ breaths. Above me,  there is a shadow. The shape of the  moon, half waxed, and maybe a little bit of hope.



“Can I have your number?” he asks me. I watch his long lashes brush his cheek as he blinks. His journal sits open on the desk, full of his compositions, mostly songs. He has a bright mind, always surprising me with his wit, his beautiful wonder.

“Of course I’ll give you my number. And here’s my address! Send me a letter! Send me your songs, your questions, your hopes!”

But I don’t say any of that because nasty people have made sure the handbook is filled with warnings against communication outside of school.

“Sorry, kiddo. How about you write to the center? I’ll still be here.”


“Give me a hug.”

He does, somewhat reluctantly. The social awareness has begun setting in. So much earlier than I remember.

“Keep reading.”

He nods.

“Keep writing stories or poems or songs. Keep being awesome.”

Then I turn and walk out the door, past the sketchy drawings addressed to me from our youngest, the five year old who slept in my arms, past the colorings done by the eight year olds, already careful of their looks, and through scents of scraped knees, leaky marker, and uneaten lunch.

And I wonder to myself, must we move on?



He got it for us for Christmas. A rolled up page of trunks and branches and leaves.  A tree we could build, when the time was right.

It took months for the time to come and when it did, we unrolled the paper and slowly began building a tree out of what we had.



“I’m going for the gusto.”

Ilook at myfellow teacher just as he raises his eyes to meet mineand we burst out laughing.

“What!” our student says. “I read it in a comic!”

“So you didn’t know what it meant, you just thought you’d try it out?” I ask, still laughing.

I can see he’s embarrassed and  feel bad that he doesn’t understand why I laugh.

“Yeah,” he mumbles.

I,get up and ruffle his hair. “I should take a page from your book.”

“What?” he asks, tightening his grip on his latest rental from the library.

I laugh again.


We walk down the busy street, hand in hand. The moon is full of life, lighting up like a beacon in the sky.

I look at him and grin.

“What?” he asks.

“Nothing,” I say, squeezing a little closer and breathing in the light of the moon.



“Come on,” we say, stopping yet again just before a busy driveway. She says she has to rest but we are falling behind the group.

Sighing, we decide to disregard regulation and scoop her into our arms, telling ourselves that it is a safety issue when  we really just want to feel that hope that blossoms on her face every day. When we feel her wrap herself around us, we feel like flying.


“Why does it have to be on just that wall? Can’t we wrap it around the other one?”

“Yeah, I guess we could. We can do anything. It’s your tree.”

I get up and take the branch from his hands, brushing fingers as I do. The branch stretches itself from the trunk to the adjoining wall, covering up the old paint.

“Want to add some leaves?” he asks.

I do.


“That’s okay,” she tells me, spinning in her colorful dress. “We have to grow up, right? That’s what people do. And then new things happen too, right?”

“Yep,” I tell her, adjusting her headband again. “We grow up. We move on. But that’s okay.”

She reaches out her arms and twirls again, laughing.


“I love you,” I say, reaching out so he can hold me close.

“I love our life.”

“I love our tree,” I respond, peeking over his shoulder at what we built.

The window is still open, forgotten during our creative pursuit. The moon has come out and we can hear our neighbors celebrating Friday night. Inside, our tree is illuminated in a spotlight of hope.


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