One of H.o.p.’s cousins has a tree house, as does PBS’ Arthur, and H.o.p. has decided he wants one. He has just done a sketch of a tree house, “It has an art gallery, there, and a play room.” At first I thought it was only intended to be an imaginary tree house but no, he then went on talking about how he was going to do the designs for it and our landlord could build it.
There are a couple of trees out back of the apartment building but the out back of the apartment building is inhospitable. I’m not telling H.o.p. there’s no chance of a tree house though. I get the feeling that this is one of those things to let him keep as a fantasy possible.
He has not liked the idea of climbing trees.
“Are you saying you’d like to try to climb a tree?”
“But you wouldn’t mind climbing a ladder to a tree house.”
He nods as he continues experimenting with making spit bubbles, seeing how big he can make them before they pop.
Now, I loved climbing trees when I was young. I was small and agile and had no fear of it.
We were ten. There was one other girl, also small for age, who said no she was the best at climbing trees and her friends said the same. So we went with our friends to the highest tree we knew to climb. Parked our bikes at the base and she and I started climbing, the rest of our friends standing below.
I could tell after a point she started becoming afraid. Then she was not just afraid but upset. She couldn’t go higher. I’d had a branch break out from under me once and had the breath knocked out of me hard, but a couple summers before, when we hadn’t known each other, she had fallen while climbing and broken an arm. When we first met she was still in a cast and had been introduced to me as the best tree climber there was. I’d thought, “Yeah, well, maybe for the neighborhood.”
She went back down. She stood at the base while I continued climbing, going as high as I could go, and they called, “Don’t! Come down! Come down! You’ve proved you can go higher, you’ve proved it!” Which surprised me. Surprised me when one of the girls started crying and got on her bike and rode away, afraid of what was going to happen. They were upset but I was proving something to myself. And I didn’t understand why they were afraid and kept calling for me to come down, not to go higher, when I knew what branches would support and which wouldn’t. I saw no reason to stop until it was impossible for me to go higher. And when it was impossible for me to go higher, I stopped and went back down. All but two had already left, gone home on their bikes, afraid, they didn’t want to be there if I fell. I couldn’t understand why they were all furious with me. After the other girl had gone back down then it had become a competition with the tree–and in a way had been only for me a competition with the tree. There was a sense of triumph of self, I’d done it, gone higher than I ever had before. But that was all and would have to be all. It was the last tree I climbed as a child. I didn’t climb any more with my friends as they said they would never climb trees with me again and because of it I didn’t feel like climbing for a while. Then at summer’s end we moved to a place where there weren’t any good climbing trees. Because there was nothing better than climbing a tree and then sitting in it, this felt like a cutting away of a part of me. But that was that.
Of course, probably just a few blocks over, unknown to us, was someone else who could have climbed as high or higher. In another tree. Not that one. The branches wouldn’t have sustained weight higher up.
The others had every right to be furious at me. We were children and they were frightened. Had something gone wrong, the memory of it would have stayed with them for the remainder of their lives. I’d broken a childhood trust, trespassed a kind of taboo. I didn’t know I had, because I’d felt so confident. When I touched ground again, one of the older girls who’d remained ripped into me good, yelling at me, enraged. And I realized what trust had been broken. It is something like gymnastics where you don’t do certain stunts if you don’t have someone there to spot you.
I’ve told H.o.p. I was good at climbing trees. I had thought it might encourage him, that his mom could climb trees, so he might climb and enjoy sitting with his cousin in the tree that his cousin likes to climb. But the only impression it made was that his mom could climb trees as a child. It didn’t make him want to climb trees. “My mom used to be able to climb trees. She was great at it,” I heard him tell one of his cousins. No inspiration for H.o.p. to even try it, he’s not a joiner in that way. If you can do something well then good for you but that doesn’t mean he has to do it. Which I figure is how it should be. If H.o.p. doesn’t want to climb trees there’s no reason for H.o.p. to climb trees. But if he will climb the ladder then good for him and great that he wants a treehouse with an art gallery.
H.o.p. is drawing a friendly cartoon monster, using this time some instruction rather than drawing by eye.
“Look, this is a hard one!” he says.
“I remember your doing this one before,” I tell him.
“Yes, it was hard at first but I got used to it,” he says.