And Then There's the Aspen
by Kit Gallagher, 16, Newton, Massachusetts
And then there's the aspen. I don't really understand them. Cooper told us that they all have this interconnected root system beneath the soil, that when one is failing or needs nutrients or sunlight or aid of any kind, the hundred others that surround this tree help it out. They send their aid immediately and without thinking, because they're trees and that's what they do. And in the fall, their petite and ovular shaped leaves change colors at the same time. You'll wake up one day and the whole grove of slender aspen will be orange in the shade, sparkling yellow in the sunlight. And I was looking at them today and I thought of you.
I think you know me and I'm mad at you for it. Because I don't know me and I'd like to. I need more time to be alone to get to know myself. I need more time to be alone with the thoughts I've been alone with for sixteen years. I don't like how I can see you after six months, after half of a year because it sounds longer, and you can look at me and know me. You can read me with your endless blue eyes and there's nothing you can do because you can't help it either. You'd rather not know, I come with too much baggage, you think to yourself. You tell yourself: don't get involved, don't ask what's wrong because you know something is, just give me an artificial hug and a how are you doing, and move on. And I'm telling you that I'm sorry that I burden you in that way. And I'm telling you that when I apologize, I really am sorry. I really am.
I was thinking about this summer and how I drove with Andrew in his beat-up car all over the Berkshires. How it was our day off, and I hand-rolled down all the windows and I was sitting in the passenger seat sticking my bare feet out, stretching my toes apart to feel the warm breeze in between them. And Andrew was freaking out because we were lost, and smoking his cloves one after another like he always does. I took one like I told my mother I wouldn't, lit it up and inhaled. Andrew sat plastered to the steering wheel, silently panicking because he couldn't read the map and the twisty-turny unfamiliar roads were looking more and more foreign to him. But the jazz that I had turned up so loud beat heavily in my ears and took over my mind. I closed my eyes and thought about it. I opened them back up to a country dirt road, with fields expanding forever and mountains in that forever blue background. I opened my eyes to a new green world, a lush utopia of fertility and freshness. I told Andrew, "I always thought people over-exaggerated the beauty of the Berkshires. I've never really thought they were beautiful until now. Something somewhere I read recently talked about being in a car and feeling overwhelmed, but in a good way, and feeling infinite. Now I understand. I feel infinite." Andrew looked at me through his previously panicked eyes, and looked into my naive ones, and smiled. He smiled through the saxophone and cello and green grass and blue skies and wind running through my toes. He smiled because he felt infinite too.
When I sat in the old, black, arthritic swivel chair that doesn't swivel like it did in its youth, my chest rose and fell in no particular rhythm. But the music was playing a slow and drawn-out melody and I was alive thinking fast and erratic thoughts. I sat for hours, unmoving, unblinking as the sun sank and the crows screamed and the sad music played and played. And my mother grew concerned as she called out loud my name but I didn't respond, unable to comprehend, unable to react. I was a prisoner of my own head, trapped sitting, thinking, realizing. I thought that some pizza is good a day old, and other pizza is best eaten right away. I thought about how I grew up faster than I would've liked, but also a contradictory thought in that I'm not quite done. I thought about how I wish I was naive and ignorant, and how you once told me you still think of my favorite food as a cheeseburger. I thought about how I've been a vegetarian for five years. I thought about that conversation and how you were right when you said that people excel in different ways. I thought about how understanding people and reading into them is a talent just like playing football well, or understanding algebra. I thought about how some people don't think too much, but can run really fast. And that day was different, but so was I. Not lonely, like that doctor thought, but alone. My mother came in one last time, but just to look at me. Five feet away with her tear-stained cheeks but eons away from ever getting me back. And she heard the familiar piano and violins and saw my familiar empty expression and unfocused eyes and felt her familiar grief and pity. The song was on repeat and she was helpless and so was I.
And every night this summer I would walk onto that field that smelled like freshly-cut grass and adolescent perspiration and sit exactly in the middle of it, cross my legs and wish for a 360 degree viewing capability. The monstrous trees silhouetted against the black sky making the endless speckled heavens look, instead, azure blue. I would look at the trees that surrounded the rectangular field and be unable to see their branches or leaves or depth and see instead, only dark, two-dimensional figures. I would think to myself that this is what it must be like to live in a shoebox in a dark closet. The shoebox with a little diorama of grass and air holes that enabled light to peek through that must resemble stars. And I would sit there in the center of the diorama shoebox and pollute the air with my thoughts and be alone like in the car in the Berkshires, like when I look at the aspen, like when I sat listening to the sad music, immersed in my own thoughts, like when I think of you, like always.