I woke up again this spring, which was a relief in and of itself. The other trees were already putting out their leaf buds by the time I finally came to, but I suppose that it should be expected that I would be slower to come back awake after what happened last fall. Recovery takes time, after all.
I pushed my roots a little farther, drawing up precious drops of water as I worked to get the sap flowing through me. Mere seconds after it began running through me, pain seared through my whole being, and I heard myself creaking and groaning as if from a distance. My whole body ached, and every last one of my limbs on the northwest side seemed to be screaming in agony.
Stiffening myself against the pain, I pushed the sap harder. Slowly, it subsided to a dull throbbing. Only then was I able to see the damage that had been done; many of my northwestern branches were blackened in strange patterns, and the blackness extended all the way down that side of my trunk. The worst of the damage had been done to one of my largest limbs, one that had extended just a bit higher than the others. I think a good half of it must have broken off, though whether that had happened in the initial incident or from the weight of the winter’s snow, I couldn’t tell. Either way, I knew its remains wouldn’t do me any good from here on.
It was disturbing to see what had happened to me, but I know my strength will get me through the year. I’ve been putting out as many leaves and as much new growth as I can— I’m going to need a lot to compensate for the branches I’ve lost. This will probably be the hardest thing I’ve done in my life, but I still have many years ahead of me, and I’m sure this will only make me strong enough to endure whatever’s still to come.
With any luck, there will be lots of rain this summer. I suspect I’ll need it.
This year was so much harder than I imagined it would be. Summer was one of the driest I can recall, though admittedly, I’ve not yet lived through very many. It was so much harder to keep hold of my leaves for as long as I usually do in fall. I still hurt almost as much as I did before, but I think I’m just tired. I’m going to go to sleep now, though it’s a week or so early for that. I just need rest. Everything will be fine next spring.
This time, I woke up later than ever before. It’s been just over three years since the incident. My body still aches, and I’m starting to realize that this isn’t going away. I’m not getting better. If anything, I’m getting worse. It’s harder than ever to draw water and nutrients from the ground, and just as agonizing as it reaches my blackened branches. The ends of my damaged limbs have lost feeling and they refuse to sprout any leaves, but they still eat away at the resources I need in order to survive.
Though I grew some distance away from them, I can see and feel my friends and family around me, pitying me. I hate them for it. The wind rustles through their leaves in such a consoling way, their creaks and groans are so much softer and longer than usual, and sometimes I can see them stretching their branches in my direction. It all makes me sick.
It wasn’t meant to be this way! I was supposed to live for decades, maybe centuries, growing taller and prouder than anyone in the valley. Even at my young age, I was surpassing almost everyone around me in height.
Now I’m reduced to a shriveling, charred husk of what I used to be, and all anyone can ever say to me is how sorry they are that this happened. As if that does me any good now.
I wish it had been them instead of me.
Do I really?
One thing’s for sure, I am not going out without a fight. If I have to fight death whipping and shrieking, bark and twig, I will. I am strong. I will make it through this, if I have to burn half the forest down with me.
I’m awake again. They told me I was nearly two weeks behind this time. I just…
I have so much life left to live.
Please, please, just let me live. I’d do anything, anything at all, if I could just make it through this.
Some birds made a nest in my boughs this year. The ache was so distracting, I almost didn’t notice. But I think I’m going to sprout some extra leaves around them, try to protect them from any hardships I can.
But I’m changing. I’m changing so much more than I ever have before, in ways I never imagined I would.
Please don’t take this away from me.
I woke up again this spring. It’s been six, seven years? I don’t know anymore.
I’m so tired. I just want this— all of this— to go away. The pain is almost all gone, but the numbness it’s left in its wake is gaping. It’s as if part of me has been torn completely off, except I can see it attached to me.
Yet, somehow I can’t bring myself to care. What’s the point?
I can feel it deep in my roots, in the way they can’t bring enough in to sustain me; in my branches, how they’ve become so brittle that another one breaks each winter; in my whole self as it slowly rots away. The world seems so much dimmer all around me than it used to. When did just living become so hard?
I’ve found myself thinking about that night more often lately. There was a storm, a big one. It was so powerful, so majestic. The kind that would make us all stretch our branches wider just to feel the strength of the wind and the glory of the rain. Then suddenly, all I could see was light, and the air itself split open and roared around me. I was gripped by a sudden, burning agony. When I regained my ability to think, I saw that I’d been struck by lightning on my highest branch, and the whole northwest side of me was on fire. I shrieked and groaned and twisted in the wind, but in the end I was helpless. If the rain hadn’t started pouring harder, I would have died.
I wish I had.
I feel like an idiot for fighting so long and hard against my death. There’s nothing left for me here. I was never special, and life never had anything in store for me.
No, that’s not quite right.
It had this. This day after day, year after year decline, the grind of time against my branches, slowly wearing them away to nothing.
I’m done. I hope I never wake up again.
I… I’m awake.
I’m not supposed to be. Not only that I hadn’t expected to wake up again, but it’s winter. Nobody wakes up in winter.
I can only just feel the cold— my body has gone too numb for it to be more than a vague sensation. There’s snow all around me, lining my branches and offering a remarkable contrast to my bark, considering it's light color. My friends and family are still asleep, but the moonlit snow on their limbs is just as striking. It’s the first time I’ve been awake to see snow since before the lightning hit me.
Somehow, despite the cold and the snow, despite the fact that I’ve spent the last several years slowly approaching my death, I feel more alive than I’ve ever felt before.
No, not alive. This is the last time I’ll wake up; I can feel it as clearly as the earth below my roots. My strength is long spent, and I can feel the tiny bit of life I have now fading away. I may not even have until dawn.
And yet… something about the snow-blanketed earth, the crisp winter air, and the stars twinkling above me is giving me something I haven’t felt in a long time.
Hope. Not the stubborn determination to live, but a peace that it’s okay. I’m dying, and it’s okay.
There was something there— there is something there. A reason. A purpose. I lived, and it meant something, and even though I’m nearly dead, that meaning isn’t lost. I think that there’s more to it than I’ll ever understand, but maybe, maybe, there’s something waiting for me on the other side. A chance to learn, a chance to grow.
I can feel my body stiffening, so I look upwards. I want the last thing I see to be the stars.
Author Notes: I got this idea from a picture I found on Pinterest, and I thought it seemed worth writing, I tried to base each major section off of the stages of grief. I hope I did well.