Through the car window, I see the home my mother and I had made that one summer, up in the biggest tree in our backyard. My father laughed when he first heard our plan, confident that we would fail or quit, that the treehouse we wanted would never be assembled. “Where are you going to put it?” he asked. “None of our trees have branches to support it. Where will you get the wood? Hell, how are you possibly going to build it?” Through the questions, mom kept quiet, determined to prove her husband wrong. The very next day, she picked up some wood and nailed the supports into the oak tree.
I stop the car. An untamed lawn greets my eyes, as if it hasn’t been cut since I moved out. The lawn had been our workspace, where we cut and nailed the wood together. After the supports were nailed in, we finalized the blueprints for the treehouse. My father would scoff loudly whenever it came up, just to remind us what he thought, but, unphased, we worked on. Eight feet off the ground, we decided, the perfect blend of danger and sensibility. She suggested 2 by 8 boards to form the platform, while I pushed for as big as possible; we eventually compromised on 2 by 8 boards.
Without hesitation, I stride towards what was once my backyard, noticing that the beams holding up the treehouse remain intact, solid despite the years I’ve been away. The beams took us ages to assemble; our planning lacked measurements, lacked the meticulousness with which mom typically approached everything, but we made up for it with enthusiasm and ceaseless work. Every day, as soon as she returned from work, she skipped the house and went straight to the backyard with me, both filled with the same undying energy. Measuring once, cutting so many different times—it eventually came together. Exhausted, we lay beneath our treehouse, staring up at the planks, drinking in all we achieved. Yes, it was unfinished, lacking a roof, walls, even flooring, but we knew then that we could, no, that we would finish it.
Following the path my mother always took to the backyard, I step carefully through the unruly weeds, seeing the rope ladder sway slightly in the summer breeze. The rope ladder, the one argument I won. She wanted a solid wooden ladder, safely rooted in the ground, and I’d wanted a swinging rope ladder, perfect for a true tree house. Eventually she agreed, once I promised that I would make it myself while she was away at work; eager to finish as we were, any delays were unthinkable. So, the next day she bought me rope, and our schedule went differently from then on; while she went to work, I tinkered with the rope ladder, and, when she returned, we worked on laying down the flooring. As the ladder began to take shape, so too did the flooring, until finally we had a nearly flat platform with a usable ladder. Now we lay atop the platform, staring up at the branches or out at the clouds together, shielded from the worst of the sun, feeling the wonderful summer breeze sift through our hair.
As I get closer, I see that, remarkably, the walls still stand upright. They were the hardest part of our project. At first, we read that making the walls on ground level and lifting them up would be easier; turns out this doesn’t apply to a preteen boy and his mom. Father stepped out at this point to offer his input—”that’ll never work”—as well as a derisive laugh. My mom’s jaw clenched at this, but she offered no retort. The next day our strategy changed, and we carefully built the walls right off the platform. Mom insisted on being the only one stretching out beyond what she deemed a safe distance, despite my assertion that I too would be fine. The only injury was mom’s slightly crushed finger, hit by a missed swing of her hammer; she ignored the pain and finished the walls before hurrying in to grab some ice and a pair of popsicles to eat in our treehouse, hiding her bruising finger from father to avoid any further scornful comments.
The roof, a boring sheet metal, stands out as the section that looks the worst for wear. I notice rust stains dotting the cheap metal, the metal she bought to finish up our home. The metal was forced on us by my father, calling anything else an unnecessary waste of money; we knew, of course, that he was angered by us proving him wrong rather than the expense, but resisting him was pointless, so we accepted the ruling with as much enthusiasm as possible. Fortunately, the metal took us almost no time to put up, and we slept in our finished home that night, safe from the surrounding world.
I finally reach the treehouse and grab hold of the ladder, pulling myself up as I used to all those nights I heard my parents screaming, my father’s voice slurring. The treehouse had been my sanctuary, and my mom often slept there with me, out of his reach. One night she ran to join me after a particularly loud argument, the left side of her face flushed red. She hurried up the ladder and dragged it in after her, making sure she couldn’t be followed. Then she laid down next to me, wrapping her arms around me, drowning out the shouts of my father with our song. I turned to face her, reaching out to touch her cheek, but she flinched, and turned to kiss my hand instead. Tears pooled in my eyes, and, suddenly, she leaped into action, passing me our flashlight and telling me to point it at the far wall. Grabbing our pocket knife, she carved “Lily and Joseph’s Home” just above my head height, encircling it in a heart. “We’re safe here, safe in our home” she whispers to me, before singing me to sleep.
Inside the treehouse, inside my old home, I feel my mother’s carving, and once again tears fill my eyes. We’d laid Lily to rest that morning, her face finally peaceful in death, the smile lines by her eyes still visible. I couldn’t stand to enter the house. It had never been mine, just another boring suburban house you walk by, belying the dysfunction that had dwelt within. Even my home feels empty now without her next to me, her quiet support and unconditional love.
Yet the summer breeze still blows through my hair, the afternoon sun beats down on the roof, and our names linger together, indelible. I feel safe, supported, and loved in our home, as if a piece of her remains. Our home, though imperfect, had been ours and ours alone, and that was enough.
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Beautiful story. Very sad too. Poor lily. I wonder what happened to the father. I especially liked the last two paragraphs. Beautiful
Touching story. Well written. I could feel your emotional sensibility with each word that you wrote. Thank you for sharing your story.
This is very well-written. Love the last paragraph.
Great story, Dylan!