The Healing TreeArts
I felt like I was driving the wrong way down a one-way street. Everything was backwards. Robbie was my chauffeur, and I was going to visit Maggie, instead of Maggie chauffeuring Robbie to come visit me. She was in the outpatient cancer center for another round of chemo. Robbie had picked me up in my hospital room and was pushing my wheelchair through the hospital corridors. On our way, we stopped at the gift shop to buy Maggie a pack of wintergreen Lifesavers, which was just about the only thing she could hold down when she was going through chemo.
I waited out in the corridor watching people go by as Robbie went in. I could see from the entrance that maneuvering a wheelchair through the gift shop would be beyond his navigational aptitude. People walked by, pretending to not see me parked there by the door. Once more, I had a glimpse of the future I’d been trying so hard to not see. Since the accident, I’d been living in a cocoon. Everything was taken care of for me. I got fed (or at least they brought food and encouraged me to eat it). I had help getting to and from the bathroom. Someone always came when I woke up in a panic in the middle of the night and hit the nurse call button.
In rehab the other day, Amanda had said something about cars with special controls for paraplegics, but I’d parked that tidbit in the same mental compartment where I kept the Rings of Saturn and the Great Wall of China. Sitting there alone in the corridor, though, I understood in a very real way that when she’d said life would be different, she meant that everything would be different. Paying for an ice cream cone at Baskin Robbins, getting onto an airplane, everything. I knew I couldn’t do it without Mark, also knew I wouldn’t have that choice.
“Okay, Mom, ready to roll?” Robbie laid a bag that obviously contained more than a pack of Lifesavers on my lap, patted my shoulder, and started us moving down the corridor again.
“Mind if I look?” I asked as I opened the sack and peered inside. “What’s this?” I reached in and pulled out one of those little stuffed animals that are a staple of hospital gift shops everywhere. Only it wasn’t an animal. It was a mermaid. “Oh, Robbie. This is perfect! She’ll love it!”
“I couldn’t resist,” Robbie replied. “You know Maggie and her thing for mermaids.” For just a second, the wannabe grandmother in me imagined Robbie and Maggie – the two most important people in my life – finding each other the way Mark and I had found each other. Let’s see: Robbie’s 14, Maggie’s 26. Hmmm. Might have to wait on that one. At the bottom of the sack I noticed a folded piece of paper and started to pull it out.
“No. Not that,” Robbie said as he reached over my shoulder and took the bag out of my hands.
“Why, young Mr. Murphy, was that a little love note I was about to read?” I would have given anything to see the look on Robbie’s face, but couldn’t get my neck to twist around that far.
“Ah, Mom, you know I don’t have time for girls. At least not until I’m done with medical school.”
“Medical school? You’re getting pretty serious about that, aren’t you?”
“Yeah. Dr. Paulson’s been telling me about being a doctor, and I really think that’s what I want to do. I know it’s hard to get into medical school and all, but I think I can do it.”
“I know you can do it, Robbie.” I smiled on the outside and cried on the inside. “You’ve got too much of your father in you to let anyone tell you otherwise. But…” I bit my tongue. How could I tell Robbie, who really was his father’s son, that he could do anything he wanted to do – so long as he did it within driving distance of his crippled mom?
Instead of saying what was really on my mind – you can do anything, Robbie, anything at all, except leave your poor mother alone in that house – I said, “But if the right girl comes along, just remember that someday I would like to be a grandmother, okay?”
As Robbie pushed me down the long corridor toward the outpatient cancer center, it struck me that everyone was either waiting somewhere or rushing to get somewhere else. Nobody seemed particularly happy.
When we reached the cancer center, Robbie walked right up to the counter and asked for Maggie. Cheerful and self-assured. Just like Mark. As he wheeled me into Maggie’s treatment room he said, “Hey, Maggie, how’s it going?” She smiled that big smile of hers and said it was going fine, but it was quite obviously not going fine. She was pale and gaunt, and could easily have hidden behind the IV pole that was strapped to the easy chair she was sitting in. Robbie leaned over to give her a hug, then laid the bag in her lap.
Maggie and I made small talk while Robbie zoned out with one of the magazines piled up on the little table by the window. She drummed her fingers a-tap a-tap across the cover of the ever-present pink journal sitting on her lap. “You know they’re opening that new wing in April? The Women’s Center?”
I’d heard something about a construction project of some sort, but mostly from overhearing people complain about how hard it was to find a parking space. “So they’re building a center for just us girls? That’ll be nice.”
“Yeah,” Maggie replied, “and it’s going to mean more patients. And that means more poems.” She nodded solemnly. “Lots more poems.”
“Maggie, Maggie, never say die. But you are not going to talk me into writing poems with you. I don’t write poetry. I can’t write poetry.”
“Did I hear you utter that forbidden word? Can’t?” Maggie wagged a scolding finger at me.
“Yeah, Mom, you’re not supposed to say you can’t do something.” Robbie suspended his zombie impersonation long enough to inject himself into the debate. “You can do anything if you put your mind to it. At least, that’s what you and Dad always told me.”
“Alright,” I replied, “how’s this: I really don’t have time to write poetry. Give me another hundred years or so, though, and I might give it a try.” I crossed my arms to let them know that this conversation was over. But out of the corner of my eye I saw Robbie wink at Maggie.
Maggie reached into the gift shop bag and pulled out the stuffed mermaid. She was delighted, as we knew she would be. Then she retrieved the paper that Robbie hadn’t wanted me to see. The two of them exchanged an in-the-know glance. Unfolding it, she read it over with evident satisfaction, then smoothed it out across the cover of her pink journal. “Alright, Carrie Anne, just one question before we let it go.” She looked at me, then at Robbie, who was sitting there looking like the canary that ate the coyote. “I’m going to read a poem, and you guess who wrote it.” She winked at Robbie. “Okay?” She didn’t wait for my agreement, which I’m not sure I’d have given anyway. She just started to read:
Good Question – a poem
What was before
the beginning of time?
What happens after
she writes her last rhyme?
What lies beyond
the outside of space?
What’s on the inside of
his innermost trace?
Who was the architect?
Who wound the clock?
What keeps it all going
when you’d think it should stop?
Is the infinite universe
more than it seems?
Awake I ask questions
that are answered in dreams.
When she’d finished, Maggie folded the page in half and slid it into the covers of her pink journal. “Who wrote that poem, Carrie Anne?”
I didn’t need to answer. All three of us knew. Maggie had just read the poem I’d written for Mr. Brightwood’s ninth grade English class. The first poem I’d ever written. Until quite recently, the last poem I’d ever written. And then, the strangest thing happened. Instead of remembering that awful silence in the classroom, I recalled the way I’d felt when I was actually working on that poem. Nothing else mattered. I couldn’t have told you how many hours had flown by, what I’d missed on television, what the other kids were doing outside. It was just me and the words of my poem.
Maggie smiled and nodded and didn’t need to say the words because I could see them in her eyes. See, Carrie Anne. All these years you’ve forgotten the things that matter because you’ve been remembering things that don’t matter. You don’t write poetry to impress other people, you write it because it’s in your heart and it needs to come out.
I glared at Robbie, not doing a very good job of feigning anger. “So, you’ve become part of Maggie’s little conspiracy, have you? And just where did you find that poem, young man?”
“When Uncle Randy and I were getting the house ready for a wheelchair, I found it up in the attic. Geez, Mom, it wasn’t even framed! So I made some copies and put the original in a frame. It’s up on the wall at home.”
“Made some copies? For who, other than Maggie?”
“Oh, you know, just all of our friends and relatives… And the newspaper.”
Robbie didn’t answer. Both he and Maggie were laughing too hard to talk. And as I laughed along with them, I had this mental image of Mr. Brightwood’s linoleum floor cracking open the way the ground cracks open when a seedling is pushing its way up toward the sun.
- The Healing Tree
- Chapter 1
- Chapter 2
- Chapter 3
- Chapter 4
- Chapter 5
- Chapter 6
- Chapter 7
- Chapter 8
- Chapter 9
- Chapter 10
- Chapter 11
- Chapter 12
- Chapter 13
- Chapter 14
- Chapter 15
- Chapter 16
- Chapter 17
- Chapter 18
- Chapter 19
- Chapter 20
- Chapter 21
- Chapter 22
- Chapter 23
- Chapter 24
- Chapter 25
- Chapter 26
- Chapter 27
- Chapter 28
- Questions for discussion
- About the Author