When my second grade class participated in a tree planting project in the woods north of town, I placed a wish in my tree just like my grandmother had taught me. It was a pine tree, so I made sure my wish was as specific as it could be. Pine trees, she told me, are very literal and have a way of giving you what you wished for without giving you what you actually wanted. (They’re better than oak trees, though, who are stubborn and sometimes refuse to grant your wish. Or maple trees, who, rather than giving you what you wish for, give you what they think you should have wished for instead.) I didn’t want to be like the woman my grandmother told me about, who wished for a man who would love and cherish her always and who, as her pine tree grew and her wish matured, never moved out of her father’s house.
Occasionally, I’d visit my tree with my grandmother, who would stand before it with her hands on her hips, nodding approval. She’d place her hand on its trunk, muttering to herself, and for a moment I’d swear I saw a light shining from within the tree.
“Coming along nicely,” she would say.
She never asked what my wish was, and I knew better than to tell her.
My grandmother died when I was twelve, after which I didn’t see my tree as much. My mother thought the whole thing was silly, and the effort it took to convince her to take me, combined with her sighs, not-so-subtle eye-rolls, and the will-you-please-hurry-up-so-we-can-go-alreadys, was more trouble than the visits were worth. I hadn’t told my father about my wish in the tree, as my grandmother claimed men didn’t understand such things.
I brought my first boyfriend to see my tree, which was rather stupid of me. I was in love, though—or in what fifteen-year-old me thought of as love, at least. He couldn’t have cared less about my tree and laughed at the idea of my wish growing inside it. All he wanted was to have sex with me in the woods. When I let him, he told all of his friends afterwards, and the tale of our exploits swept through school like wildfire.
As I finished high school, then college and law school after that, thoughts of my tree faded. I struggled to keep my grades up, pushing myself ever harder to satisfy a mother who, when I brought home a ninety-eight on an exam, said, “That’s nice, dear. What happened to the other two percent?” I watched my father waste away from the cancer that eventually killed him, and I went through a series of romantic relationships, each of which worked out about as well as that first one did. The notion of trees granting wishes became nothing more than a girlish fantasy, and by the time I moved out of state, accompanying the boyfriend who would become my husband, it had been ten years since I’d visited my tree.
The day I turned thirty, I celebrated with a small group of work friends from the firm and fell asleep that night after unsatisfying sex with a husband who loved his job far more than he did me. In my dream, my tree stood far taller than I remembered, all by itself in a field blanketed with snow. It glowed with warm, golden light, and before it stood my grandmother, in that same hands-on-hips pose.
She nodded once and said, “Getting there.”
Upon waking, I wept quietly, while my husband snored alongside me.
The day I finalized my divorce and boarded a plane to return home, my mother texted me yet again to tell me I was crazy. Crazy for leaving such a handsome, accomplished man, crazy for walking away from such a successful, well-paying career. By that time, though, I’d learned to tune her out, and I deleted that text just as I’d done with each of her previous ones.
As I settled in to my new apartment—the first place I’d ever had all to myself—I met an old law school friend for lunch. After getting caught up, we kicked around some ideas about setting up a nonprofit to provide career pathways for high school kids from my old neighborhood and others like it. Later that afternoon, I went for a hike in the woods north of town.
Even though it had been over seventeen years since I’d last seen my tree, I found it unerringly. It loomed over me as I placed my hand on its trunk, and light glowed softly from within—although that last bit might have just been my imagination, I’m not sure. I thought about my wish, to grow up to be a strong, wise, and intelligent woman, just like my grandmother. It occurred to me my wish was being granted, just not quite the way I’d imagined. “Yeah.” I nodded. “I’m getting there.”