The other day, my son showed me a walnut fruit he'd found on the ground at a park we go to. At first, I didn't recognize what it was. When I did, I simply brushed it off, handing it back to him, "It's a walnut hull." We looked for the tree but I couldn't remember what the leaves looked like. He held it tightly to himself on the ride home, a newly discovered treasure. Suddenly, from the backseat he says to me, "Mama, smell this."
And just like that, it all came back.
I was in that backyard, swinging on the tire swing of the walnut tree. I remembered picking up the walnut fruits and trying to peel them open. I remembered their smell: tart and tangy, nearly too raw for my nose. I remembered the squirrel family, always getting to the shells before we could. I remembered the tire swing hung too low when you got on it, nearly touching the ground so that you had to jump onto it from a running start. You would then swing far out, over the hill, the wind kissing your face. You were in flight, and could only stop safely once the tire's weight pulled you beneath the massive branch it hung from.
It was the house I was adopted into. It was the house where my adoptive mother slowly started to become a fanatic, hauling us to this religious teacher and that for hours and hours, after school and on weekends, we couldn't learn enough, attend enough anti-abortion protests, be mentored enough by mentally unstable people about her version of religion and church and god. It was where I saw the rainbow after she was arrested, my grandmother telling me it was a sign from Jesus that my mother would come home. I hoped so, because my other mother never came back.
But the tree. That walnut tree. I had to see it again. I knew the house was not too far from the park and so I took a different route in order to pass it on the way home. I pulled the car over when I saw the house. Ah, yes, the long pinnate leaved branches; I never really cared for them. It was not as massive as I remembered it, my 6 year old body now 34, my belly swollen with my second child. The tree looked old and weathered, neglected. I wanted to get out and touch it, the haven it was to me those many years ago. The hill it was on looked flat to me now, not steep and risky. Perhaps I'd climbed too many mountains of my own; where the walnut tree sat, my first.
What I mostly saw was how the branch was gone. The branch from which the tire swing hung, cut off, an ugly stub remaining. That key to my freedom, it held the first of all the risks I took, running and swinging out and away and through and under and over and beyond that backyard.