2002 Anne Horton Writing Award
"The Weeping Willow"
Sherry Lou Brown
As a child, I'd always been afraid of my shadow. When I looked down at it, what
I saw was this blackness, a kind of nothingness that chased me wherever I went. It stalked me relentlessly, darker and more awful, it seemed, the brighter the day was.
Late one sunny afternoon I was trotting home from school, trying to keep my feet from touching the ground, trying to keep my nemesis at a distance, when suddenly, it was gone. I looked up and towering over me stood a magnificent tree, a weeping willow with branches gently sweeping over me like an umbrella.
It blocked the sun, casting a cool pool of darkness that sat under my feet like the waters of a tranquil lake. I parted the branches and slipped under its protective cover. I was instantly in a magical place, the sun's rays dancing with the tree's graceful movement. I stood enveloped in peacefulness, in silent awe of the wonder I had found. The world outside this protective pocket vanished and I knew that this great tree had granted me a very special place.
After my discovery I found myself in that magical place often, sometimes because I needed comfort, sometimes because I needed solitude, and sometimes for no reason at all. The tree was my best friend. I shared all my childhood secrets with this silent confidant who would never betray me.
Over the years, I entrusted this place only to a few of my closest friends, and we had many marvelous adventures under the tree. We were princesses in our magical kingdom, awaiting our Prince Charming. Over time, the other princesses moved on, but I remained faithful to my willow.
Once, when I was 12, I lay beneath the tree, watching the branches sway in a light breeze, and began to daydream about how marvelous it would be to sit high in my willow, to become part of it, and see the world as it did. I had no fear atall as I began to climb, the tomboy in me having banished all my girlish common sense.
My willow gave me, as I knew I would, the perfect spot, with branches intertwining and inviting me to take my place in the throne they made. I don't know how long I sat there, dreaming of my prince, but I must have dozed off, since I remember nothing until I heard someone saying, "She could have broken her neck. Those branches saved her life." I opened my eyes to see a doctor calming my parents. I had slipped from my throne and suffered 3 cracked vertebrae in the fall, thus curtailing my summertime sporting career.
With the hot, heavy brace that I was instructed to wear I knew I would be a spectator that summer. While everyone else was out having fun and making new friends, I could only sit and be quietly jealous.
Thankfully it never came to that, for one of my teachers read the dread in my eyes when I told her I was doing nothing with my summer. On the last day of school she handed me a plain blue spiral notebook that held a list of potential pen pals. She encouraged me to write in my new "personal journal" and to pick a pen pal for the summer. She assured me that writing would help me escape the boredom.
I read the list of pen pals and quickly chose a 13-year old boy from Calgary, Alberta Canada. The reason I chose him was quite simple: he was from a different country and writing to someone far away would be an exciting adventure.
I returned to my willow with notebook in hand, and rested against the mighty bark of the tree. I was not afraid of the tree nor did I blame it for my own stupidity. I clung to the companionship of the tree like I always did; I needed it now more than ever.
With a new outlook on summer I eagerly began writing my new found pen pal. I told him everything about myself When I was not busy responding to the letters from Canada I was writing away in my journal.
That summer under the willow tree I discovered that I loved to write, especially poetry. That journal soon held all my brightest dreams as well as my darkest fears. It was, of course, very private and I could not allow anyone to even know that I had it. My thoughts belonged only to my tree and me. I was able to locate a hollow spot in the willow's strong trunk and that is where my journal was tucked away between daily entries.
I continued to visit my willow tree regularly, and filled countless blue spiral notebooks with my thoughts and poetry throughout the years.
I also wrote to that same pen pal for over 20 years. The last letter 1 received from him said he did not want to write to me anymore... he wanted to meetme. Soon we stood side by side before the mighty weeping willow tree where our letter writing began.
One year later, I once again found myself under the great tree with my long-time pen pal. It was a warm summer day and the tree was at its height of beauty, the branches that swayed gently in the cool breeze were filled with the softness of lovely green leaves.
The sweet smell of summer had a hypnotic effect on us. We sat there for what seemed like an eternity, not saying a word, just enjoying the magnificent tranquility of the tree.
He was the first to break the peaceful silence when he looked at me, took my hand in his, and asked me to become his wife.
The princess had finally met her Prince Charming under the willow tree.