After a bomb cyclone hits the West Coast, a series of raging atmospheric rivers washes our forests into the Pacific, littering the beaches with trees. Between squalls, we dart out to survey the wreckage: a cavalcade of madrones, oaks, and pines—of trunks, branches, and limbs.
I find the severed arm of Treebeard, twisted and torn from its socket, his fingers splayed in the waves; my husband sees a tree, just a tree, freed of its mountainside. Where he spies a snarl of tubular roots, I see knotted cartilage, tangled nerves—the dangling attachments of a broken shoulder joint, a scapula.
My husband doesn’t understand my fascination with broken and dead things. He wasn’t born of The Giving Tree or Stranger Danger. Wasn’t bred on Flowers in the Attic, on Pennywise the Clown, on She Was Asking For It Dressed Like That and Walking There Alone. He wasn’t raised on After School Specials or the Dudley episode of Diff’rent Strokes. He holds no fear of Econoline vans trolling our tree-lined neighborhood. Has no sense of how it feels to be a rooted object, a tender fruit-bearing creature hunted by men who offer nothing—not a care or second thought—after the chopping’s done.
My husband grew up in a different generation. He wasn’t raised to check for tampered bottles of Tylenol or razor blades hidden in his Halloween apples. It was supposed to be fun, our parents taking us to the emergency room to have our candy X-rayed. Another way of saying We all float down here.
I feel a lifetime of fallen hands on my shoulders. My knees. My thighs. My waist. My lips. Shhh. Daphne’s trunk fixed in place by Apollo’s desire. The Giving Tree had no language to deny the Boy’s wants, no contract of mutual consent or reciprocity. He took from her all he could until nothing remained but a stump gouged with the outline of a heart, and his brand—ME—on her forever.
This is what love looks like, we were told.
Growing up, the only tree that frightened me was the angry apple in The Wizard of Oz. In the film, the tree slaps Dorothy’s hand when she plucks a shiny red fruit. “How would you like it if someone came along and picked something off of you?” the tree demands.
My childish cheeks bee-stung with her borrowed shame, I once sided with Dorothy’s hunger—what was wrong with taking something meant to be had, to sate the growling she felt inside? Now, I feel differently. I spy the lurking gutter clown, the danger-van-stranger clad in varied shades of bark: the boy next door, the promising young man, the seasoned vice president of business development who drives a BMW.
My husband wonders why I can’t relax, even in the forest.
Because in space no one can hear you scream.
How do you like it? they say, never pausing to listen. They don’t actually want to know. They’re just attracted to beautiful, and when you’re a star they let you do it—a relentless lap of waves onshore. How do you like it? they murmur over and over.
They say it, really, rather than ask: How do you like them apples.