“Look at the hand in the mountain, Dada.”
I hold Lu in my arm on a small rise of earth outside our home. Her butt nestles into the sling of my forearm as her tiny fingers twirl the hair at the nape of my neck. Her other hand shoots out and I follow her finger across the valley to the mountains to the south, scanning the ridge in the distance. What’s she talking about, a hand in the mountain? Maybe she’s trying to be funny. I look harder, giving Lu the benefit of the doubt.
Then, seemingly out of nothing, I see the hand. The palm open, fingers outstretched running down the face of one of the peaks. The blond grassy areas of the mountain form the hand, the positive space. The dark oak-covered areas are the negative space, creating the outlines of the fingers and the thumb at the very top. If there were an arm attached to this hand it would extend up into the sky above. The hand has only three fingers and a thumb, like a cartoon character or something out of a children’s book. I’ve been looking at this mountain for years and I’ve never seen this hand before. Has it always been there? Or did this particular pattern of grass and trees develop recently? Doubtful, since most of the oaks dotting that peak must be decades, if not centuries, old. The pattern on the face of the mountain has been there a long time. Now that I see it, there is clearly a hand in the mountain. It’s obvious.
“See it Dada?” Lu continues to twirl the hair at the nape of my neck.
“Yeah, I see it Lu.”
Now that I see it, I will never be able to unsee it.
I stand on that same small rise of earth outside our home, only a few months since Lu first showed me the hand in the mountain. I walk over to her tree, the Lu Tree, that I planted in our yard the month she was born. In her short two and a half years on this earth, the Lu Tree has grown to an impressive height of about fifteen feet. I chose the Blue Acacia because of the color of its leaves. While it’s called a “Blue” Acacia, its leaves simultaneously express blue, purple, gray and a slew of other colors that don’t fit neatly in the Crayola box. The color of the Blue Acacia is luminous and multidimensional, as I’d hoped my daughter would be, so I planted that tree for her. I approach her tree, choose one of the lower branches, and clip off a section about four inches long. This sprig will be buried with Lu’s ashes back at Vanessa’s family plot in Upstate New York, along with the ashes of her mother and brother.
I walk across our yard to the Dez Tree. Only planted four months ago, Dez’s tree has not yet gained any significant height the way his sister’s tree has. The Dez Tree is also an Acacia, but a Green Acacia. Unlike the Blue Acacia, the Green Acacia is decidedly green. Its color fits neatly in the Crayola box. Even for a baby, Dez was firm and decisive, so the solidly colored Green Acacia seemed an apt fit for my son.
The Blue Acacia blooms these whimsical yellow flowers in the spring, like something out of Dr. Seuss. I forget what color the Green Acacia’s blooms are supposed to be. The Dez Tree hasn’t been planted here long enough to see it bloom.
All of this is moot now. The point of planting trees for them the month they were born was to show them, as they grew up and the years went by, how their trees grow with them. In my mind it had some sort of metaphorical value. I planned to teach my kids about the interconnection of all things on earth and show them the miracle of life, both in themselves and in their trees.
I step to the Dez Tree, which only comes up to eye level. I choose a branch and clip. This sprig will be buried with Desmond’s ashes and the ashes of his mother and sister.
This is death. This is murder.
Now that I have seen it, I cannot unsee it.
Now that I am living it, I cannot unlive it.
Why did this happen to us, Lu? I don’t understand. Is there any way to understand? Does anything mean anything? It’s like all of reality is crumbling beneath my feet, revealing an insufferable void. All of our love is being devoured, sucked into that void. This is so fucked up. It’s impossible. It’s impossibly fucked up.