A Place I Knew
WRITTEN BY YEJI KIM
We had spent the whole summer on it, the sun burning holes into our ripe and raw legs for sins we had not committed, but of course, I didn’t mind. The treehouse would be all worth it. The wooden planks stacked like a never-ending game of Jenga would be resolute enough to hold a thousand minds simmering with imagination, but not enough to hold even one without. The planks were the color of sweet milk blended with the sun, thick and hot to the touch but forgiving of the heart, so forgiving that I could drink it easy and while the scientist in me would say impossible, the virtuoso would say finally.
I would reach middle school, then high school. The time when I thought I understood the world in a way that was beautiful. The wooden planks never were sturdy enough to fit teenagers and bottles of Coors, but we still did it anyways, we still scrubbed away our childhood with each splash of alcohol on the treehouse walls, we still wrote over our youth by having to repaint them every time a party ended, dousing the whole place in a fruity spray to get rid of the smell of bile and regret with a capital R and passion with a lowercase p; it smelled like poisoned honey, so I’m sorry. It was then I learned that learning to repaint the walls is a process.
And time would swirl by like it was on a clock the angel made but the devil fixed, the treehouse expanding to encompass my gangly limbs and broken ribs and small mind, but I merely sat curled up, rocking myself back and forth and back and forth while wishing for something I couldn’t really phrase. Wishing that life could be as simple as superheroes or princesses, rag dolls or Tonka trucks again. But it was not. It was as complicated as hellos and goodbyes, as complicated as sorries or apologies and boy/girl and spin the bottle why won’t you spin the bottle? and why don’t you just leave if you can’t handle who you were born as or just shut up and stay!
He told me i love you, lips hugging the word like a painter hugging the last virtues of a sunset, like foliage clinging to a single tree that would not dare sacrifice beauty for solace, he shaped the word with an emphasis on the downbeat, like love, not love. New Yorker bag slung coolly over his shoulder like a status symbol, he said i love you, but what he really meant, what he was really trying to say was I’m sorry that I can’t do this anymore. But his tongue couldn’t fight his lips enough to say that so he just says iloveyouiloveyouiloveyou until neither of us believes it anymore and his words take it upon themselves to bury deep in the treehouse walls like they know they never should have existed. He is burnt lavender and the color rouge and the sky on a mean day. He is sugared violets and the stars before they learned how to move.
They told me: boy, wash your hands and mind with the dried ink of scrapbook photos, learn how to love before you love others, come back to visit under the sky someday. No moon or stars or color, simply an endless sea of black velvet that starts existing only to finish nowhere. But I’ll: stay till the sun wakes up, leaving streaks of a condensed blue, the blue crying down into the diluted oranges, spilling in the angry reds, streaks of rosé, sweet auburn, illusive marigold. Colorology.
I would sit in the treehouse until the sky would arrive. I would dream of a world where I knew what I was doing, every chance I could until someone bought the house and said they were going to tear it down. I said no, I said that they can’t do that because they just can’t, I said you can’t. Because tearing it down means the opposite of life but not Death exactly, it means ambitions and sanity and heaven gone and empty bottles not even half-filled, so never half-full, approaching.
I can’t do anything but watch. Watch carefully. You might see it. Famished animal pulverizing wood in deliberate motion like bloody murder as it cleaves out first the window I so carefully made and each blow to the wood feels like dynamite that never explodes strapped to my head, my heart jogging desperately like it knows it’s going to come last in the marathon. As it yanks apart each piece of wood, layers of life crumble to dust and a place I know becomes a place I knew. You might hear it. Screaming our whispered secrets to those who don’t want to hear them as it breaks apart all four walls and all that remains now is a tree without a home, barren like a blue jay that can’t sing, or for worse, a blue jay that can sing in a world with sound.
Regret: I shook hands with love one time. Embarrassment: why does a 27-year-old boy care so much? Helplessness: it’s not just about the treehouse, dad.
Yeji Kim is a senior at Hudson High School. Her poetry and prose have recently been recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, Lake Superior State University, and The Ohio Poetry Association. She is an alum of the Reynolds Young Writers’ Workshop and is Editor-in-Chief of her school’s literary magazine. Additionally, Yeji writes for her city’s newspaper, the Hudson Hub Times, and magazine, Hudson Life.