Alice often sees my father high in the branches of one of our maple trees. At first I wondered if he was “up a tree,” as in a difficult or embarrassing situation. Or was it Webster’s sense of the phrase, “to put into a position of extreme disadvantage”? Or was he like the possum up the gum tree, away from the dogs, breathing hard from the chase, but still kind of stuck? My father, Dave, isn’t about to tell us. Lung cancer treed him, and he died in 2006.
After fifty-two years of tumultuous marriage, Alice and Dave were tightly bonded, as with super glue. They often expressed their love through bickering. Counseling to find more easeful ways to relate didn’t appeal to Alice. Hence, my interpretation of my father’s treed position. With time though, the meaning of Alice’s seeing him up in the tree became clear. It is longing. Longing for him, longing to make amends, and there he is, up in the branches, waiting for her.
Sometimes when Alice knows that she is seeing something that I can’t, like Dave up a tree, she will say, “Do you remember that time that Dave climbed a tree and we were looking all over for him and then when we were about to give up he called out to us?” She’s a good storyteller, and like all of us, she uses story to make sense of the world.
Though she was raised and baptized in the Armenian Church, my mother was never religious. She, like my father, who was raised by his communist grandmother, was spiritual but not religious. My siblings and I followed our friends to everything from Schule on Saturdays to Methodist Sunday school, to Quaker meeting. When Alice looks up and sees Dave, her old self would never have called it heaven. But her new self is flexible enough to use the word heaven metaphorically.
Her new self also embraced Hakomi Therapy, a mind body integration method that uses her own body gestures to let her process some of her regrets. With Martha Whitney, a versatile, caring therapist who tracks her clients with the deftness of a spider monkey swinging through the trees, Alice has learned about her own gestures. When she misses Dave, she puts her hand on her breastbone, moves it back and forth, and looks up.
Now, even if Alice is inside and it is night and she can’t see the trees and she asks “Where’s Dave?” we can tell her to place her hand right there and to look up. As her hand moves back and forth, she smiles. She always says, “Ah yes, I see him. There he is.”