The Grandfather Tree


It’s the Fourth of July and we’re an hour north of Spokane in Eastern Washington, where it’s hot. Brad drew a map showing the way to his cabin, through gates and pathways in the forest. We’re not sure we’re at the right place until I find a rock with his initials on them, BWS.

They have a quote hanging on the refrigerator that says Be kind to everyone you meet, for you don’t know the burden they carry. They buried his sister’s ashes here in the back and made a cross from fallen timber that’s twisted, where the deer run through the brush in the spring.

And she left a couple kids who are getting into their 30s now, and we meet them outside by the porch. Most everyone smokes and they’ve all been around Hard Drugs, the kind that don’t cost a lot but make you pay in terms of Total Impact, and wick you away from yourself until the you you were is now defined by the Substance, by getting it again or getting off it again, but always by It, the new You.

The younger brother has a scar on his mouth from a dog bite, and a tattoo with his mom’s name and her dates, Love You Always. The older brother washes windows and freestyle raps, and later his face changes in the campfire and his eyes go cold, and everyone goes quiet in the dark listening.

There’s a girl named Amanda but they all call her Monster for reasons unexplained. She has face piercings and shaved hair that’s colored, but she’s good around the kids and helps out in the kitchen.

They’re discreet about getting high and come back from the woods glazed and grinning, spidery helixes spinning inside themselves.

I watch them late at night from the bedroom window with the ceiling fan, their aspect by the fire, poking it and laughing and putting back long necks. The cabin and the property are special, like places that are loved, it goes down in the roots and blooms up all around you.

By the back of the property is the Grandfather Tree, the biggest of the old-growth, and when they were kids the five of them held hands around the tree to make a circle.

She is here and not here in the way of the dead, in memory. There is a wisdom in those who Recover but it still feels like it left a hole when you cut it out. It was about a feeling when it started, a comfort you hold onto like a blanket, until the feeling and the substance become one in the same, inseparable, and there’s no feeling left, it just wicks everything away.

Some people’s lives change on a dime the first time, and that’s it, end of story, the Substance. They’ve legalized marijuana here now and the packages warn it can be habit-forming: habit, its roots to have and to live, it’s what you wear, what you inhabit, and vice versa.

And the kids see her in the mirror and themselves, the same as she saw herself but couldn’t see them fully, couldn’t see outside herself through the Substance. That if you think you can take it because it’s showing you the way to like deeper parts of yourself, make sure you know the way back.

We look for the Grandfather Tree before we leave, and there in the brush we come upon a deer and lock eyes with it, frozen in a moment of terror and wonder we share for the other and then it’s just gone, like that.

Written with permission for a dear friend who lost his brother and sister to drug addiction.

Categories: death

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

13 replies

  1. Ross said it perfectly. What a lovely, haunting piece. Thank you for sharing.


    • Hey, thanks for reading! And I took a cue from you, to reiterate on a post I had written before, so thanks for the inspiration on that! Here we go yo’, here we go yo’… happy Friday.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This was poignant and gorgeous. I think many of us of a certain Age have known, lost, remember the too many that have lost to Addiction, have spent too much time among the demons. One small thing I picked up from this though was Monster. I feel like Monster has it in her to beat whatever demons she faces. One can hope, yes?


    • Hi Dina – thanks, and glad you enjoyed this. The thing with the capitals is riffing off a section of a book I’m reading now by David Foster Wallace; it must be an AA thing to ascribe significance to words and concepts by capitalizing them, I don’t know. But I like that you picked up on that in your comments, and you’re very insightful about the girl who goes by “Monster.” There’s something to that. While this is a true story, I feel lucky my dear friend allowed me to share it, as I never knew his sister and it’s sad she’s defined here through her addiction, which was only a part of her that unfortunately became too much. It is really sad and not unusual at the same time. Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts. – Bill


      • You know, I must get around to reading David Foster Wallace. (Fwiw, the (Doodles) in my blog name is a riff on e.e. cummings in general–is use of parenthetical and disjointed capitalization still thrills my old heart). Addiction and mental illness are so complex and go so much deeper than the surfaces we scratch on a daily basis. My heart goes out to your friend, but I hope he is also thankful that by writing about his sister in such a beautiful way, you’ve done her more justice than many of us get.


      • This was really sweet, thank you for sharing here. And enjoy your time with your sister here in the states! I haven’t read Girl With Curious Hair, but my good friend Anthony insists that’s the one to read, by DFW. I did read a foreword about Infinite Jest by Dave Eggers in a book store yesterday, and really liked the way Eggers describes the book and why it should be read, especially for writers I think. Have a lovely weekend and great connecting with you this week. Cheers, – Bill


  3. “wick you away from yourself until the you you were is now defined by the Substance, by getting it again or getting off it again, but always by It, the new You.”

    So accurate, Bill and heartbreaking.


    • Hi Michelle – so glad you were able to catch this post. I’ve been doing a lot of Frito-Lay posts lately it seems, and I did like this one so I’m glad you were able to read it because I like hearing your comments. I’m most grateful my friend let me publish this since it was only a peep-hole into her life, and I never had a chance to meet the subject of the post, just his family and their cabin. There’s so much more to people of course, and I’m sad I never got to meet her, and thankful my friend let me share this, as it’s really just a part of a person and not the whole person, of course. Which is another interesting slant on addiction, and what I was going for here.

      It is that kind of unprecedented rain here that people think of when they think of Seattle. That beat-you-down kind of rain. But at least it’s warm, I guess?!

      Hope you’re well and enjoy your weekend. – Bill


      • I’ve got friends and relatives who have disappeared bit by bit (wicked away). One relative in particular I had heard was beautiful, marvelous and brave in her youth. When I met her, she looked decades older than her years and we could hardly hold a conversation without her mentally blanking out. I felt very sad about that and it has always been the cautionary tale I carry in my head.

        We are going to have yet another uncharacteristically warm and snow-free weekend. I like the sun that’s been out, though. Maybe the extra vitamin D has kicked in my writing verve, but I’m doggedly getting through some tough novel scenes. I woke up last night, a little panicky about an obvious stereotype I used. The novel is in my head all the time now, so I guess that’s a sign of progress.

        Have a good weekend – so glad to see you really working those writing chops. You’ve got ’em.


      • I’m so glad you’re getting through those scenes and the novel is in your head all the time as you say…looking forward to that consumption one day myself, Michelle. Thanks for the encouraging words, too. Go for it, with that Vitamin D. That’s the good stuff alright.


  4. such a beautiful and sad piece, bill –


    • Oh, so glad you liked it Beth – thank you. Hope you’re enjoying your evening; I’m having some solo time with my kids and we’re about to watch E.T.!


Leave a comment!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: