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The next day, I missed my morning alarm, because I had slept in fits and woken tangled in my sweaty sheets. I tried to make a run for my car, because I wanted to avoid Summer and any mention of Lee on my way to work, so I opened the door to the complex and I started to sprint.
“Wait!” Summer said. “Hold on, he’s not coming back. I promise.”
I stopped. “Where is he?” I said.
“I don’t know,” Summer said. “I told him to leave.”
“I thought we were friends,” I said.
“You need to learn to commit,” Summer said.
“Commit to what?” I said.
“Commit to anything,” she said. “A friend, an apartment, a cause. A man, a tree.”
“How will I know which one is the right one?” I said, and I meant it. I wanted to know what I should do, and it seemed like she might tell me.
“You choose,” she said. “And then you stick it out.”
I didn’t know where to start, so I read a short book that advocated veganism and included pictures of mangled cow carcasses in a meat factory. Summer sent down information on the preservation of the rainforests, universal healthcare, and the legalization of marijuana. I wasn’t sure what I believed in any longer, and, in our nightly conversations, I asked Summer for advice. In speaking about the various causes in which she believed, she said things that sounded like they should make sense, but I wasn’t certain how I felt about anything anymore. The city posted a notice on my door giving me a week to move out, and I ignored it. I looked at job ads each morning, thinking maybe a career shift would help, and I read the news each night. I waited for a call-to-action, and I aired my thoughts to Summer and kept her up late with my musings.
“This is an act of avoidance,” she said one night. “It’s a filibuster.”
“I’m doing the best that I can,” I told her.
Then, a few days into my search, I was out for coffee with Annie, a co-worker from the library. I saw a city worker preparing to fell a downtown tree a few blocks from my apartment.
“How’s Lee?” Annie asked as we neared the tree, raising her voice as the man started up his saw. I still hadn’t admitted that Lee had gone.
I recognized the worker as a member of the same demolition crew that planned to take down Summer’s tree. The gleaming teeth of the electric saw pierced the tree’s middle and threw dust all around. The tree was not unlike my own, even if it didn’t hold the same historical significance. The sound when the tree met the saw was a scream from somewhere deep inside the bark, and I thought of Summer and the gape that would sit under my window after the men had pulled out the last of her stump. I realized I loved Summer like a sister or a long-lost friend, and that now she was all that I had.
“No!” I shouted. “Stop!”
“What?” Annie said. “What are you talking about?”
“Hey!” I said and stepped toward the man, who was surrounded by the same construction tape now looped around Summer’s tree.
“Have you lost it?” Annie said. The man looked up, quieting his saw as my friend grabbed my arm and tried to pull me down the street. Then, I picked up an empty can from the sidewalk and launched it at the man’s head. It hit him squarely in the temple and thumped against his helmet, and he set down his saw, cursing at me. With nothing else around, I threw my iced coffee at his chest, and it splashed miraculously.
“That’s it. You’re going to jail,” he said. He put in a call on his radio and told the person on the other end to call the police.
“Don’t try to run, you bitch,” he said. A crowd had gathered around us on the sidewalk, and someone from the crowd shouted at me, but I stood my ground.
Annie bailed me out of jail, and, on the drive home, she made clear to me that she no longer wanted to be associated with me. The loss seemed insignificant to me now, when I had already lost so much. In the grass plot in front of the tree, a large sign had been erected renaming the complex Royal Oaks. I gave it a kick, but it did not budge, so I stepped around it and shouted up to Summer. “You’ll never believe what I did!” The weather was cold, but I felt heat stirring in me from within me, and I told her Summer about my protest and arrest.
“I feel the need to caution you,” Summer said, her voice groggy.
“Caution me?” I said.
“You had good intentions, but what you did was drastic,” she said. “Remember to balance action and inaction, forcefulness and gentleness. We are but fleas on the dog of time. There’s no need to be hasty.”
“What!” I said. “I took a public stand against the destruction of our native trees.”
“Listen,” Summer said. “We’re running out of time here. Construction begins tomorrow. I’m going to have to leave soon.”
“Leave?” I said. “We’re just getting started.”
“I’ve done what I can,” she said. “I’ve raised awareness.”
“What about me?” I said.
“This isn’t about you,” she said.
I went inside and poured myself a shot of whiskey that Lee had neglected to take. I thought there was a chance that Summer was right, but I felt propelled forward by the force of my actions. Time was running out, and I needed to make a change. I called Lee, whose voice machine picked up, and I said, “Come back. Stay with me. Please, be mine.”
The next morning, there was an early knock on my door. I leapt out of bed and threw it open, anticipating Lee’s arms around me as the assurance that I had chosen correctly.
“Mind if I show the view?” said Debbie, a fresh a crowd of suited men behind her.
“What?” I said. “Where’s Lee?”
“The view,” Debbie said, pointing.
“Ma’am,” one of the men said, “you’re not making any sense.” One of his colleagues made a move to push me out of the way, but I resisted.
“No!” I said firmly, and I shut the door.
“That’s fine,” Debbie said from behind the closed door. “But you know that you have to be out by the end of the day.”
“Fascists!” I yelled.
“It’s only a matter of time,” I heard her say.
I threw myself onto my couch, picked up the phone, and dialed Lee’s number a few times, but each time his voice-message machine picked up. “Tell me in a few words what you’re calling for, and I’ll get back to you,” his recorded voice said before each beep. I tried to fathom a way to say everything I needed to say in such a short amount of space: that without him, I felt a constant and continual untethering, as though I were always circling a center I could not reach, and that the world without him seemed impossible in its infiniteness. I wanted to say that in moments of terror or sadness I sometimes placed my hand on his unoccupied side bed, yearning for a piece of his energy, which was not unlike a gravitational pull. To be with Lee was to hold a heavy rock and to be tugged, gently but firmly, toward the core of the earth. Finally, I said, “Fawn would have been a nice color.”
I went to the window and opened it, but Summer’s platform was empty. The peacefulness I had found at the end of the protest slipped out from somewhere inside me and evaporated into the air. I tried to force the feeling of certainty that I had felt in front of the man with the saw, but it escaped me, and I felt only a great void inside of my chest.
I was angry with Debbie, Lee, and Summer. The time had come for drastic action, and I had been abandoned. Summer had said to commit, and I had. Yet, she had fled at the moment of truth. I grabbed a few things—a change of clothes, a gallon of water, a couple of cans of beans, and a can opener—and I put them into a backpack, which I then wore. I walked out of the front door, knowing that I might very well never see the rest of my belongings again, but I had never really grown attached to them. Outside, from the base of the tree, I could see that Summer had taken all of her things with her, leaving only the pulley system.
I took hold of the nearest tree branches, and I felt new warmth on my face. I pulled with all my might and got a foothold on a low branch. I hoisted myself up to the next and watched a small beetle skitter over my fingers. I had never climbed a tree before, but I felt confident I would make it to the top. Standing on a branch halfway up, I noticed that sometime over the past day, the demolition crew had poised a small crane on my lot. I thought about Quantrill and about how this tree alone had survived his violent protest, and the thought gave me strength. I looked up and took the next branch, and a cicada chirped and flew away. It was definitively the end of fall, and the few remaining leaves were a dull brown. They hung limply from the branches, the last remnants of summer’s growth and life. Fawn, I thought, reminded of the brown color-patch on my wall and of all that I had passed up. I looked up toward the highest branch and toward the top of the tree, and then I looked up at the sky above the tree, which stretched around the earth like a pale, blue iris. I reached above my head again and again, taking each branch in turn, and I fixated on the treetop, certain that if I focused only on the cluster of leaves there rather than the sky beyond, I would reach it eventually.