3. The Grove
September ended and fall came around at its usual pace. I can’t tell you how much I loved fall growing up. The air was so crisp and the leaves were crunchy. Luke and I used to make huge piles of gold and red oak leaves and jump into them off the highest possible branches of the oak tree. It always still hurt a little bit when we jumped from that high. I suppose that’s why they don’t make pillows and mattresses out of leaves. This fall was like every other fall. School was in full swing already, the house began to smell like fall spices from all the desserts and foods my mom and grandma would make, and the weather of course began to get dreary and bleak as it always did in Washington State.
I was walking to the school bus stop one morning but something was different about this particular morning. It began to snow, but the snowflakes weren’t flakes at all. They were little pellet-like snowdrops that accumulated fast on the ground, because the whole ground was already covered in frost. I merely walked to the bus stop as a formality, knowing school would be cancelled anyways. One or two inches had accumulated in a matter of fifteen minutes as I slid around on the hill with my ratty old shoes that lacked rubber on the sole, making them perfect for doing so. It was a foreshadowing of that very cold winter to come.
Just as I had suspected, the bus never came and I started back down the slippery hill to my house. I looked to my right, looking at the biggest house in the neighborhood. It had a huge balcony that wrapped around the whole third story. The high balcony had a fantastic view of the snow-capped mountains that seemed nearly level with their house. Halloween was just a few days away and I got a very eerie feeling as I walked past that huge house. I looked at the banister and there was a rope hanging off of it, pulled tight by some object tied to the end of it. I couldn’t see what was attached to the rope so I hiked back up the hill to get a better view. After slipping and sliding around, I got to the base of their driveway only to see the most morbid and frightening thing I’d ever seen in my life. A man was hanging lifelessly from that rope. I stared at him for what must have been a good minute and a half, completely bewildered. I had a hard time believing it was real at first, seeing as how Halloween was just around the corner and it didn’t seem too unusual to hang a dummy from your porch as a morbid way to celebrate. I’ve never felt my heart pound that hard and I’ve never felt nauseous just from seeing something, until that morning. Time stopped. The snow no longer felt cold on my face and the wind no longer made a whistling sound as it passed my ears. Everything in the universe disappeared as I stared at that man’s limp body. Suddenly, a old Buick pulled into the driveway and three people ran out of the car screaming and crying frantically. This was the moment when I realized I had witnessed this man’s death. I began sobbing, because I realized who the man was. It was the father of the family that lived there. They had seven children from ages 5 to 25. He was a hard-working man who built that huge house with his bare hands. I didn’t know what suicide was at that tender age, so I assumed he was murdered and I was suddenly afraid. I didn’t know what to feel. I felt terrified that a dead man was dangling in my neighborhood, while I felt extreme grief that a father and husband and grandfather had left his family. I finally went numb with confusion as I walked home slowly, unsure of what to do or think. I ran inside and told my mom what had happened and she didn’t know what to say, as usual.
“Mom… the Russian dad is dead.” I said unsurely
“What?! What happened? Who told you?” she frantically asked.
“I saw him! He was hanging off the railing on a rope! It was around his neck and he was just hanging there!” I said in an even more frantic manner than she asked me.
My mom didn’t say anything after that. She just wrapped her arms around me and cried for what seemed like an eternity. I hated it when my mom cried, because she was so strong that if she was crying, then that means something truly was wrong. I was so confused as to why he was dead, that my emotions went completely dead for the next few weeks. I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t laugh, didn’t want to talk about anything important, because I didn’t want that topic to ever come up again. That was the time I visited the grove for the first time. I would close my eyes and picture myself in the most perfect place I could imagine. I could practically feel the warm breeze on my face and through my hair. Most importantly, it wasn’t snowing in the grove, because snow reminded me of that terrible day. Nothing represented death in that place. The real world was ticking on as usual and I wanted to scream, because nobody seemed to care after the funeral that this family had lost their dad. Time kept moving and he was forgotten as another family moved into the house that he built from the bottom up. The home that he built for his family was bought by a rich couple that didn’t even have kids. I don’t know where the Russian family moved to, but when I looked at that banister, I couldn’t help but think about the incredible irony of the situation before I even know what irony was. This man had spent his whole life building. He built his family, his reputation, and his own home. I wanted answers, but people only gave me answers that they thought a baby would understand. They would say, “Some people just die” or “he must have been selfish” or “he didn’t love himself enough”. These answers didn’t satisfy me and I would continuously escape to the grove in my subconscious to create my own answers. When the image of him dangling there dead kept me awake at night, I would take that man to the grove with me and ask him why he did it. Even in my subconscious thoughts, he had a thick Russian accent. I asked him, “Sir, why did you kill yourself?” I was frustrated that his response would always be a combination of all the things people would tell me. My mind couldn’t imagine any answer better than the ones they had given me. I would run my hands along the tops of the tall grass and just listen to the wind blow through it, rustling and flowing to create that beautiful white noise. A bird would sing to me and then suddenly I would forget about my scarring experience. I would forget that the world is a sad place, because there was nobody there but my dog and I. The oak tree never complained that the wind was bending his branches and blowing off his leaves. That is where I would escape from the inexplicable, because as far as I was concerned, the real world didn’t make much sense sometimes.