I was devastated.
In one single moment, my world came crushing down.
Valen, my only child with his eternal smile, gone. In the blink of an eye.
I managed to find just the slightest of comfort in the thought that you are probably reunited with your mother now. Sadly, however, such a thought doesn't last long as a comforting one for a rational man of science as myself.
I can't stick to a belief like that the same way your mother did, and I'm left hoping that perhaps there really is a non-physical plane for those who believe in it where your mother – and perhaps you, as well – can exist for eternity.
But even if there is such a thing, it is too late for me. All aspects of logic that I've lived and worked by won't let me see whatever it was that my wife saw in her beliefs, and to this day I still admire her piety.
I would have lie awake at night, hoping to hear her calling me, waiting for a proof that she is still there with our child, in this “great beyond”, knowing I'll join them without missing a beat.
But silence steadily filled the nights, until it no longer hindered my sleep.
I drowned myself in work and research, as complex as possible, just to have information and data occupy my mind, doing my best to ignore the feelings of grief are eating away at my very being.
It all turned out for naught at the first anniversary of his death. Few co-worker and even fewer family members have arrived.
I refused to let myself forget about him, but in the end I found myself in front of the abysmal emptiness in light of the memory I had of him and what has remained – a cold, marble headstone and a couple of photos to revive the longing feeling and rekindle the memory.
All my passion for science and research seemed meaningless. This wasn't something you could love that will love you back; Beakers won't wake you up in the middle of the night after a bad dream, asking you to keep them safe; Research papers won't run to your arms after a long day's work, hugging tightly with little arms that just barely touch each other behind your back when wrapped around your waist.
Science has provided nothing more than occupation to obsess over, only to push aside everything else. But at the end of the day, no discovery could fill the empty void I felt within my chest.
It all seemed so devoid of meaning, until that day at the cemetery.
I was approached by someone whom I've seen wondering around for a while. He did not look like a mortician or a priest, but he was no wandering stranger, either. Looks like he took care of the decorative foliage in the cemetery – a gardener, if you will.
His hair was red and unkempt, yet he seemed to have had it under control by tucking it under a flat cap, with just a little of it showing on the back of his neck and in a couple of strands over his forehead. His face was patched with dirt, and the overall he wore was marked with streaks of brown and green.
He asked what I was doing there, after standing silently next to me and looking at the head stone. Or, so I think, since he just seemed to appear, probably when I was lost in thought.
Assuming his inquiry referred to who am I “visiting”, seeing as there's not much else to do in a graveyard, I told him about my late wife and son.
I felt some sense of relief as I shared their story of untimely demises. He seemed curios about my tales, and offered me to join him for a hot beverage of choice.
After he gathered his tools, I follow him to a shack at the back of the property, almost opposite to the entrance. It was clear now that he really was some sort of a maintenance personal, by the amount of tools neatly hanged on the walls of the small room. He placed the tools he just used back in their designated spots and turned on a n electric kettle, setting up two cups.
He offered me a seat next to a small table as he put aside his gloves and overall, revealing rough-skinned hands, and a rather light, casual attire. Going up to a sink in the corner, he removed his cap and hanged it on a hook next it, washing his hands and face, running his fingers through his hair as well, giving him a sleeked-back look.
The water boiled soon after, and as we sat to drink he started asking again about my wife and kid.
I wondered if maybe all I needed was someone to share my thoughts with, and told him about everything he asked.
But the sense of relief I've felt moments before was soon replaced with a heavy weight being reformed on my heart.
The memories caught it in a vice grip so powerful that I felt it's going to burst.
I fell silent, and my host immediately caught on and ceased his questioning in that matter, moving to some more mundane topics to avert this conversation in a direction less depressing.
After I calmed down and the painful emptiness that resurfaced just felt like too much for me to bear, so I shared my plights with the gardener.
I told him how memories of my dead loved ones keep haunting me whenever my attention is not completely devoted to my research, how painfully tormenting they are, so much that sometimes I wish I could forget them – both my wife and my kid – not so I could focus on my work, but so that I could live my life in peace, and no longer having the torture of seeing them flashing in my sleep, knowing they're gone forever.
He listened quietly, and I wondered if he thinks I'm out of my mind. Most people think I really am.
After a long pause, he went back to asking questions.
But it was different this time.
He asked me about thing I've experienced with my family and to recall how I felt at those times. He suggested what I probably gained from each of those experiences, and talked about how I could have turned out a completely different person otherwise, at least by his first impression of me – which was surprisingly thorough.
As I was trying to understand where he was going with this, he shared some interesting words of wisdom with me. I couldn't tell whether they were meant to be comforting, or perhaps the talk about memories and their importance reminded him of this and he felt compelled to share his thoughts, just as I was with my feelings of utter grief.
Regardless of his reason, his words were nonetheless captivating.
Although I never looked much into the subjects of Psychology or Philosophy, his theory was so fascinating that I asked him to repeat it once more and allow me to record it.
He seemed very pleased by my request, and gave me one condition – to share this theory with whoever I think should hear it.
I accepted his terms, and he spoke his beautifully descriptive theory once more.
"Memories are like a...tree. Yeah.
Just like a tree.
Core, primal memories of language and basic motor abilities are the basis for all living things.
These memories are the base of the tree – the roots and the trunk. The initial, basic structure.
As we grow, our tree sprouts more memories that are unique to each and every one of us – some grow into thick, strong boughs, and some remain small, fragile twigs.
Some that are more important and defining, and some...not so much.
The kind that either determine our personalities or just remind us of how we felt at a certain point in time.
Now, the Memory Tree is a special one.
Its fruits aren't predetermined, but change by the structure of his branches.
It is the combination of the strong and weaker branches that will eventually create our unique self.
But, hear me out now – What would happen if we cut down one of the branches?
Will the resulting fruits differ?
And what we were to graft in a different branch, instead of the one cut down?
Can we change who we are?
What if we could create a new tree top, entirely?
But there's danger in that path.
To recreate the top of our tree, we must first trim off the one we've surrounded ourselves with.
However, it's not always enough, with the branches' tendency to sprout and grow back.
So constant trimming is required, much like shaping a hedge.
If it won't be done, it is but a matter of time until the old branches will grow enough, slowly reclaiming their former position, pushing away the foreign residents.
Their slow war of dominance might have destructive effects on the trunk, potentially destroying it down to the roots.
But occasionally, a surviving tree would hang on and regrow to its original form.
Along with the reason we were looking to change it in the first place.”
(Recorded words by an anonymous teller)
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