It’s been a long time since I played in that tree house… really it’s been a long time since I played at all. As I stood in my mother’s backyard looking up at it, still completely in tact after sixteen years, I can still remember the day that my dad and I finished building it. It took us most of the spring. We wanted it to be the best tree house ever and for as much as I wanted it, I think that he wanted it even more. In hindsight, it seemed almost as though he knew something. For you see, on the very day that we put the finishing touches on our tree house, my father, Earl Lawrence Wiley, one of the greatest men that I have known in life, suffered a fatal heart attack. After spending a night on life support, he passed away. He had been in relatively good health up until then and we were devastated. Yep… it’s been a long time since I played.
I had spent most of my adult life inSeattle. After graduation from High School, I went to theUniversityofWashingtonon an academic scholarship. There I received my Communications Degree, then went to work for the Seattle Times, but now I was back home. It was time for my ten-year high school reunion and a good time, I thought, to begin sorting through the pieces of my old life here inWillowFalls, the smallIowatown that I grew up in. The last truly happy times in my life were spent here and somehow I needed to see if I could find more. Not that life inSeattlewas that bad. After all, I was Nathaniel Earl Wiley, a staff writer for a major metropolitan newspaper and that was what I always wanted to be. I lived in a nice apartment in a great city, yet something was missing. And I was determined to find out what it was.
My mother always enjoyed having me home, even though I felt guilty for not coming home more often. She would again have someone to cook for and I loved her cooking. Once I had to barricade myself in my apartment for four days to meet a deadline, living on pizza delivery the whole time. The day I finished, I flew home just for my mother’s cooking. My mother was a strong woman, after my father passed it was just her and I. I was an only child, though she routinely hosted half of the kids in town. Most of the ones still living here dropped in to see how she was doing from time to time. She was the one who pushed for me to go to college and to do what I wanted to do in life, and while I was reluctant to leave her, I knew that she would be ok.
It was a ritual that we sat and talked when I arrived. She made tea and I told her about all the great stories that I had recently been working on and she, in turn, told me about the latest developments in town. Half way through, I noticed a tiny smirk begin to appear on her face.
“By the way, you remember little Katie Barret? Kathryn I believe she goes by these days.” She said in her most nonchalant voice. My mother always did know how to get my undivided attention. “She moved back fromCaliforniajust last month. You should go visit her.” Katie and I had dated all four years of high school and my mother loved her. We decided to split up when I went away to college and she left forCalifornia. She wanted to be a songwriter and I wondered what happened, why she had moved back.
“Really?”, I said, looking around as if she were going to sprang from a closet or something. It had been a while since my mother scolded me for still being single and not making her a grandmother, and I could feel it coming.
“She looks quite well, I think she is staying at her parents house over on Mulberry St., you know, the Beige house on the corner?” she said, knowing full well that I did and almost daring me to go over there.
“Yes, mother, I think I still remember.” I said with just the right touch of sarcasm.
“Or… you could just talk to her at dinner tonight, I invited her over.” She said as she walked into the kitchen, as to avoid my explosion.
“What are you doing?” I snapped as I followed her into the kitchen.
“I’m chopping onions”
“You know what I mean, Mother.”
“I just invited Katie over for dinner, that’s all.”
“Did you tell her that I was here?”
“I don’t recall.” She said with a noticeably high level of self-satisfaction. I attempted to stare her into submission, but this was my mother. As far as she was concerned, this conversation was over and I was more than happy to oblige.
Trying to put my imminent date with Kathryn into the darkest back corner of my mind, I decided to go up to my room and unpack for what was sure, now, to be a very long weekend.
As I walked up stairs to my room, I was amazed, as I always was, at how everything was still in the same place as when I was a kid. That was part of what I liked so much about coming home, everything was so familiar.
It was not an especially big house, though when I was a child, it seemed really big. It was a quaint mid-sized Victorian style two story house, power blue, with navy trim. My mother loved knick-knacks and there were plenty in this old house. She also kept lots and lots of pictures. No pets, though. Growing up I never had a pet, not even as much as a frog. Still, this was home. This was a place of comfort for me, usually.
My room was the first door at the top of the stairs. The one with the hand written sign on the door that read:
“Nate’s Room, Stay Out!”
My mother thought it was cute and wanted to leave it up. Like the rest of the house, my room still looked the same, except for the twin bed that I had long since outgrown and had replaced with a bigger Queen-size bed a couple years back.
As I began to unpack, I decided that, between the jet lag and my mother’s little ambush, I really needed a nap. I would start worrying again later… I promised myself.