“Moving?” I said, rubbing the sleep from my eyes, hoping I was still dreaming. “But why?”
My mother’s hair was up in a brown knot on top of her head, and her face sagged from some unseen weight. She sipped her coffee calmly, but her fingers twitched a rapid beat on the side of her mug. She gave me a look full of exhaustion and annoyance, the same kind of look she used to give when I would refuse to touch a dinner she had painstakingly made. I was afraid of that look.
“Because,” she said, setting the coffee mug down. Her fingers continued to twitch. “Because we both need a change. This house holds too many memories for us, and I’ve decided it would do us both some good to get a fresh start. Plus, we’ll be nearer to your Uncle Martin.”
“But I like it here. I don’t want to leave.”
“It’s already been decided. Now I don’t want to hear any more of it.”
“What do you mean?” My heart skipped a beat. I certainly hadn’t decided anything.
My mother took a deep breath. She was sitting at the table and had her chair turned sideways, so it was facing me, and she leaned closer to me and reached for my hands, holding them in her own. “Honey, I already signed the lease. We’re going to leave as soon as we can, hopefully before the weekend is over. I have to go back to work Monday. Your uncle is coming to help pack boxes and move.”
It was then that I took a good look around the kitchen. There were some boxes on the counter, and plates wrapped in newspaper. I ran out of the kitchen and into the living room, where more boxes greeted me. I wanted to wake up in my treehouse. I closed my eyes and pinched my arm and wished that I would just wake up because this had to be a nightmare.
My mother was calling for me from the kitchen, but I ignored her and ran up the stairs to my bedroom. I let out a sigh of relief, seeing that my possessions had been left untouched. My stomach dropped again, a second later, when I realized that I would have to pack everything I owned: my books, and legos, and miniature cars, into their own little cardboard boxes, and tape them up and stick them in the car and leave this place forever.
I went over to my bed and flopped down face-first on the mattress, burying my head in the pillows. My eyes began to sting, and I tried not to cry, but they came anyway. Soon my pillow was wet and I was sniffing back snot and trying to pretend that none of this was happening. It was dark and soft with my face in the pillow, and I couldn’t see any boxes.
Eventually I stopped crying, and just lay there. I heard my mother opening the door, and could tell that she was just standing there, trying to tell whether or not I was asleep. I tried faking it, but then couldn’t hold back a tickle in my nose and sneezed.
“Bless you,” she said.
I turned over on my side and faced the wall. My eyes were open now, and I stared at my Buzz Lightyear covers. To infinity and beyond. Buzz Lightyear was never afraid of new things, and I decided that I would try to not be afraid too.
The bed sank a little, and my body tilted slightly, telling me that my mother was sitting on the side of my bed next to me. She put a hand on my back and rubbed it. Then she started humming; a simple melody that had calmed me down and put me to sleep when I was younger, and now, made me remember that I loved my mother, and didn’t want her to go too.
The humming trailed off after some time, growing fainter and more repetitive, until she stopped altogether.
“It won’t be so bad,” she whispered. “We’re not moving cities, and you’ll still be able to go to the same school, so you won’t be leaving your friends. We need this…I need this, okay?.”
I didn’t answer. She waited a few moments before leaving, and soon I could hear her downstairs, moving dishes into boxes.
That was Friday, and over the course of the next two days I managed to pack all of my belongings into a dozen different-shaped boxes. Going through my treehouse was the hardest, but my mother told me that Uncle Martin could take it down and put it back up in the yard of the new house, if I wanted.
I tried to change my perspective, to look at the move as exciting and new and full of possibilities, but underneath all of that was the dread and the anxiety of leaving my father’s house behind. Saturday evening, after seeing that all of my things were packed and ready to go in the morning, my mother gave me back my Zelda cartridge, and I spent the rest of the night battling my way through the first dungeon, determined to catch back up to where I had left off.
On Sunday morning my Uncle Martin pulled up to the house at eight o’clock in a big U-Haul, and brought a box of doughnuts, coffee, and a bottle of chocolate milk for me. I ate a custard-filled long john and a sprinkled cake doughnut, and then we were making trip after trip out to the big cave-like U-Haul and stacking boxes on top of one another. My mother helped Uncle Martin move the bigger furniture, the couch, the beds, and the kitchen table, which I helped with.
When the U-Haul was full we loaded up the white station wagon too, with the smaller boxes of dishes and clothes. I pulled my uncle aside after stuffing the last box in the trunk, and asked him about my treehouse. He asked me to show it to him, and we went around the house and into the backyard.
Uncle Martin looked up at the treehouse and scratched his head. He was a big man, with heavy looking arms, and a heavier belly that made him look stocky and strong, not fat. “Well,” he said, “to be honest, I’ve never built a treehouse, or been much of a handyman. Your father was always better with his hands than I was.” He took a deep breath and cleared his throat with a rumbling cough. “How about we leave this here for the next family, and try after you’ve gotten all moved in. How’s that sound, bud”
“That’s fine,” I said. I was lying. It wasn’t fine, and didn’t sound very good to me at all. I liked my treehouse, and wanted all of it exactly the way it was. But Uncle Martin was speaking in that voice adults sometimes use when they’ve already made up their mind, and I knew that he wouldn’t listen to me if I told him how I really felt.
Uncle Martin drove the U-Haul, while I went with my mother in the station wagon. I got to sit up front, because the back seats had been lowered to make room for more boxes, and I rolled the window all the way down, past where the back ones would go, and stuck my hand out to rise and dip in the moving air.
It was only a fifteen minute drive to the other side of town, and when we turned on to Sunny Lane, and I saw the fence at the end of the street, I groaned. I imagined myself in the horrible future of this new life, kicking a ball at that fence by myself because I had nothing better to do.
“There’ll be other kids your age,” my mother said, as if reading my mind. “I’m sure you’ll make friends.”
We pulled up to a small, single-story house near the end of the street. The front yard was small, with only one twig-like tree standing in the middle of it, supported by a thin wooden post. Hedge-like bushes sat short and squat underneath two windows, and connected to one long hedge that separated our new house from a blue one of similar style next door. A big oak tree with low branches, perfect for a treehouse, sat just on the other side of the hedge.
There was a girl in the tree. She looked to be about my age, maybe younger, and she was sitting on one of the higher branches and swinging her legs through the air. Her hair was raven-black and long, braided into a ponytail that rested over her front. She wore blue denim overalls and a red shirt, and she was watching us as we moved our boxes into the house. When I lifted a hand to wave at her, she blew a bubble of gum and popped it over her face so it stuck to her nose. I lowered my hand, turned to grab another box, and felt her eyes follow me as I took it into the house.
My new room was smaller than my old one, and it took some thought to get everything the way I wanted it. I didn’t have enough room for my lego table, so we ended up putting it in a spare bedroom that my mother told me could be my new playroom, if I wanted. Since I doubted my uncle would ever get around to building me a new treehouse, this served as a decent consolation. I put my legos, comic books, and telescope in there, as well as a beanbag chair that had before sat unused in my old room. I figured the new location would give it a second chance, and maybe I would start using it.
It took me the rest of the day to get all of my things unpacked and sorted. My room now looked like a smaller, more cramped version of what it had been before.
I left my room to go and explore the rest of the house. My room was the first in the narrow hallway, with the bathroom and master bedroom on one end, my playroom in between, and the living room out the opposite side. In the hallway just outside my door was a square of trim, with a wooden cover and a tiny loop of a string dangling from the center. I ignored it and walked through the living room and into the kitchen/dining room, which was really just a large kitchen with our table sitting there in the middle of it. Uncle Martin and my mother were sitting at the table with glasses of wine and an open bottle between them. They both looked up as I walked in.
“All finished?” my mother asked.
I nodded, wondering when my uncle would go home. It wasn’t that I didn’t like him. I just hadn’t completely forgiven him for not so much as mentioning my treehouse again. I don’t think he ever intended on building it, or even trying for that matter.
“Good. Listen, I spoke with the neighbor next door, Ms. Cleary, she’s a sweet old lady, really, and she agreed to watch you for the day tomorrow. Her granddaughter Clara is staying with her for the summer, so you’ll have someone your age to play with.”
“Okay,” I said. I wasn’t so sure how much I’d like her, or if we could be friends. I remembered the way she stared at me in the tree, with almost dead eyes, and popped her bubblegum, and I hoped that she wasn’t mean.
My uncle leaned forward and tousled my hair. “That’s a sport,” he said. His cheeks were flushed red, and he smiled with his whole face, his eyes forming little sideways crescents.
“Sweetie, why don’t you go and play your game for the night?” my mother said. “Your uncle and I still have some things to talk about.” She kissed me goodnight on the cheek and my uncle patted me on the back, and I went to the bathroom and brushed my teeth and climbed into bed with my Gameboy.
I played for several hours, and made my way through two whole dungeons until my eyelids began to droop. I saved my progress and turned off the light, laying there in my bed in an unfamiliar room.
I still hadn’t heard the big U-Haul truck move, or seen the headlights pass over my window and down the dead-end street. As I drifted off to sleep, I heard muffled voices, and then a loud laugh in the night, and I imagined my Uncle Martin’s big red face getting redder.