Second Chances: A short story

old man and tree
Frances Yang/Staff

In its current state, it dwarfs the surrounding buildings — makes them small in the same way they make us small. It looms, not in a foreboding way, but in a way that makes us feel like it’s got our back. We breathe it in, it breathes us in, the relationship symbiotic and simultaneously destructive.

The tree is tall and towering and mighty, but it wasn’t always that way. It started small, as we all do: a seed in the soil of a planet who is a seed in the soil of a solar system who is a seed in the soil of a whole universe: infinitesimally tiny and yet multiple lifetimes of work to do.  

It was only after decades of toiling by the sun and its nourishing touch, after decades of the small seed’s own perseverance that the tree became what it is today. After all, a seed, much like a human, won’t grow without its own will to grow. A seed, much like a human, needs a reason to carry on. This seed’s reason was redemption.

In its past life, it was smaller in two distinct ways: size and merit. In comparison to the tree that the man would become, he was an ant — a microbe under the boot of reality. In comparison to other men, however, the man was not small at all. He was stocky, sturdy and strong. The kind of strength he carried in his fists. Fists he knew how to use. Fists he used to compensate. Fists he hid behind. So, the man was not physically small, but his insecurities made him feel so, and he lashed out accordingly. Usually against strangers in a bar after a few too many, but sometimes against the women he claimed to love. He made them small in the same way he felt the world made him small, and in this he found temporary, intoxicating solace. In this he found a vicious, parasitic cycle. It got him nowhere and nothing. Nothing, that is, except bruises on knuckles, prison stints and perpetual misery. Nothing except the means for redemption.

Maybe a life as a tree is a second chance. The man wasted that first life destroying those around him with fists made of lead and insecurity, and maybe this life, as a provider of life, is a way to make amends. Maybe a life like his, choices like his, can never be amended. Or maybe whoever makes these big decisions, decisions about who becomes what and at what time, was just having some fun — condemning a man who destroyed people to a life of building them up. Maybe he deserves it and maybe he doesn’t. Maybe none of it means anything at all. We’ll never know, and maybe that’s the beauty of it.

Contact Madelyn Peterson at [email protected]