9-RootsI’m sorry I couldn’t pull up those roots. The ones twisting under the pine tree that you and Mom planted when the two of you first bought the land and decided to build a house on it. The ones that, on a blurry August afternoon over a decade later, I tugged at desperately, really I did, sweating in the heat, hearing the steady hum of your push mower grow louder as you moved mathematically across the backyard, which I had already cleared of sticks and fallen branches. I’m sorry that when you slid the push mower under the pine tree one of those roots caught the blade, and the push mower let out a satanic sound and then there was nothing but wind or maybe not even wind. I’m sorry that I held my breath through that silence, waited around the corner by the blue wheelbarrow with the deflated tire, which remains deflated even today, and I’m sorry that what broke that quiet was the sound of your belt clacking through the loops of those dirty Levis you only wore when you were mowing the lawn—always too big for you, I remember, especially after you returned from a weekend at Mustafa’s and decided that although you hadn’t eaten or slept since Friday that probably you should mow the lawn and sweat out the drugs and the worst of the crash. I’m sorry that usually you couldn’t. I’m sorry that when you found me behind the wheelbarrow, you didn’t hit me right away, that you let your belt hang down from your left hand like the limp garter snake whose body you had severed the previous summer with the rusted hoe so that its undeveloped eggs spilled out onto the dirt and glistened like wet pearls, an entire brood unmade in the afternoon light. I’m sorry you grabbed me by the ear with your other hand and dragged me to the pine tree where you pointed to the roots underneath, and I’m sorry that it was here, of all the places in the world, at this plot of ground where you and Mom planted a tree to celebrate that first big leap of faith together—that it was here while I insisted they’re roots, babah, they’re roots where you thought you’d teach me a lesson about tenacity, or fastidiousness, and that when you were done with the belt I ran into the house and checked the new digital clock to see when Mom would come home, and then I went to the big window and looked out and saw you standing over the mower with your hands on your hips. And what I’m most sorry about isn’t the belt or the garter snake or the eggs or the Levis or the drugs, isn’t the divorce that would come later, or how eventually you’d disown me for asking too many questions about it.

What I’m most sorry about is this. That, from the big window, I saw you bend down to pick up what you were certain were sticks and fallen branches. And that I saw you tugging at one of them before trying another, and another, and another, and another. That I saw you drop and crawl around the tree on your hands and knees, frantic now, anxious to find just one stick amid the roots that were not coming up no matter how desperately you pulled at them. And I saw you let go of those roots finally and bring your right hand slowly to your mouth, your eyes closed, your body shaking by the tree whose roots you had mutilated, and then I saw your left hand passing tenderly over those roots, your short hairy fingers cleaving to them. And even today when I pull in to Mom’s driveway and see that tree I wonder what, exactly, you were thinking in that moment, your hand passing over the roots, and sometimes I remember that when you held that snake on the hoe there was this quiver on your lower lip that had nothing to do with drugs, and, still looking down at those tremulous eggs, you said, pedasookteh, deh borroh deh, or son of mine, go away from here, so that you could be alone with the mistakes I know you wish you had never made.


M. Sausun, a pseudonym, lives in Columbus, Ohio, where he teaches writing classes at Ohio State University.  He has also lived in New Mexico and Colorado.

Photo by Frank Dina