The taxi is already loaded, everything I own, everything I want to take with me already in the trunk. The meter is running, but I ask the man to wait and go down to the creek.
The sky is gray this morning, but the rain has finally stopped. Ice clings to everything. I slip three times before I make it down the path and reach the creek bed, but the ground beneath the old willow is dry. I push aside the thin branches and touch the old, twisted trunk. We used to play here when we were children. My brothers and I would moor our raft beneath the branches and leaves to keep it safe from prying eyes, from pirates and mermaids and goblins. And from the neighbor’s kids. This willow was our fortress, our safe haven.
Now it’s nothing. An old dead tree. I trace the heart carved into the bark, the initials I left there three summers ago with a boy who is long gone. This tree saw everything when I was growing up. My first broken bone, my first fish, my first kiss. I stayed in an empty house on a deserted farm for the memories in its branches. My brothers left a long time ago. One of them is in the Navy now, the other a bartender in a town without a name. Neither of them call.
I should have left too. I am leaving. The farm is sold, the house ready for its new owners. I’ve said goodbye to everything but the willow, and a new life awaits. A new me. It’s what I want, it’s what I’ve needed, no matter how painful it is. So, before the taxi driver gets impatient, I let go of the person I was here. I leave her weeping with the willow, lost in what should have been, and climb back up the path to the taxi waiting for me.
I have a future. Even without the willow.