If a tree falls on an Abby and she definitely makes a noise — how far is the closest ER?
The joke pops into my brain as I’m clipping the smaller branches. A sign that I’m in a better headspace. A usual rule of thumb: if I can joke, I’m gonna be okay.
For the first couple of minutes after the incident, I speak in shaky, clipped statements, adrenaline rushing through my system as I attempt to discuss the failed tree cutting — as I attempt to sound calm and collected and my husband eventually asks, “Are you okay? Because it sounds like you’re on the verge of having emotions.”
(Code for: having an emotional breakdown.)
For the next couple of minutes after, I force myself into the present moment. The weight of the branch cutters in hand. The smell of the mint that has proliferated by the side of our back porch. The leaves on the downed tree that are vibrant green with a pastel underbelly. The task at hand. Cut this branch. Cut this other branch. Bring them over to this pile. Repeat. I notice the warm sun. The slight breeze. The sound of the branch cutters against bark.
I do that because, until I can start joking, I’m in a bad headspace — now that the adrenaline has subsided and I’m no longer on the verge of having emotions. Because I’m replaying the events and I’m frustratingly unhappy with myself. Because there’s a side of me, reminiscent of the Old Me, that is desperate to pop up, and I refuse to give it a platform.
I refuse to give it a platform because that side of me is like Donald Trump: give it even the smallest chance to grab the mic and nothing good will come of it. But, regardless, that side relentlessly persists, like a toddler bent on getting my attention, a little voice on constant rotation, desperate for me to actually listen in.
“You saw the angle was a little off and you didn’t say anything. You saw the angle and you knew it was off and you just assumed you didn’t know what you were talking about. You saw the angle and you said nothing and the tree went off path and maybe that wouldn’t have happened if you didn’t assume you were wrong and stayed silent.”
(I can hear my counselor say, “You’re incredibly quick to invalidate yourself.”)
Before all that — before the smell of mint in the warm sun and the persistent sound of a negative voice and the surge of adrenaline — I was standing by one of the paracord, next to our chicken coop. One end of the cord was tied to a chain around the tree, the other to a post by our chicken coop. I was standing about 30 feet away from a large tree that had been hanging precariously over the roof of our house — a tree that was probably one large blizzard away from damaging said roof, said house. I was standing guard, watching the first notch be cut. A notch that seemed to be facing 20 or 30 degrees closer in my direction than it should be.
It’ll be fine. I had reasoned. I’m probably just seeing things. No reason to say anything.
Within minutes, we hear the distinctive crack that lets us know the tree’s about to fall over. The paracord by me goes slack — far too quickly and far too early. The paracord dips towards the ground instead of sloping to the side. I look up to watch the tree start to loom over me.
Apparently my husband shouts, “Run!” I don’t hear it. I’ve already bolted. I get tunnel vision as I dart away from the chicken coop, down our gravel path, down our stone steps. I run like hell and don’t even look back until the tree has hit the ground.
When I took back, I’m expecting nothing and everything at once. I both prepare and don’t prepare for a damaged roof. Collapsed porch. Collapsed chicken co-op. Broken swingset.
What I see is a sea of green.
There is a very tiny alley of space between the chicken coop & the swingset and our house. Not including the untamed garden by our porch, the space is 10, 15 feet on the outside.
And that is exactly where the tree fell.
None of the structures are even scratched. The baby peach tree — a delicate little creation that has been propped up just to survive strong winds and bad winters — is completely untouched. The felled tree missed it by inches.
“If the tree cutting was going to go wrong, that was exactly where the tree should’ve fallen,” remarks my husband.
The trunk of the tree hit out ladder — and crushed it like it had been made of cardboard. Our little reminder of what this tree would have been capable of doing. But the tree fell in a way that even the little wooden border around the swingset is unscathed.
Five feet one way or the other, it would’ve been a different story.
It was miracle. I even note how much of a miracle it is — in my jolted, terse voice, the one that apparently gives away my actual emotional state. It was a perfect failed fall.
It was the perfect type of failing.
I do yet another exhaustive and exhausting personal inquiry. I analyze my reluctance to say anything. I analyze that terrible, negative voice that — just like when Trump finds his way onto my TV screen — I hit mute on, knowing that this bag of empty hate and hot air will eventually fade. I recognize that both come from the same place that I’m trying to chop down as well. The one I want to uproot and replace with something a little more assertive, a little more sure, a little less passive — grow something that gives me a fricken break from time to time (cue counselor: “You have infinite understanding for everyone around you, and yet you’re not allowed to mess up.”)
The tree was supposed to fall along the path into the woods. Instead it veered 90 degrees — way farther over my direction than the notch ever was. Despite being chained and tethered, despite careful cutting, the tree cutting went wildly against plans.
But when it failed, it failed in a miraculous way.
It failed in a way that made me perversely grateful for the way it went down. It failed in a way that made the dust settle fast — that, after the adrenaline rush and the fight to keep negative self-talk at bay, we were able to focus more on what we could do different next time (as opposed to scrambling to clean up the mess). It failed in a way that reminded me how bad it could’ve been and how weirdly lucky I am that everything fell into place the way that it did. It failed in a way we could only hope to fail, ourselves.
Because, if you’re going to fail, fail miraculously.
If you’re going to fail — and you’re going to fail, eventually, inevitably — fail in a way that shows how weirdly beautiful, if not predestined, that failure seems to be. A failure that exposes what needs to be exposed without bringing the whole house down. Fail in a way that, as the dust settles, you can see what you can do differently going forward.
Fail in ways that get your adrenaline surging, that make you want to break down over it, that make you wonder why you can’t just get into your readily-available time machine and change things. Fail and then marvel at how — now that the major moment has passed and you’re not scrambling the way you just did — there was no other way to fail than this.
Fail in a way that makes you perversely grateful for the way it all went down. Grateful that everything fell into place the way that it did.
Let it be the perfect type of failing.
If things are not going to go to plan, make sure it collapses in a way that makes you think it was the plan all along.