|Image courtesy of Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net|
The Tree by Kath Middleton
This tree has come to symbolise my life.
I was nineteen years old and taking part in early experiments in electrical conductivity when something happened which made me different from others. I believe it occurred when one of our experiments went badly wrong. We were passing a powerful current through a cadaver and I caught the full blast in error. I was thrown across the laboratory and had my hair singed. I even lost consciousness for a time and spent two days in hospital recovering.
It was after this that I realised, very gradually, that physical changes which affected my fellows left me untouched. I didn't age. Oh, I don't mean I still look nineteen. I have filled out a little and my facial features have matured. That was all over a hundred and fifty years ago though. Unless someone cuts off my head, shoots me or runs me through with a blade, I will live on, potentially forever.
So many people think that it must be wonderful never to age - never to die. They don't know what they're talking about. Being immortal doesn't stop you from falling in love. Every woman I have ever loved has aged before my eyes, has become bent, grey and wrinkled. She has died of sickness or old age and I have lost her. It happens to many people once. It has happened to me several times, that I have buried the woman I love while appearing to the outside world as though I were her grandson.
When I lost Lilian, my first wife, I buried her and planted a seed above her withered body. The tree that grew there would be her remembrance. I go back every year and watch as it grows. It's in the prime of life but I have buried two other beloved women since its seed was sown. I now know that I will either live alone and desolate, or I will love women yet unborn and lose them too. It's not just the loss that hurts, it's watching helplessly as day by day she slips away from me. I am now aware that my memory tree has reached its own maturity and will begin to decline. I shall have to collect seeds from it and begin another tree.
Now my fifth wife is white-haired and looks like my grandmother. For the first time, with this wife, Ellen, I have a son. After a wonderful childhood I watched him grow, taught him much and now see him looking like my father. My life feels like a tragedy.
Today is the anniversary of Lilian's death and my first great grief. I stand under the canopy of my mourning tree and finger the seed in my pocket. Unless I take my own life, I will need another tree to commemorate my lost loves - and children.
I stoop, bury the seed in the damp earth and stand back.