• Bex Drate

Half Tree Excerpt: On Love

Updated: Feb 24, 2019

An Iowa field at sunset.

I want to share this work in progress excerpt from Half Tree. One of its themes is an honest exploration of different kinds of love. This hasn't been reworked to stand on its own, but I think you can follow along. I hope you enjoy!

Mothers always know best...

“You’re hurt,” my mom said as I pushed through the door, holding pressure to the t-shirt wrapped around my throbbing hand. She was sitting at the kitchen card table with an open bottle of wine, fingers gently caressing a coffee cup. Grandpa never drank wine.

“I heard you and dad. In your therapy.” I sat down. There was no point in denying it. I wanted to see what she’d admit to. If she’d admit that the reason we uprooted our lives, my life, was because of her weakness.

“I know,” she looked up. She wasn’t smiling, but her cheeks scrunched around her eyes. “I’m glad. We should probably talk about it. What do you think you heard?”

“That you almost cheated on dad. That you moved us out here because you were too tempted by this, Andrew,” I spat out. I could feel the heat rising in my cheeks. This whole thing made me feel manipulated. She just looked at me, listening, waiting. Somehow that was even more infuriating.

“Dad trusts you.” I was nearly yelling now. “We trust you. I gave up so much to come out here. And I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it sucks. It sucks here!” And now it just poured out. “My cell phone never works. I can only wear boots, ever, because apparently no one here has heard of pavement. No one from Lakeville even returns my texts,” I could feel it. I was losing control. My throat tightened, tears welled. “JD won’t even talk to me!” There is was.

My mom stood up and took my cut hand, looking it over. Angry tears rolled down my cheeks as she led me over to the sink, turned on the water and waited until the temperature was just right. She washed out the cut then disappeared for a minute into the bathroom, emerging with gauze and tape.

“It’s not too deep, but pretty nasty. The old combine?”

“The hand rail rusted out,” I said. She smiled weakly. We sat back down at the rickety card table.

“I did not cheat on your father,” she said even and calm. I opened my mouth, but she lifted a finger from her mug. “Let me finish. Please.” I swallowed and nodded. “I love you and your father more than anything in this world. This family is my priority and it always has been. That is why your father and I have been seeing Dr. Patel, who you overheard us talking to today, for over 16 years.”

Sixteen years? I would turn 17 in April. My face must have betrayed my thoughts.

“I know, shocking,” she smiled again. “We started seeing Dr. Patel just after you were born because we hit a hard spot. Money was tight. You didn’t sleep. I had what I learned to be postpartum depression. It wasn’t commonly diagnosed back then. But Dr. Patel has been so amazing, we try to do a check in once a year.”

“But why?” I asked. “You and dad seem so happy.”

“Lots of happy couples go to therapy. For some, it’s why they’re so happy. Dr. Patel helps us to keep our communication open.”

“Wow, that sounds super romantic,” I muttered.

“Not all love is romantic, Al. The best love is a lot of work.” She took a sip.

“Work? I’m sure dad would love to hear you describing your relationship as work. I thought when you guys met, he locked eyes with you across the lunchroom and he just knew. At least that’s how he tells it. What about love at first sight? What about soul mates? What about fate? You don’t believe in any of that?”

“I don’t. In fact, I actually find it unromantic to think the only reason two people fall in love is that some external force decreed it. I’m with your father because I choose to be. Everyday I wake up and say, ‘I choose you, I choose this life we’ve made’. I’m with your father because he makes me laugh, he’s patient with my quirks and we've made a commitment to each other. Not because the universe fated it or just because we find each other super attractive.” She grinned and I scrunched up my face in disapproval, but I understood.

“A real relationship is real work, Allison. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about our therapy sessions sooner. It doesn’t benefit you to go through life thinking that love is binary, that it’s either meant to be or it isn’t. Don’t get me wrong, love is pure, pit of your stomach, up all night magic. But real love, lasting love, has foundations much deeper than a long look across the cafeteria. I don’t think there’s anything more romantic than knowing your father could have a happy life with many other women, but he chooses me, he chooses us, each and every day.” She refilled her wine mug.

My anger was waning. They clearly had been doing this hard work she was talking about and my mother was still very much in love with my father.

“Anyway, we’ve had a few extra sessions lately because this move has been a really big adjustment. For all of us, but your dad especially.”

“I haven’t thought much about dad lately,” I said into my injured palm. It still hurt. If I was honest, I hadn’t been thinking much about anyone but myself.

“It’s hard to lose your job no matter what, but even harder to try to reinvent yourself with a new career, in a new place, with new people and no support system,” she paused and looked at me, microbladed eyebrow raised. I looked up from my bandaged hand and nodded. It was hard.

“I think the book is not coming as quickly or as easily as he thought it might," she continued. "He deserves your compassion, Al. We all do.” Her voice wavered for the first time. She looked up at the light fixture but I saw the tears shining in her eyes before she could blink them away.

“I’m sorry, mom,” I let it rest there, no excuses attached. I was sorry for all of it. I was sorry that her little brother was dying and that there was nothing anyone could do about it. I was sorry for acting like a privileged princess. I was sorry for not even considering, until this moment, how this must be affecting my parents.

Her tears were flowing freely now, but she handed me a napkin to wipe away my own.

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