It was 10th grade, the year of Hurricane Isaac, which mowed down the mighty oak in the teacher’s parking lot, snapped it like a cinnamon stick and prompted Mr. Luckanza to teach us about dendrochronology, counting the tree’s rings. Grown-ups wanted to turn everything into a lesson.
It was the year the football team had a shot, and they introduced cheese fries into the cafeteria. We had to take English 10 and read dog-eared copies of “How Green Was My Valley?”, which everyone kept calling “How Long Is My Valley?” The economy tanked and my mom took a second shift at the late night diner. We all turned 16 and some of us got parties. The biggest one was Shannon Richardson’s, talked about for months because someone vomited all over her parents’ white suede sofa and she posted flyers on certain lockers looking for a confession.
It was the year people started losing their virginity, whether on purpose or not. Then, right before Christmas break, they found Mr. Luckanza in his car with a pistol in his lap and a shattered windshield stained red the color of those poisonous berries our parents always warned us not to eat. In the spring, a group of men came in overalls to finally take the oak away, chain-sawing it in pieces and tossing the hunks over the side of their pick-up. Even after they drove away I could still imagine rolling my fingers along the tree’s insides, the roughness of the bark and the tenderness of the inside, some rings small, some larger, some stained dark and hardened like a cancer, almost like it knew what was coming but couldn’t tell anyone until it was too late.