I was very young when I first stepped into my tree, too young. Otwan, being older, had already begun that, and I wanted to catch up with her. So, one day, I slipped away to play by myself, to find my way to my tree and be in it for the first time, if I could.
Qetawiwoy, as I explain to you, is the word for those of us born with trees and with separate bodies from trees. Qeta, tree. Wiwoy, those woy who look human, as you understand it. We do not enter our trees until both bodies are strong enough to be together and separate at the same time.
Kay-tuh, you say. It is close enough for now.
I entered the tree easily, slipped in as though between sheets of rain. Deceptively easily. Inside, I was caught in the ebb and flow of life inside the bark. The pull downwards of sunlight to roots. The rush up of water to leaves. And the vast web of forest around me, the chatter of the other trees, the touch of their roots next to mine. It was so… big. I had spoken with so many other tree woy before in our silent way, could pass days with Otwan without saying a word aloud if we didn’t have to remember those around us. But here, inside. Here was the whole world and I was so small in it.
Enough to be nothing.
To be lost inside.
To be nothing but tree.
STOP THAT. The words jolted me back to myself. Who are you?
I shivered, there inside, only barely holding to the thread of myself that kept me separate.
Who are you?
Weyai, I said, and the saying of it gave me back my own skin.
What are you? I asked, politely: Kayehuwawohut? Whoever was speaking to me hadn’t been polite, but that could have been oversight. Or perhaps they could tell I was still young. Either way, they didn’t answer.
What else, Weyai? What’s the rest of your name?
The rest of my name?
For a panicked moment, I didn’t know, and couldn’t say.
I don’t remember!
What do you remember?
I thought hard.
I remember Otwan.
My sister. Otwan Hiqwayaqiqatiy. The name came to me easily. Oh! I’m Weyai Hiqwayaqiqatiy. I settled, in my tree, myself only, the vast forest still accessible, but outside of me.
There was a pause, and I was blessedly at peace again.
Nice to meet you, Weyai Hiqwayaqiqatiy. Now, can you get out of your tree?
I don’t know how.
There was a chuckle. One of Hiqwayaq’s daughters going into her tree unsupervised. Well, Weyai, press up against your tree from the inside. Can you do that?
I think so. I made myself as big as possible within the bark and came to the edge of me. It tickles.
Good, now. Step out.
Step out? But how could I—I saw the place where my tree and the air met, and I remembered that I had a body that wasn’t a tree and if I had slipped in like that, then…
Otwan begged me not to go.
I hear it too, Mother had said. Follow it. And I would have followed without her being Hiqwayaq. I would have followed it only for the heavy sadness in her words, for the echo of a chainsaw. For the reason I touched my tree with affection, and where my heart ached for the touch to be felt.
“I don’t understand,” says the woman I sit with on the back porch of a house surrounded by trees. To human eyes, we both appeared as such—as two women sitting together while the breeze wove around us and cooled our skin. Speaking human words.
“Qetatyawoy,” I respond.
She shakes her head.
“I remember that part.”
“Tyawoy—a woy who is… in between. Whose form isn’t set.”
“A tree being without set form.” She frowns, staring at the forest.
“But I have a form. And a tree.”
“Kayehuwekeq?” I say softly, and the woman draws back. You called to me. A world full of trees and you called to me.
We could be like sisters, too, I said. We had spoken often after that first time, when she had taught me to leave my tree, and we had taught each other so many things since.
Wouldn’t Otwan get jealous?
I don’t th—
Her cry of pain shot through me.
She didn’t respond, and so I ran on child-legs and stepped through bark to reach from within my tree to where she was. To where the buzz of the chainsaw was the roar of a beast in my ears, where the savaging of her bark, her body, left an empty space as though not even air could fill it.
Step out! I cried.
I can’t! I’m not like you; I can’t!
Step out! I begged. Step out, step out, step out!
But the pain overtook her and her voice stopped. The tree cracked, fell to the ground, and it was empty.
You stare at me now.
“You thought I was dead,” you say.
“I thought I was alone.”
In the telling of our stories, you had told me yours. How your tree had fallen to reveal a girl, and you were taken in by the people who had killed your home without knowing, were given a new name.
“Why didn’t I remember you?” you ask.
“You didn’t call me until after your tree regrew,” I say. “Maybe it was less painful to forget.” But I don’t know. A qetatyawoy with a body like mine. A qesutlhowoy with legs. I reach for your hand, and my heart is warm when you take it.
You stop, turn your eyes to our entwined fingers. “Weyai. I knew that name when I heard it. There was a… like lightning in my chest.” I feel you shaking through your hand in mine.
“Minerva,” I say, carefully. Inawa, my mouth wanted to say when you first said it, to bring you to us that way, but you corrected me, and now I say your name to you.
You grab me into a hug, arms tight around my body.
“I can’t believe I never told you my name then.”
Holding you as tight as possible, I shake my head and hold my breath, waiting.
“I am owake no more,” you say, and draw your own breath. “Kayiyi Minerva Thiessen.” My heart swells until I’m sure my body can no longer contain it.
(Read Minerva's story before this one in The Tree Remembers)