It’s easy to let silence take over part of your life and to forget the good things about yourself. It’s easy to twist your mind and see yourself from a bad angle, to believe that acts of anger or rebellion are always bad things, to submit and tell yourself it’s only this one time. And if that’s easy, then it’s easy for it to spread, like metastasising cancer, from one part of your life to others, until it’s everything.
It’s hard to be sure exactly where it started. It’s hard to recover.
This, just like all my stories, is about who I am. It is for me, although it is available to anyone. It is a rebellion. It is a reminder, because I forgot.
When I was twelve I built myself a tree-house.
I had pestered my parents for one for years before finally accepting that an adult was not going to build it for me. Fair play to the adults; my dad had already built me and my two younger siblings a cubby-house fort.
It was a very good fort. We could climb up its walls, through its windows, onto its roof. We weren’t supposed to do any of these things, of course. The only parentally sanctioned fort-climbing was up the entrance ladder. The roof was firmly and repeatedly deemed out of bounds and we were reminded often that the railing around the balcony was for fall-prevention, rather than a climbing aid. We climbed it anyway. We used it to fight pretend wars, and it was very difficult to invade the fort by climbing politely up the ladder.
Other than that it was obvious we would find a way for it to kill us, there were two problems with the fort. One problem was that there was only one fort. What was the use of one fort? You need two forts, at least, for a proper war. If you had three you could even forge alliances and have betrayals.
The other problem was that I had watched it being built, and I had enjoyed this more than playing on it. I wanted to build more things. Lots of things. Dangerous things. Our yard had stacks of bricks, piles of corrugated iron, heaps of unused wooden planks, mounds of excess pavers. And we knew Dad kept his tools in the shed.
So my brother built his own crossbow which shot chopsticks-turned-arrows with goose-feather flights. It was very effective. We never had chopsticks in the kitchen drawers after that, but they were all over the garden. We built a small table to go in our fort as well as a heavy door to defend it. Our family home got an extension, and a few weeks later so did our fort. We sunk new foundations and built ourselves a dungeon.
We built so much that after a few years of this we started to run out of supplies, particularly nails. The First Great Nail Shortage ended the Christmas after Dad discovered all his nails were disappearing from his shed at rate suspiciously similar to our garden construction boom. We realised that, judging from his irritation and how much he complained, he must really like having nails. We understood. We liked having nails too. We’d found lots of things we could make with them, and when we’d run out of them we’d learned that screws made terrible replacements; they’re so difficult to hammer in.
So the Christmas present we got him that year was perhaps not entirely altruistic, but then, we really did think he would like it too.
I was confused. He only seemed to pretend enthusiasm for the nails, when he had told us time and time again how badly he wanted them. Also, Mum seemed very amused, even though she was the one who approved the present idea and drove us to the hardware store—although when I came to think about it I remembered she had laughed then too.
The new box of nails did not last long, and we were soon plunged into the Second Great Nail Shortage. The Second Great Nail Shortage lasted years and years. In fact, as far as I know, it’s still going.
Nevertheless, other minor forts began springing up all over the garden so that we might have proper wars. One made clever use of existing materials and junk, another was made of corrugated iron and held together with twisty ties.
But I wasn’t satisfied. I wanted a tree-house fort. As a child I loved climbing trees and was good at it. I hardly ever hurt myself, especially if you don’t count the three times I broke my arm before the age of seven. But those incidents involved a car, an arm chair and a fitness trampoline respectively, never trees.
So I think I had every right to consider myself an excellent tree-climber in need of a tree-house.
In the end I decided to build the tree-house myself. And I had to do it without nails. Or screws. Or rope. Or heavy-duty tuna fishing line. Or any of the other things Dad used to have that we had completely used up.
But I still built it.
I used the wooden planks, which were round logs cut down the middle. I wedged two of them in the branches of a tree, roughly parallel, and then laid out more planks across them to create a platform. I dreamed of nails and rope, of bolts and drills, but I didn’t have those things so none of the planks were secured with anything. I had planned well though. The planks were quite heavy and there was a good deal of overhang on each side of the support beams which made it difficult for the planks to work themselves free. As long as I didn’t step on the overhang it was a relatively safe tree-house. And it was all mine and only mine, as I had built it by myself. Without even nails.
The ‘without even nails’ factor quickly became a big deal for my parents. It was dangerous. It would fall to pieces. They didn’t want me to play in it.
I ignored them. I was twelve and was used to parents and other responsible adults disallowing anything remotely fun, like spinning on office chairs, sliding in socks on wooden floors, climbing on the roof or setting the trampoline on its side and trying to climb up it as it falls over.
And my tree-house didn’t fall down. So I built a smaller, higher platform as a second story and installed a dog ramp.
I cannot claim the genius of the dog ramp as my own. Dad had come up with the idea for our first fort. He made a ramp out of a suitable plank of wood and he trained out little dog to run up it. Our dog learned quickly and soon understood how to do it without any pointing or instruction. If he wanted to play with us in the fort, he only had to run up the ramp.
I fixed up a similar ramp to my tree-house and trained our dog to climb it.
The result was, I believe, a masterpiece.
I was fiercely proud of my tree-house, my space, and then I grew up and forgot to be. It’s easy to think that tree-houses aren’t real achievements. They don’t help you with school, for example. Only, really, it did. It may not have directly helped with my grades, but having my own space helped me get through at all. And even when I got older and stopped visiting it so often, being the girl who built it did help. Always.
Always, at least, until I forgot.
My tree-house was removed, plank by plank, and then the tree was cut down. And I forgot that I was the girl who built it, without nails or permission, who painted a flag for it, who loved it and defended it and who shared it with her dog.