“This is Not a Tree” by Renae Tucker

I invited a murderer to several of my birthday parties. That sounds harsh, but so does a knife plunging into a thirteen-year-old’s body. She got me Polly Pockets, I think. Then, we played games like hide and seek, but on steroids. Two teams, one hides, the other seeks and defends the “jail” (a designated area, a tree will suffice). The hiding team, if captured, goes to jail BUT can be freed if tagged out by another member of their own team. Simple enough. When it got too dark to play outside, because dangerous things could be lurking, we were called inside by our loving suburban mothers and tucked in by our fathers who had to wake up early in order to put food on our Pottery Barn tables. It was just a game, then. That jail was just a tree.

I remember the murderer’s room was pink, or maybe purple? Doesn’t matter. Her grandmother painted fairies and a castle on one of the walls, because all little girls love fairies and the color pink, or purple. Like most moms, hers drove the standard suburban cul-de-sac minivan that could sit seven people comfortably because moms have mom stuff to do that requires mom space. The murderer’s dad worked for NASA, that was pretty tight. Her house was the place to be with its endless piles of toys that were never put away (this bothered other parents but only contributed to it being the favorite house among the kids). Average is a word one could have used to describe the household, quirky at most.

We weren’t close. It was more like one of those obligatory friendships through a mutual friend, or in my case, through living in the same small neighborhood. That’s not to say I didn’t like her, I did. We just never had enough in common to keep our relationship going past elementary school. Eventually, I replaced playing outside with listening to boy bands, wearing way too much eyeliner, and chatting on AIM. My username was sweetpea964u@aol.com. I’m not proud of it. My hard earned calluses from running barefoot on asphalt and climbing trees faded at the same pace my childhood friendships did. I let them.

I’m nineteen, in my college apartment, and on Facebook expecting to find that my mom has tagged me in yet another video of puppies or “How to Make Shrimp Lettuce wraps.” My childhood friend’s mugshot appears and I do a double take (or double scroll?) My first thought: it was one of those “What would you go to jail for?” quizzes that people take for fun and her result was murder. Keep scrolling. More mugshots, not only hers but her male accomplice’s as well, statuses claiming, “I went to middle school with that girl!” and “What a shame” and “This is so creepy.” I click on a link. The only words I am able to process are “13 year old,” “dead,” “accessory to,” and “no motive found.” I call my mom for answers; gossip spreads like butter where I’m from.

It’s true. There is a dead girl and someone I know, or knew, was involved. Things like this didn’t happen in my life. If anyone I knew was ever in the news it was for stuff like saving ducklings from a sewer and returning them safely back to their mother.

I realized I had not thought of her for years until the day I saw her mugshot. From what I remembered, which wasn’t much, she had a whiney voice. Imagine the sound of a mosquito in your ear, and at the same time that mosquito was in your ear, an infant uncontrollably began to cry next to you. That was her voice. But she was nice. Not the nice where you’re like, “Oh her? Yeah she’s pretty nice,” but actually nice, which made up for the whole voice thing. So nice that if you asked me to line up everyone I knew since birth in order of who I thought was capable of murder, she would be maybe fourth to last. She oozed innocence in an almost annoying way. I never wondered what she did on the weekends because I felt as though I already knew she stayed in and did homework by choice.

I learned once that people in pain tend to create false versions of themselves in order to cope with life.

As the story grew and pictures of her haunted every news channel, I discovered more about her than I ever thought existed. I discovered through media alone that she had a tattoo of a semicolon behind her ear, a symbol of hope for those battling thoughts of suicide to imply that although they could have ended their story, they chose to keep going.

Over time it was revealed that she participated in the murder in order to feel a part of something. She claimed she felt as though she was a member of a “secret club” with someone, her partner in crime, who “understood her.” Any person hearing this story would feel sorry for the dead girl and I did, but I also felt sorry for my childhood acquaintance, sorry that this was her way out.

In my apartment you’ll find things like colorful throw pillows serving absolutely no purpose, a hand painted sign that says “never chase anything but drinks and dreams,” and a wall full of cut and pasted Franzia wine boxes. Typical college girl stuff. In the murderer’s dorm they found the thirteen-year-old’s Minions blanket and a pink cellphone, all stuffed into the same bag the body was.

She began breaking and entering into my dreams and pleading to me that she did not do it. I finally decided she and her walls were the same, loud and girly. Covering truth with pink or purple paint. I was angry.

In what seemed like no time at all, our childhood recreational activity became her reality. Except this time there was no one there to tag her out. No jail that ceased to be a jail when it got dark outside, just a cell in darkness and in light. No paint to cover the cold, dry, cement walls. No fairies. No castles.

img_1871Renae Tucker is an undergraduate at Salisbury University majoring in English, concentrating in creative writing, and minoring in ethnic and global literature. She was the associate fiction editor for Scarab, Salisbury’s in-house literary journal.