I remember when the tree in our garden was small.
It's branches reached up into the sky, searching for something, anything. Young and hopeful. I remember us standing next to it, fingertips stretched out as we tried to reach its tallest leaves. I remember the first time I touched them, the pride I felt as you watched, laughing. You'd been able to touch it months before I ever could.
It was taller when we started high school.
Remember when we used to sit in its branches, swinging our legs and threatening to push each other off? Mum always told us to be careful: it wasn't strong enough to support us, she said. It must've been though, because its branches never snapped. Neither of us ever fell.
After a while, you had so much studying to do you couldn't sit with me every night. You never knew, but Mum used to shout after dark when she realised I'd been sitting there for hours. I practised jumping down and running in quickly so I wouldn't get in trouble. There's a scar above my knee from when I jumped a moment too fast.
I thought about how you'd never have stayed out after dark. You always did the right thing. I was jealous of you then. Mum never seemed angry at you.
When you left for college, it was fully grown.
Mum didn't shout at me for sitting outside anymore. She said I was too old to be shouted at. Besides, I'd be leaving for college too in a year, and there'd be nobody to shout at me there. I had to learn to look after myself. The first few nights after you'd left, I sat in its branches as it grew dark, leaning against the thickest branch of the tree. It was big enough then that it wasn't uncomfortable to sit in, and I never had to worry about falling. Mum looked at me funny when I stumbled inside at sunrise, tired and sad, eyes red from missing you. She never said anything though: I was too old to be told off.
When I left for college, I thought about the tree.
In the afternoons I would lie in my new room, eyes burning through the ceiling as I wondered why I'd left - why you hadn't warned me about how tiring this all was. How lonely it felt. Work piled up beside me as I slept through classes, missed assignments and refused to think about any of it. I remember worrying as I lay there, still as my ceiling, that one day everything would crash down on top of me and I'd be crushed under the weight of everything I hadn't done. I wished I had the courage to phone you. Or just send a text.
I wanted to be back home. I longed to feel like I did when we were kids. I thought about our dumb competitions - how we'd see who could climb to the top of the tree, who could run from the house to the tree and back fastest. You always won, of course, but that didn't matter. It was fun.
It was in September that year that Mum phoned me, voice small and restrained.
I didn't know how to respond. I said "okay", put the phone down, and didn't speak to her until 2 weeks later when I got the train home for your funeral.
I didn't cry at your funeral. I'm sorry - I just couldn't. Everything felt unreal, like I was in the middle of some strange dream that would end in an hour. I thought I might wake up and be five again, reaching up towards the tallest leaves on the tree, hearing your laugh from behind me. The thought that you were gone was too much.
Yesterday, Mum cut down the tree.
She didn't tell me but I heard a chainsaw outside. I watched from my room as it's branches fell to the ground and I thought of you. I thought of every time you'd sat perched in those branches, just out of reach, and I cried. I thought of all the times we'd raced back and forth between the tree and our house, you just inches ahead of me. My chest ached and my body curled in on itself, my hands closed tightly into fists and my eyelids screwed shut. I never got to say goodbye to you.