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Eucalyptus Memorial

Rafael Milan-Mingoa

A part of me is forever trapped in a circle of eucalyptus trees. Eucalyptus, like my childhood friend's shampoo, or like the shade I used to hide under when I was much, much younger. 

Eucalyptus is an invasive plant, which was fitting for the man-made clearing it surrounded. The fences were always half-rotted, and the trees always shed their bark and leaves across the pathways surrounding it. On bright, autumn days, I could almost romanticize the gray-green of their leaves, and the sound of the sea wind rustling through their branches. 

We settled on this clearing, exactly one mile away from my school. We chose it carefully; it needed to be near a running trail, it needed to be surrounded by nature, and the sea needed to be within view. We didn't care that the clearing was surrounded by trees that shed their bark as often as I changed my hair, or that the leaves would sometimes cover up your plaque and hide your memorial from strangers' eyes. It was a good spot, and we thought you would be happy here. 

Before, we used to garden in the shades of the blue gum trees. The rangers placed two massive planting pots for my sister and me, and we would don our pristine gloves and dig our fingers into the wet dirt. We pulled up dead roots, replaced any annual flowering bushes we had bought, and replanted new life into the area. We waged war on the squirrels for eating our flower bulbs, and offered our harvest of tiny lemons to the rangers that stopped by. There was a family here, four instead of three, and for a short while, we were happy.

Four became three, and three became two, and I made the pilgrimage to your memorial twice a week after school. It became a routine, of sorts, to buy my drink and sandwich at the Starbucks nearby and make the one-mile uphill trek to visit you, resting in the clearing, surrounded by your awful, awful trees. It was just the two of us, now. I would wipe down your bench, and trace my fingers over the last message I had for you, and do my homework without saying a word. Two were just two, and we were content with that. We always were.

The annuals dying in the planters were slowly replaced; transforming into evergreens and other native perennials that I researched in the school library. You would have preferred that, especially with the invasive eucalyptus surrounding your bench. I'd heard your lecture on environmental issues plenty of times before. 

There was peace to be found here. It didn't feel like home, despite the same sunny warmth, despite the same trees that used to line the field behind our backyard fence, despite staring past the tree line into the shimmering blue of the sea. I mulled over this for ages. I came to the conclusion that it was because none of these things could ever replace you. 

You stayed there for a decade, but I left after eight years. I came to say my final goodbyes, and brought over my letter confirming my graduation. I would not visit you for the remainder of your time there—I had to focus on university, after all. If you could talk, you would've agreed. You would have summoned your body from a cemetery twenty miles away and reanimated it just to carry me out of the park. I stayed longer that day, staring into the sea that you would've loved for us to run beside. I never saw you again, but I hoped you enjoyed your stay there. Two became one, and one was finally laid to rest. 

There is no memorial upon that hill. There is just an empty plot, with two identical stains from the planters that I used to spend my afternoons digging through. The fallen branches and bark from the eucalyptus trees do well to cover the dark marks, though, rendering the evidence of your stay hidden from everyone but me.

I hope to find you again, sometime, inside a circle of eucalyptus trees. We could sit on the rotting, creaking fence, and listen to the sea. You could complain about the amount of upkeep needed to maintain invasive trees. We could make the clearing our home next time, in another life. 

This piece is from the first issue of Topograph. Consider subscribing to our newsletter or donating to support our work.

Rafael Milan-Mingoa is a writer, visual artist, and scientist from California. He spent his childhood exploring the natural world, and fell in love with trying to comprehend life and how absurd our existence is. He spends his free time studying emerging diseases, sketching, and taste-testing new teas from around the world.

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