It was a busy corner, but the kind where nothing really was. The roads met at wild angles, one dipping down into the elevation of the other where they were forged together by a crosswalk. The corner remained empty, barren, and lonely, all but a knee-high stone wall that was handmade and built around the edge of the sidewalk, bordering it from the nothingness. The stone wall was built by a curious and dedicated young girl with blonde hair named Hanna. “Bland,” she thought, “is of little value to anyone. And something,” she continued, “is a world better than nothing.” For if you start with nothing, then something becomes everything, you see. Now, back to Hanna and her stone wall. She had stored in her heart very little, for though her heart was immense and full of love, very little had made its way in yet to rest its claims on a share of that love. Things that grow were among the few things to have done so, anything that grows perhaps, but most particularly birds, dogs, and plants. It is strange, one could argue, for someone with such a love for plants to be a vegetarian, but another could argue that plants do not feel pain. Hanna remembered that one afternoon when she was very young she was walking along the sidewalk with her mother, not on this particular corner, but on another of similar value, when she came upon a pile of leaves on the ground. “Curious,” her young mind thought, “a leaf shaped like a little butterfly.” She turned to her mother and asked, “Well! What are these peculiarly shaped leaves called?” Her mother told her, “Why Hanna, those are ginkgo leaves and they come from ginkgo trees.”
Hanna became fascinated by these trees, but most particularly by the shape of their leaves. At a plant store with her mother on a summer weekday afternoon was where and when she found them. Three beautiful, young ginkgo trees for sale. She begged her mother, “Oh please! I’ll take care of them, as you do for me. I’ll be a great plant mom and will love them!” Reluctantly at first, her mother agreed. They arrived home where there was no practical place to plant them. “I’ll go for a walk,” said Hanna, “and find them a most suitable home!” She stayed close to home, as she promised her parents she would, and made her way through the neighborhood and down to the busy corner. The side with nothingness was owned by no one, evidently, and had no trees or buildings on it. “No, this isn’t the loveliest home for them,” she thought, “but upon their arrival this home will become lovely! It is settled, here shall be home and home here shall be.” She fetched a wagon from her garage and went collecting sturdy rocks, spending many hours over the course of a week or two building a stone wall with the help of her dad. You see, this was a busy corner, and she wanted to protect her plants from any car that might make its negligent way off of the road and towards her lovely trees. Again, it was only about knee high, but young Hanna was very small at the time and the wall seemed a great triumph of defensive shelter to her.
One tree was yellow, one was unusually red, and one was green. Hanna planted them at an angle so that the red was in the center near the rounded corner, the green was set back on its right if you were standing at the corner facing the trees, and the yellow was set back evenly with the green on its left. “The red,” thought Hanna, “is perhaps my favorite. Red is not my favorite color, but as a ginkgo tree I like it best.” She liked it so much, in fact, that she chose to dye the winsome, thin strands of blonde on her head to mirror the tree’s image. A henna dye set her hair sailing into a sunset red, on the orange side like her tree. She found a beautiful dress decorated in yellow and green circles woven into each other. She wore the dress quite often, and in it she became a ginkgo. Hanna named her trees, the names of which were lost with the trees themselves, but all of which were traditional names one would think would well suit elderly women. She would make sure her trees got water when the clouds grew selfish and wouldn’t share their rain, and made sure they at least saw the light in her lovely eyes on the days the clouds grew selfish and wouldn’t share the sun. Clouds, as it seems, are easy targets of blame for weather, soft enforcers of the sky.
As the years went by and Hanna’s age grew so did her trees, her hair, and her lovely eyes. Other things made their way into her heart. She developed a relationship with music, art, writing, books, and even the French language. She read hundreds of books sitting upon the branches of her trees, and in their presence, she wrote many stories and poems, learned to play many instruments, drew many pictures, and would even speak to her beloved trees en Français. “Vous êtes charmant, mes arbres,” said Hanna, “at least I think that’s how to say it.” Overall, she loved the winters, the beauteous coating of white snow that would fall and rest at night and in the day, mirror the glimmering of the sun. They did, though, make her sympathize for her poor cold trees, absent of their leaves, their colors, their personalities. “One day, Gentle Giants,” she began, “I will rule the sky with my birds, and we will make it shine when you need sun, and make it rain when you are thirsty, and we will tell your lovely leaves that they mustn’t go when comes the fall. One day, Gentle Giants, you will see.” Her love for her trees was unconditional and pure, but with them being trees, lovely as they were, she never quite felt the love back as much as she tried to convince herself she did. “Your leaves are so curious, Gentle Giants,” said Hanna, “for they all bear a similar shape, but to me all look of different things; much like snowflakes in that way. Some look like fans, others like umbrellas, and even others like butterflies. Like me, you are artists, and your art is beautiful. Do you know that, my ginkgoes? Oh, how I wish you could answer me.”
Lovers came and went for Hanna. All those she dated would fall deeply in love with her: her beautiful henna red hair burned by the subtle fires of orange that landed past her shoulders, her vast and lovely hazel eyes that gleamed and reflected upon her pale white skin, her sweet and eloquent way of wording her deep thoughts, her gentle voice and awkward antics, and the multitude of creative hobbies that she spent her free time engaged in. With such a perfect face, a pure heart, and a lovely soul, who wouldn’t fall in love with such a girl? Alas, they all did. But Hanna’s sizable heart was broken into sections. Her trees, for example, held a large section, her family and few close friends held another, her hobbies and talents filled yet another, and lastly was the section for a lover. It was an equally portioned section of her heart, just one she often chose not to fill, for the rest of her heart felt more than full enough to keep her satisfied, and so she never quite loved any of her lovers back the way they wished that she would. Finally, one boy came along, at a peculiar time in her life, who was just a friend at first. Neither of them were looking for love at the time, it just formed as an extension beyond a genuine new friendship, which was a natural and beautiful thing.
“My trees,” said Hanna blushing, “are lovelier than you say I am, but thank you, you’re sweet.” The two, like hearts in a fairytale, fell more in love with each other with every moment they spent together. The boy found himself lost in her eyes and her words, portals to her wondrous mind and thoughts positioned behind them. “Come,” she said taking his hand, “let’s go for a walk.” His heart soared with the migration of butterflies emerging from within it. They stepped out of her front door and felt a cool, comforting breeze blow through their hair. She walked faster than he was used to, she was so full of life and energy, and she brought out the best in him. They rounded the corner and came to a clearing of grass behind a small stone wall. He looked up and saw the enormity of her trees towering like royalty over the kingdom of their corner. They had grown tremendously over the years. “These, sweetheart, are my trees, my ginkgoes, my Gentle Giants!” She was so excited to show him, she had not shared them with the people she had dated before. This boy was special to her and was worthy of being let into this important world of hers. “They are as lovely as you, my love,” said the boy. “Hm,” she laughed, “they are lovelier.”
The boy’s love for her grew more each day, it was unconditional, and the two began to spend every moment together. They would sit under her trees and write together, and read together, they would tell stories and make each other laugh, and she would play her guitar and sing him songs. Her singing voice was soft and warm, just as it was when she spoke. A leaf from the yellow tree above them fell onto her one day when they were laying there and she caught it. “It is good luck,” he told her, “to catch a leaf that falls naturally from a tree before it hits the ground.” Hanna said, “Well it must be especially lucky coming from my trees. Here, keep it.” She gave it to the boy, who kissed her gently in return, resting his warm naturally-heated hands on her soft, pale cheeks. The boy supported her, encouraging her continued relationships with her friends, family, and trees, and reassuring her of her creativity and talents. She had all of what she loved, both the old and new, and the boy seemed to have been carved precisely to fill the final portion of her heart. She saw him through his troubles and supported him as well, and this support gave him the confidence to land himself a rewarding job in the city. It is amazing, really, the power of love. It can save lives, create life, and preserve life for an eternity. This new job meant, however, that Hanna would have to see him less often.
Hanna began reading by herself again in the branches, collecting the leaves and looking at the shapes, and writing stories about things other than her love for the boy. Like the strength of the sunlight in the winter her love for him faded away more each day, until one summer day she felt that all of it that was worth had been lost. See, she still felt love for him, but no longer wanted to love him, she wanted to love the things she had been used to loving all along, she felt comfort in it, and her deep love for the boy frightened her, so she allowed herself to let it fade away. She drove up to the city, sat down with the boy, and told him how she felt, how spending time alone again with her old life and with her trees had reminded her of what really mattered to her. She apologized, gave the weeping boy a hug and a kiss and he sobbed the blue out of his ocean eyes into her shoulder, and she drove off. She did not cry. As beautifully and suddenly as he had come into her life, quite tragically and suddenly he was gone, and of her own decision.
Everything she did was beautiful, was art, and the world was her canvas. The boy missed her dearly, and wrote her a letter expressing his unconditional love for her and of his hopes that her heart may mature and change, but she just set it down on her desk after reading it, as though it were just a newspaper or a flyer. She still thought of him all the time, she wanted to love him, but something inside of her like a guilt with a voice told her not to. He had not even been in her heart for such a long time, but into her heart he had been such a long distance. “Oh trees,” she said, “I did miss the alone time we had together. Love was great, and with such a sweet boy, but I feared that one of us might leave and hurt the other and therefore I did so before it could actually happen. You, though, will live to be quite old, and you will never leave me.” Hanna was quite right, as for years her trees grew and aged with her, becoming archaic and part of the frame work of the ever-changing busy corner. Across the corner from the trees was a local library, at which she worked for years. Part of her heart had always been with books, and after all it was English and library sciences that she had gone to school for. Her family remained close, as did her dearest friends, and her trees. She worked her dream job, like a bee protecting its beloved queen, and she stayed as busy as one. There always remained, however, a hole in her heart, in the lover section, that nobody could ever quite fill the way the boy had done. She often laid on her back in the grass, looking up at her trees and the sky in the spaces between the branches. Sometimes the sun would melt through the holes in the branches and illuminate her perfect face, causing her to squint her eyes. Her eyes, by the way, looked gorgeous when she squinted them, the big hazel spheres being squinted looked like the beaming of the sun thinning out into a long line of colorful glory over the horizon as it set at dusk. As she would lie there she would look up at the sky and see the boy’s face, his kind eyes and tender smile, that no matter how bad his mood, always seemed to form when she was around. She thought of all they did together, and of all they planned to do together but never ended up having the chance. Hanna never wept.
Years went by and Hanna kept to herself, tending to the books in her library and writing stories of her imagination’s will. She got older, and older, and eventually she was old, like the women who would normally wear the names that she gave to her trees. She kept up fluency in French, and upon retiring decided to treat herself to a trip to France. “I will be back soon, my Gentle Giants,” she told her trees, “you take care now, don’t go throwing hissy fits and losing branches in my absence, you behave and mind the corner.” With that she crossed the street, turned to take one last look at her corner, and headed away. France was lovely, and it was the coastline of Marseilles there that mostly won the honorable love from in her heart. Upon returning home a month later she went to visit her gorgeous ginkgoes. The land upon which they stood was apparently part of the closest property, unbeknownst to her throughout the decades. The house had sold once or twice, but nobody ever seemed to mind or even notice Hanna’s comings and goings with her trees there. This time, though, it sold to a group of developers who wanted to build up close to the corner in an effort to bring life to it, and in doing so they took away the only life there; her lovely trees. Hanna stood across the street in disbelief. Her heart sunk, but still she didn’t shed a tear. “I spent all of these years,” she said quietly aloud to herself, “loving something that could never love me back.” She stared into the emptiness before her, the pile of dirt and torn up roots where for so long her trees had lived. The only remnants of her Gentle Giants were the roots entangled in the thickness of the soil and clusters of their leaves scattered all about the sidewalk.
Suddenly, it came to her. Not a thought, mind you, but an object that quite literally came to her dancing through the gentle breeze like the one that once blew through the hair of she and her boy. It was a single yellow ginkgo leaf that landed in her hand, still so youthful and soft. “It is good luck,” she thought. The boy’s face flooded her thoughts. She examined the leaf. “Curious,” she said, saddened by a wave of emotional reminiscence, “it looks just like the leaf that I gave to him.” She took one last look at the corner, which didn’t seem so busy anymore, and headed back home to look up the boy from so many moons ago. “It grieves me,” said an unfamiliar voice over the phone, “to inform you that he has passed.” Her heart sunk even further and she felt as though her soul was being sucked through the very hole in her heart left from where the boy’s love once was. She learned that his ashes had been spread over his favorite beach, for other than her, he loved nothing more than the beloved ocean, much as she had loved her trees, only he made room in his heart for her too. “You, sweet boy,” she began, choking up, “were the only thing, the only one, to ever truly love me back. The pages I read, the notes I played, the stories I wrote, the birds I sang to, and the trees I nourished never truly loved me back. Ever, sweet boy, it was only you.” With that she finally shed a tear, which trickled down her face and onto the leaf that she held in her hand as she brought it to her lips to kiss it. She let it go, and it giddily danced in the wind and landed gently on the surface of the ocean and floated peacefully atop the subtle surf.
As if in a dream she saw the boy, he appeared above the water walking towards her. He was young, as she remembered him, and she looked at her reflection in his glistening ocean eyes and realized that she was wearing her old green and yellow dress and was young again, if only for a moment, and if only in her mind. “Hanna,” said the boy slowly, “I had loved you in life as I’ll love you in death, for only through love will you truly live, and I want you to live this beautiful life.” Hanna’s eyes, bulbous spheres dipped in hazel, began to water and looked like the sun reflecting on the rippling surface of the ocean before her. She broke down, sobbing. “Fearing love is the biggest mistake I ever made in this life. And now you have died, my sweet boy; you are dead. How can you still love me, why do you still love me?” He smiled warmly as she had always been able to make him do and he said, “Because death, Lovely Soul, is a condition, and my love for you is unconditional. You shed for me tears, tears of love, which is all I ever needed. Love. I love you Hanna, always, and you need never fear or question that. Now live, my darling, and I will always be there filling the hole in your heart with my love.” He kissed her gently as he had always done, and put his hands on her smooth, pale cheeks and ran them down to her soft hands, which he also kissed gently before letting go of. He smiled at her one last time, so warmly, and turned. She noticed the three trees appear behind him above the water, at the same angle with the red tree centered and standing slightly closer than the other two. He climbed the red ginkgo tree until he was covered by the branches, and then with them he vanished. Her true love gave his soul eternal peace.
Hanna visited the beach often and would talk to the boy, and every time she would see the same, uniquely shaped yellow ginkgo leaf floating around on the surface of the water, comforting her. “He is there, listening,” she thought, “and he is lost in my eyes and my words as he always was.” She smiled at the water the way he always smiled at her. “I am lucky,” she said aloud, “to have had you, sweetheart. I wish I had trusted myself to love you all along, but believe me when I say it to you now; I love you.” A warm and refreshing breeze blew in from the water and through her long, henna red hair, and sent the ginkgo leaf gliding towards her across the surface of the gentle ocean water.