Image of The Current - The Current
Originally published in the Short Story Dispensers at Iowa University Libraries
When I was a kid, I was very nervous about what I would be when I grew up. It honestly consumed me. I was constantly trying new things so I could see what felt right. At seven years old, I begged my mom to let me take a dance class and then it was science camp followed by piano lessons. In elementary school, I asked my pediatrician if I could spend the day with her and see if I was meant to be a doctor. I went to all of the career fairs and followed my parents around at work. I asked everyone who I met what job they thought I should have. They always gave me very different answers. They'd suggest an artist or an accountant or a teacher. My dad used to tell me to join the circus. None of these jobs seemed like the right fit for me.

I think that the hardest part about my endless search was the tiniest belief in a story that my nanny used to tell me. Before I started worrying so much about my future job, she used to talk about a special tree that grew in the center of her town. It was magnificent, she'd say. The tallest and most beautiful tree that she'd ever seen and would probably ever see in her lifetime. Each season it would change color and not in the conventional way that I was used to. It would transform from red to orange to yellow to green to blue to purple and sometimes it would radiate gold almost like a broken mirror facing the sun. She said that everything in her town was ordinary except for the tree and that it would really show its magic on each child's sixteenth birthday. The branches would expand and a book would slowly sprout and bloom. She loved watching the books grow.

This was always a difficult part of the story for me. I figured she was confused and would remind her that books were made from paper that came from trees, that they didn't actually grow from the branches. She'd then remind me that not everything that matters in this world makes sense. So I started to keep my questions to myself and just listened. She'd tell me that this tree didn't grow just any ordinary books but special ones with instructions for the future. The books would guide children and let them know who they were meant to be. They would visit the tree on their birthday and wait for their book to drop. She remembered the first time that she watched one of her friends get his book. He made the most incredible cakes, and they all knew what kind of book he'd get. He sat under the tree wearing his chef's hat and sure enough a red cookbook fell right into his lap. He got exactly what he always wanted just like their friend who twirled under her book in a faded purple tutu and danced with it as soon as it fell into her hands.

Not every child knew what book they'd get. Most of them didn't, especially my nanny. She was a lot like me, always confused about what she was meant to do with her life. So on her birthday, she got all dressed up in an aquamarine dress that her grandmother had made her. She felt ready for her future and got there early to watch her book. She said that day was the first time she ever saw the tree that silver. It looked like it was covered in hundreds of stars. She sat on a blanket and waited until 6:08 pm, the exact anniversary of her birth. There were a few yellow and white books fully grown on neighboring branches, but she spotted a sky blue book and knew that it was meant for her. Once the minute hand passed eight, her book fell right into her hands. It was small and delicate and became her greatest treasure. She said that she was surprised when she read the title and it took her years to truly understand the meaning of it.

She never told me what it was. I don't think that I ever asked either. I just assumed that it was a book about nannying. I also thought that her story about the tree was made up, so I listened to it like it was her favorite fairy tale.

Over the years, she asked me a few times if I wanted to visit the tree. She said that it would be a very long journey but she'd take me there. I was in my late twenties the last time she asked and reminded her that I was too old to get my book and I couldn't take any more time off of work. We'd eventually change the subject and I'd travel back home. I lived across the country and only saw her once a year on the holidays. I had changed jobs and states too many times to count and hadn't quite figured out my place in the world.

After she passed away, I finally made the trip back to her town for the memorial service. I found her tree as soon as I arrived. She was right, it was truly magnificent. The tree was between seasons, and it was covered in rainbow leaves. There were hummingbirds, dragonflies and blue butterflies circling the tree, always a sign of good luck. I could hear her voice echo in my mind. It was more beautiful than I could have ever imagined, but sadly there were no books growing out of its branches. The locals did call it a fortune telling tree and said that their grandparents would tell stories about books falling from the tree like apples, but they never saw any proof.

After the memorial, there was a gift left to me by my nanny. Her good friend who looked like the ballerina from her story gave it to me and told me how much I meant to her. She also asked me to wait until my thirty-second birthday to open it.

When the day finally arrived, I untied the blue ribbon and delicately removed the tissue. There it was, her treasured book, just the way she described it. The cover was faded but etched in the center with golden cursive letters spelled the words, "To Love." The first page instructed her to find people in the world and love them as much as she could. I realized then that my nanny carried my instructions with her. My book didn't sprout from a magical tree but instead it was a special person who made it her job to love me. She had taught me to always listen and to believe in people until they believed in themselves. If we can just do that and give that gift to others then we've figured it all out.

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