What is this? A mimosa tree? Its slender branches are curved in an arc out over the ditch. Its fingerling leaves are dangling over my head. Its barkless trunk is all but hidden among the grapevines and pine trees and scrub oaks. I have walked by this very spot hundreds of times, driven by it thousands of times. How could I have never noticed a mimosa tree?
Memory overcomes curiosity and I can suddenly see the mimosa tree growing in the backyard of the duplex apartment where we lived when I was a little girl. Its branches dip so far down that even my 4-year-old arms can reach those tiny little leaves. I love that they fold in on themselves when I touch them, coquettishly resisting my attention and, moments later, reopening invitingly as though to say, “No, really, I was only teasing.”
In the shed there is a pink frying pan on the pink stove I got for Christmas. I break a branch off the mimosa tree, strip the leaves from the stem, wet them in a puddle by the back steps and then dredge them in sand. I put them in the pink frying pan on the pink stove. I am playing house. I am having a fish fry. I would like to cut some of the flowers, put them in a Coca-Cola bottle as a centerpiece for my table, but I know better. The frothy filaments of mimosa blossoms wilt faster than morning glories.
But they are so beautiful, the color of deep pink associated with Florida and Silver Springs and swimsuits with halter tops and sweetheart necklines, things I have never actually seen, things I can know only from postcards and the labels on the big bags of oranges that the cousins from Florida bring with them when they come to visit. Once, Mama made a dance recital costume for a little girl that was just that color. It was made of satin, smooth and shiny like an evening gown, something else I had never seen. She sewed on every single sequin by hand, attached the ruffle of net onto the little derrière with stitches so tiny and tight no one could see them, and when it was finished she let me try it on and have my picture taken underneath the mimosa tree holding an umbrella made of stiff tissue paper and balsa wood.
Who knew the word glamorous at the age of 4, but that’s what I was. I knew it. I tilted my head and cocked my shoulder and smiled shyly at the Brownie camera, completely unaware that mine was not and never would be a dancer’s body, oblivious to the fact that the satin stretched and puckered across my round belly, incapable of comprehending that the world was anything beyond that single moment. Itchy grass. Sunshine. Mimosa tree. Mama. I realize I have stopped. I am standing in the middle of a dusty dirt road staring at a mimosa tree that is somehow the same mimosa tree that is growing in the backyard of my childhood. I am 57 and I am 4. I am wearing shorts and I am wearing a ballerina’s costume that are — Are you kidding me? — exactly the same color. I am here and I am there. It is now and it is then.
Is it possible?
Madeleine L’Engle, she who taught me of time travel and tesseracts, once remarked, “Nothing important is completely explicable.” This simultaneity, it is important. It is inexplicable. It is always and everywhere.
I will walk four miles before I return home. I will pass the mimosa tree on my way back. And in the evening breeze its leaves will quiver and send a wrinkle through time.