The Beach Trees Gave Me a New Perspective on Running Away from Problems

BlogHer Review

I was pregnant with my oldest son when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, so I would sit up during my hours of pregnancy induced insomnia and watch the coverage with tears streaming down my cheeks. As I delved into Karen White's novel, The Beach Trees, I was taken back to those days and nights of praying and crying for people I didn't know. But more than a beautiful story about building up again after a tragedy, I was most struck about the stories of those who were missing and how they affected family members.

It may strike those who know me well to know that I haven't always been perfect. I know, I know. Shocking. But as a college student with undiagnosed anxiety, I had some issues. One summer when the weight of the world felt like too much to handle, I ran away to the coast to stay with a friend. Not so much to get my head together but to avoid dealing with anything that was waiting for me at home. Smart, right?

I was really kind of shocked that my mother reacted as she did. I mean, I was 20 years old! I was an adult! I could go away for extended periods of time and not call. Insert a foot stomp and a haughty look with horribly dyed hair and you have 20-year-old me. Just as stubborn as ever but without the knowledge or understanding as to how that stubbornness affected those I loved.

In reading how Monica's disappearance affected her brother Trey and her grandmother Aimee, I was forced to reevaluate that time in my life from a different perspective. Now with years of mothering under my belt, I can tell you that I would move hell and high water to find my 18-year-old child if she ran away. Or my 12-year-old child if she was kidnapped, like Chelsea. Or my 20-year-old headstrong, anxiety laden daughter. Or my sons. And if I couldn't find them, my life would be forever altered, forever taken on a different course. My life would revolve around finding them, just as Trey said he searched for his sister everyday. Just as Monica kept checking websites for clues about her sister's disappearance. Just as Aimee told Julie that her sister's kidnapping and the belief that she was still out there had given her life a purpose, a reason to go on.

I've already apologized to my mother and father for what we refer to as my Overly Anxious and Overly Headstrong years, but reading this book with the understanding that parenting has given me has softened my heart even more to what I put them through during that time. Monica may have run away to hide a big family secret thinking it would protect them all, but she left a lot of hurt and confusion in her wake. Julie may have spent years searching for her missing sister, but she missed a lot of life that was in front of her waiting to be lived. I'm glad I came home (and experienced an extended period of embarrassing adult-aged "grounding"); I would never forgive myself if I had left my family in ruins simply because I didn't want to (or, really, couldn't) deal with what was on my plate.

Perhaps if a Katrina Tree could be carved from me, it should be of one turning from a donkey (ahem) into a butterfly. Or, at least something that's not a donkey. At the very least, I should make it my life's goal to make sure that any monuments left to me, in carved wood or otherwise, are not a donkey. I want to leave a legacy of hope, like the one Trey and Julie built for Beau -- and the other citizens -- when they rebuilt River Song. I know rebuilding my own life was hard enough, and I tip my hat to all of those who have had to endure so much more to rebuild.

Family Section Editor Jenna Hatfield (@FireMom) blogs at Stop, Drop & Blog and The Chronicles of Munchkin Land. She is a freelance writer and photographer.


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