Lovers leave mark, but the rest is a mystery

Along one of the trails through the Fredonia college woods is a stand of more than a dozen very old beech trees. Etched into the trees’ smooth gray bark are scores of inscriptions, many of them the names of pairs of once-young lovers.

One massive tree measures nearly 4 feet in diameter at its base. It also bears the largest etchings, some of which I can assume are two or three generations old – students of the ’60s, ’70s or ’80s. Because the tree has grown so much over the years, so have the inscriptions. The boldest and most artful testament to young love on this great beech tree is titled “Matt and Kerry,” adorned with a heart that has also swollen through the years.

So you might wonder, who are Matt and Kerry? It’s fall semester, freshman year. Matt comes from Buffalo, Kerry from New York City. They meet in a music appreciation class and discover that they live in adjacent dorms, their windows facing across a courtyard. They begin meeting for coffee at the student union cafeteria. Late one night, Kerry uses a flashlight to Morse-code Matt from across the courtyard. They sneak outside after curfew, cross the star-lit athletic field, and enter the woods. It’s late October now.

On the branches above them a few remaining leaves click and shiver in the quiet breeze; beneath, a tapestry of leaves covers the forest floor, a bed of many colors and future memories.

One evening during Christmas break, Matt drives from Buffalo to Fredonia. Armed with a marker, chisel and hammer, he returns to their tryst beneath the beech tree. There he spends hours in the cold and snow, artfully carving out his affirmation.

What I have not conveyed to you are the troubles that would ensue. Matt (or Mathew of the Book) comes from an orthodox Catholic background. The name “Kerry” is really an Americanized nickname for Khadija, the name of Muhammad’s first wife. Her parents, dual citizens from Afghanistan, would never condone a union of such conflicting faiths.

So, because the will of her father is too strong, and the distance between New York and Buffalo too great, Khadija must fall away from Matt – a common, worn out story of what is not meant to be, of youthful errancy and unrequited love. One of them would make the transition systematically, the other bound to live out his life with a hole in his heart that would never be filled.

But perhaps there is another option here: A disillusioned Matt drops out of college and joins the army. He rises through the ranks quickly, and during the Iraq war he is deployed to Afghanistan. As fate would have it, Khadijah is working there as a nurse and interpreter. Matt is wounded by an IED, and is transported to the hospital where Kerry is working.

The reunion is a thing of beauty, a miracle, an oasis in the midst of a seemingly endless war. Matt and Kerry would conceive two children, each growing rich in spirit, discovering an intimacy with God not burdened by prejudice or dogma. They would be ambassadors of good will toward all.

In a modern world consumed by conspiracy theories, empty promises, and flat-out lies, I understand that you might be skeptical of my story. You might say that I am a silly dreamer, or a trickster, or that I’m barking up the wrong tree. But unless you can prove me wrong, and an alternative Matt or Kerry shows up in this newspaper to discredit me, this is my story. It is written in wood, and I’m sticking to it.


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