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A tree grows in Little Rock

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BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson

Over the Labor Day weekend, a tree quietly grew downtown.

Dizzy's Gypsy Bistro has long been a favorite restaurant of ours. The owner, Darla Huie, is good people. Wacky, but in a good way. Then again, you've got to be a little nuts to be in the restaurant business.

Her son, Lane, grew up in the restaurant. They propped him up on crates as a child so he could help pat out the biscuits. He mopped. He washed dishes. He worked can to can't. But as a young man, he wound up on the treadmill of addiction and relapse. Last year, when he was just 27, they lost him.

"He had gotten sober, gotten a prescription for Xanax, [and] decided he needed to get off that," Darla said. "He went cold turkey. I was out of town, and he told [a friend] he was having seizures. He told her, 'Don't tell Mom, I don't want to worry her.' He had a seizure while he was driving and hit a tree. He died getting sober."

Like a lot of young men, women had drifted in and out of Lane's life. One of them was Kim. She and Lane were together for four years, but addiction broke that, too. "He developed a drug problem and she was like, 'I don't know what to do,' " Darla said. "I told her, 'You're planning on moving to go to school, so move and he'll get his stuff together and then he'll come find you.' Well, he went to rehab and they never got back together."

Eventually, Kim married an artist and filmmaker from Lake Havasu, Ariz., named John Tuba. They've got a good life there. A few months ago, Kim came back to Arkansas to see Darla and try to pack up her feelings about Lane. She had John in tow. "She walked in the house and started crying," Darla said. "She looked at all the pictures and cried. She kept talking about Lane in front of him. He was real quiet ... I thought, 'I hope we're not making him uncomfortable or mad.' "

For two nights, Darla said, John sat and listened while his wife laughed and cried over her old love, a man John had never met. Darla worried over his silences. But when they got ready to leave, John told her that he would be back on Labor Day, because he wanted to do something for her son.

"He said, 'What do you want me to do?'And I said, 'I'm not going to tell you what to do. Do whatever you want, based on all the things you've heard.' "

While Darla said she expected that to be the end of it, come the Labor Day weekend, John and Kim showed back up at her house after a 1,400-mile drive. With Dizzy's closed for the long weekend, John borrowed Darla's car and a key to the restaurant that night. They rarely saw him for the next three days. By the time she woke up in the morning, he'd be gone. He'd slouch back to her sleeping house, covered in paint, at 2 a.m.

On Monday, when Darla and Kim were finally allowed back into Dizzy's, a tree had grown there, on a blank, gray wall near the window. It's a lovely thing: nine feet tall, with gnarled, spreading branches covered in delicate blue leaves; a Tree of Life, in the style of a mosaic Darla bought in Istanbul. It's got 40 sleepless, irreplaceable hours of John Tuba's life sunk into it. A single, thorny rose sprouts from a knot. Fruiting the branches are Day of the Dead skulls, a nod to how Darla's family sees death as turning the page of a bigger story, not an ending. A carefully wrought paper scroll, seemingly affixed to the trunk with a rusty nail, features a selection of lyrics from one of Lane's favorite songs, including the line "Goodbye, my love." And a heart. And his name.

So much love. So much loss. So many memories and dashed hopes and all tragedy, encapsulated there, improbably made by a man who couldn't have been faulted had he taken the low road instead, had believed that his wife's ex was better forgotten. Ain't that a man, then, who would make such a gesture? Not many would do that, The Observer contends. Not half by a long shot.

When Darla talks about the tree, she calls it "he" sometimes, blurring the seam between the tree and the memory of her son. Talking to her, hearing her do that, The Observer wondered if she realized it. We thought to ask, but we let it go, mostly because there was something heartbreakingly lovely about it. Her son, some part of him, is at the restaurant again.

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