Big Green Tree

From late 2007 through early 2009, I worked as a school therapist in a wealthy area. What at first seemed like a dream job soon became the worst experience of my adult life.

Everyone has secrets, but when you throw in lots of money and power… the trouble only seems to grow.

One child came into school with bruises all over his back. When the nurse asked what had happened, the young boy claimed to have no idea what bruises were. After a lengthy discussion, he explained that the dark areas were "Penalty Marks". He got one for every wrong answer when his father held home math quizzes.

The deed was bad enough, but the result… or lack thereof… was worse. I reported the incident to the authorities and assumed everything would be taken care of. Much to my surprise, they came back asking why I was so interested in the boy. The implication was clear. Since the father was a pillar of society, I must have been trying to cause trouble.

Things like that can crush your spirit.

One young girl, Antonia, and the secret within her family finally caused me to move on to other work. She was a mouse of a thing who always hid behind her dry, wheat-like falls of light blonde hair. Every so often she'd wedge herself in the corner of the classroom and would refuse to talk to anyone. It was almost like a miniature panic attack.

She was the child of a single mother, and you have to expect a bit of acting out from kids who had gone through divorce.

"Antonia, can you tell me why you're upset?" I have no idea how many times I had to ask her that same question.

No response.

"She was drawing right before she, ah," the teacher struggled to find an appropriate term, "before she went in a different direction than the rest of the class."

She could've said worse, I suppose.

I moved to Antonia's desk and pick up her drawing. Crouching next to her, on her level, I studied the artwork while hoping she'd join me.

"This is nice!" I cooed, "Look at this. I see you here with the yellow hair… and this must be your Mommy. That's a nice big green tree between you! Look at that yellow Sun!"

Still crouched in a ball, Antonia peeked up from her knee for the briefest moment.

"Can I keep this drawing?" I asked, knowing that had to illicit a yes or no response.

She nodded slightly. It wasn't what I'd hoped for, but at least I was getting somewhere. Every time she did this, I had to find a new way to get through to her. Most of the time she did the same drawing, almost exact down to the line. This was the only time I'd thought to include it in our conversation.

"Well, thank you. I'm glad." I studied the picture carefully, as if I was deciphering Mona Lisa's smile.

"You're welcome…" Antonia whispered.

That was the sign I needed. She was going to come around again, and within moments she'd be back with the rest of the class.

"Can you write your name on it for me?" My attention shifted to her hands, white-knuckled and clasping her shoes, "If I get you a crayon, can you come out and write down who everyone is?"

Antonia gave a slight nod again, and her hands suddenly unclasped as if they had been glued in place. I retrieved a crayon and handed it to the child along with her drawing. She inched out of the corner, placed the page on the floor, and began to write her name.

"There we go." I smiled.

When I stood back up and spoke with the teacher, my second job came into play. I wasn't just charged with the mental health of the students, but the teachers as well. Sure, it wasn't in the job description… but any time something like this happened, they turned to me just the same.

"Do you think she's well-suited for the class atmosphere?" the teacher asked.

"Of course," I touched her arm reassuringly, "She has some issues to work through, clearly, but you're doing a fantastic job with her. I think there's no better place for her than right here with you."

The teacher gave a relieved look, and I knew I was two for two.

"Here." Antonia stepped up beside me and gingerly pressed the drawing into my hand.

"Thank you so much, Antonia. I'm going to put this right up in my office!"

It wasn't an idle promise. The quickest way to erase years worth of confidence building is to get caught lying. The next time she came by, she'd be looking to see where I'd hung the picture.

I put the image up on my corkboard with a few tacks. It lent a cheerful mood to the surface, which was otherwise covered in drab post-its and odd scraps denoting meetings and appointments that were anything but fun.

Sitting back at my desk, I leaned back and studied the drawing again. A self-satisfied grin spread across my face. If I could get through to Antonia, things weren't that bad. I figured I could handle the job after all.

I read the labels she had written. My smile quickly faded.

At the feet of the yellow-haired girl: "ANTONIA".

At the feet of the large, mannish mother figure: "I DON'T KNOW".

Well beneath the tree: "MOMMY".

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 License.