A Tree House of Refuge

Travis - Granite City, Illinois
Entered on September 15, 2006
Age Group: 18 - 30

I believe in the healing power of nature. When I was five-years old my ophthalmologist made me don an eye patch over my left eye. He claimed that because I had no muscle control over my right eye, forcing it to be my only means of vision would strengthen it and keep me from staring at my nose. He was correct. However, because of the strain put on the weak muscle, I lost what little vision I had.

During the course of that year, while my vision was deteriorating and I was being laughed at and called pirate boy, my dad left my mom. I was overwhelmed. So much trauma in so little time overloaded my young brain, and I developed a debilitating stutter. I was held hostage inside of my own body. Any attempt to verbally express myself only resulted in utter humiliation. Paranoia became a staple of my childhood. If someone was laughing in my close proximity, I thought I was the joke.

At age 10, my stutter stayed persistent. It kept me from answering questions aloud in class or making new friends. It also physically hurt. Because of the irregular use of certain neck muscles, I would get cramps and jaw pain often. My self-confidence was non-existent.

By age 13 my dad was living with us again. I hated him for what he did to us, and he hated me because every time I opened my mouth to speak it reminded him of his misdeeds.

In order to escape the gut-wrenching tension, I’d spend hours roaming the thick wooded areas around our home, climbing trees and picking mulberries. When I was climbing, my only focus was getting to the top. There was no laughter or mimicking voices to distract me. After a while, the tree forks were becoming an uncomfortable place to sit, so I built a makeshift floor in my favorite tree out of some scrap lumber.

My “tree house” became my place of refuge. The arguing and yelling couldn’t follow me there. I felt untouchable and empowered while encased in the foliage. It was my stage. I would read aloud the classics like “The Great Gatsby” and “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” without blushing. My audience didn’t care when I stammered. The trees would stay silent and everyone else continued right on chirping and scurrying.

I was 17 when my old tree was struck by lightning and practically split in half one night. I grieved like you would over the death of a relative. I had stopped stuttering around two years before that and was starting to gain a sense of self worth. Every time I raised my hand to speak or gave an oral presentation, I felt like dancing. My heart raced and my legs shook. It felt great. People say that if you’re nervous about public speaking, imagine everyone in their underwear. Not me. I just close my good eye and imagine everyone as a tree.