The Whipping Tree

Hannah - Eau Claire, Wisconsin
Entered on February 27, 2008
Age Group: 18 - 30

I believe that pain has the power to heal.

As a young child I thought I could carry the burdens of the world on my own and remain standing, but I have learned to release my pain and hold onto my family in order to survive.

My parents divorced when I was eight years old, destroying my childhood days. My mom moved into a rusty trailer, somehow managing to squeeze my younger sister and me in with the rabid raccoon stalking our backyard, hornets attacking the front door, and the skunk hiding out underneath. Despite all the company, I felt terribly alone in a world that I no longer had control of.

Every Sunday I would travel back and forth between my mom’s and dad’s houses. I always wondered how I could rip myself into two as they had done to each other, but my life evolved into a game of tug-of-war, my heart constantly pulled apart. Duffle bags, garbage bags, and paper bags. I’d throw my shuffled existence into a few miscellaneous containers and stretch out my life between both homes. The minute I began to settle down into one house it was time to pack up again and return to the other. I didn’t ask for this. I didn’t chose to live two separate lives. Couldn’t my parent’s move back and forth, back and forth? NO. I was the one detached from my life like a weary nomad, torn between two towns. And my heart ached with loneliness.

Nights were the worst because the darkness provoked my tears and reminded me of my solitary state. Sleeping in my mom’s trailer was like going to bed in a haunted house. My sister and I shared a tiny bedroom with a bunk bed split on either side. We traded off which bed we courageously crawled into, but both were nightmares. The upper bunk had a pitch black corner with spiders and even with my eyes shut tight, I could still feel the cold glare of all their beady eyes. The lower bunk, however, was like sleeping in a coffin. In the dead of night mice would squeak and scratch on the other side of the wall, as if they had been buried alive and were trying to escape their sealed caskets. As I tossed and turned throughout those sleepless nights, all I wanted to do was escape my own.

“Go to the whipping tree,” my mother would tell me when the hand of divorce grasped my life and fury raged from my entire being. I was too small a child to carry such a heavy pain. I’d march up the dirt path in our backyard and square myself in front of that maple tree, break off a branch and grip the stick tight in my hand. My muscles tightened, jaw clenched, face flushed with red fury. Why did my parents break up? Why did my mom live in this shitty tin box? Why was God punishing my family? Why couldn’t I fix it?

My entire body convulsed as I repeatedly slashed the swaying tree, my screams shaking its frightened leaves and tears spilling from my eyes. Heart throbbing, triceps aching, I made my final blow. Amidst the sudden silence, I heard a soft cry. My mom and sister were standing behind me with understanding eyes and sticks in hand, waiting for their turn. Once we all hit the whipping tree and all our anger was spent, we collapsed into a long embrace, clinging onto each other like we were clinging onto life itself. We knew that we could not carry our pain alone, but must hold onto each other to survive.

The tree was nothing special, but it was my family’s whipping tree, and instead of exploding our fury out on each other, we would hit the tree and it would take our anger from us. Its bruised bark was our hurt and hatred; its scars felt my family’s sorrow. I realized that not only me, but every member of my family held a stick, held pain. And knowing that my burdens and my pain were also their burdens and their pain connected our hearts, and gave us the power to heal as one. At the end of the day our battles were fought, but we survived it together. Divorce broke my family down, but it also brought us together through shared suffering and formed a bond even stronger than before.