Colleen's Corner: The Girls In The Willow Tree
©2020, Colleen Irwin. All rights reserved.

Nobody seemed to understand why she was always tired, but then again nobody ever asked. Back then people didn't talk about what happens behind closed doors. She awoke to her parents fighting yet again, after falling asleep to them arguing about her. Both were pointing fingers at their disappointment at her progress at school and her overactive imagination.

Her bedroom was next to her parents' room. She heard every conversation. Being the oldest child, she also listened as each parent complained about the other. She knew more she should at eight years old. Her father had violent outbursts that were not just at her mother, but at her as well. Terrible things happened when nobody was watching. He was the ideal father in public, in private he was a monster.

This was the first day of summer vacation and she didn't have to be anywhere. Her father would be asleep for hours and her brothers were with her grandmother next door. She would have a few hours of freedom.

As soon as her mother left for work, she hurriedly dressed in her favorite denim shorts, a halter-top her aunt had made for her, tube socks, and sneakers. Quickly she washed up, made a peanut butter sandwich for breakfast and out the back door she flew, down the stairs to the backyard.

As she passed her grandfather, he asked her to pick more dandelions that day. He was busy tending to his tomatoes in his garden before it got too hot. She ate her sandwich on the run and headed deeper into the backyard. With every step she felt lighter and the smile on her face got bigger.

Following the path, she crossed over a small stream on an old board and came upon a familiar shaded area that had become her sanctuary. Just on the other side was a farmer's field. This year corn was growing. Soon it would be a wonderful place to hide from the other neighborhood kids. There were three stately willow trees just next to the little stream. Frogs could be heard in the water.

Sliding in between the branches of the willows, there was a clearing. One of her friends was waiting patiently. Today she was dressed in a pretty yellow floral dress and a white pinafore over it. Her dress did not deter her friend, as she was just as much a tomboy as the girl. She carried a beautiful porcelain doll with her. Her curled pigtails were so cute.

The girl had pigtails too, until her mother had cut them off into a pixie style. Her mother was too busy to deal with the girl's emotional outbursts. Cutting her hair was a punishment. Her mother wanted a more obedient child. Instead she got a child that became more withdrawn, sullen and now very afraid. Everyone in her family thought the pixie cut was adorable. She was devastated. If they only knew. If only her mother had taken the time to understand what was happening.

Her friend was funny and always encouraging her to be happy. Even if it was just a few moments every day. Today was different, and they both knew it without saying a word. The two kindred spirits climbed the tree to their favorite spot.

There waiting for them were two other girls. One was a fairy wearing a purple outfit that matched her wings, who cut her hair to match the girl's. Every time she moved there was glitter. The second was a little red headed girl in pigtail braids much like Anne of Green Gables. They would talk about what was going on in her home, and the girl felt safe. This place had been special and full of happiness.

Earlier that week, the three girls had encouraged her to talk with her grandmother about what was happening. That had not gone the way they had wanted. Her grandmother yelled at her for making up such tales. The girl's eyes filled with tears as she shared with her friends what she was going to have to do.

She talked of the argument her parents had the night before which bled into the morning. Something had been said—she broke the rules. Parents are meant to protect children, not hurt them. Her parents should have been mad at themselves. They decided that their daughter was to blame. Children often don't understand that parents are wrong. Instead, they internalize that they are wrong. Her friends couldn't convince her otherwise.

So, she said to her friends, it was her imagination that was out of control and she must grow up and become responsible. She barely passed at school and could not relate to her classmates. Her real friends weren't even real. The girl knew she was going to have to say good-bye to her kindred spirits in the willow tree.

If she could be the daughter her mother wanted, it would stop her parent's arguments. More importantly, end her father's violent outbursts. If she was a perfect daughter, all the bad things would stop. Her friends didn't think it was the best thing to do, but they knew she needed to do what felt right. They did not judge her decision. They knew the refuge she found in the willow trees was surrounded by love and happy thoughts. They hoped she could escape for a time from the miserable existence she had at home.

Off in the distance she heard her grandmother calling her for lunch. Her friends wiped her tears and told her it would be okay and that they would be there for her whenever she needed them. They each hugged her and watched her leave the shade of the Willow Tree before disappearing.

She would now be the responsible child, the one that took care of everyone's needs but her own. For years she would avoid that area of the yard, easier to ignore than feel the loss. Her parents finally divorced and she was moved away. Her friends in the willow tree tried to reach her. They never gave up on her and were never very far from her although she did not know it. They left a trail for her to find them when she was ready.

Years later, she found a photo of herself at that time. All of a sudden the memories of her friends flooded back and soon she was connected with them on another fantastical journey of healing and hope.