photo art of man with heart-shaped hole in chest

Therapy Tree by Joe Kapitan

“What you all need,” the family therapist told us, “is a therapy tree.”

“A what?” asked Dad.

“A therapy tree. Do you have a strong tree in your yard?”

“Sure we do. Big, big oak. Rains down acorns every October.”

“Perfect. So when you feel anger toward each other, you walk away. You go outside and grab something firm and you go take it out on the tree instead. Trees can weather it. Better than any of you can, anyway.”

We tried it. We’d fight, and Dad beat shallow dents into the bark with an aluminum softball bat. Fight again, and Mom took out ragged chunks with the fireplace poker. I used our old dull axe and left bands of three-inch scars. Tina slammed her hammer on nails and screws.

If it helped us, it was hard to notice. The tree, however, thrived. In a matter of months the trunk doubled, tripled in girth. Branches shot through the walls of our bedrooms and out again through the roof. Roots punched holes in the basement walls and knotted together, an unbreakable tangle. The tree grew taller; cracks appeared in the brick above the kitchen windows. In tiny increments, one argument at a time, the upstairs was being torn from the rest.

One night in August, during a cloudburst, lightning struck the oak. The concussion caved our roof in. We stumbled through the downpour and the muck. A new crack ran down the trunk of our therapy tree, big enough to squeeze through. Inside there was room for the four of us to sit touching back to back, out of the wet. We’d never noticed, but the heartwood had completely rotted away, a disease the exact proportions of us.

The wind howled, the tree creaked. We huddled in the darkness until we fell into a half-sleep, restless, our dreams riddled with dents and scars and nails.

Joe Kapitan lives and writes and splits firewood in northern Ohio. His recent work has appeared or will appear in Midwestern Gothic, A-Minor, Hobart (Web), and Notre Dame Magazine. His collection of short-shorts is being published this summer by Eastern Point Press. He likes his cows medium-rare and topped with blue cheese. He slow-danced with a nun once, to Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing.” True story.

Lead image“The Space In Your Heart is the Perfect Size for a Family Tree” (via Flickr user Stephen Poff)