I remember someone reading this book to me when I was younger, and they talked about how important it is to be giving. Bullshit. I was mad at the time, about what happened to Tree.
Then years later, I reread it and thought maybe this story was about unconditional love and that I’m just a failure at that concept and should try to learn something about it.
I just recently reread this, and that is not at all the message of this story (neither giving nor unconditional love). It took me years to recognize that and realize how wrong these behaviors are (on both sides).
Here’s the real story/message of this book:
Once upon a time, there was a lonely, isolated tree, who had no support network of family and friends to show her what love and friendship really are. There was also nobody to kick her in the pants and tell her that she deserves good things in her life and relationships with others.
Intro Boy, who was a complete user, but since he’s small at first, he gets a pass for some of his poor behaviors. We excused his abuses, as kids have no inherent malice. At least he spent time with Tree, and he thought he loved her.
And Tree was supposedly happy, though we have to ask ourselves, does tree know that love should come with respect? That she should be able to trust those she loves?
Time went by, and the spoiled Boy grew up into a self-centered prat. He cared nothing for the tree, only his own greed and desires, but since Tree had serious boundary issues, Tree gave up her apples to please the boy, something he took for granted since he was an unappreciative bastard.
Tree should have known it would never be enough, but she trusted Boy. She thought she loved Boy. She wanted Boy, because it is hard to be isolated. So she didn’t see that Boy was selfish, and his love was false. She didn’t see that Boy only took from her and never gave anything back.
Boy stole away all her apples and abandoned Tree again, without so much as a thank you.
And Tree thought this was normal, because it had always been this way. She lied to herself about being happy, as she had learned to expect nothing better from Boy than to be used and mistreated. It was depressing that Tree couldn’t respect herself enough to develop a healthy relationship, so depressing that Tree was hollow and colorless.
Then Boy returned, and the cycle repeated. He cut away at her, taking more and more, risking her life, health, and overall well-being. And Tree’s heart broke again.
Poor tree. She couldn’t break away from his emotional manipulations, because she thought Boy was giving her what she thought she deserved. Nothing.
She truly believed that if she gave Boy everything, one day it would be enough, and he would love her again. Tree didn’t know that users like that are incapable of the kind of love she deserved.
So Boy took and took from Tree, year after year, trying to make himself happy with material wealth (spoiler alert: people like that are never happy). And Tree suffered the cycle of abuse, over and over again, getting nothing in return, not even Boy’s love or Boy’s time.
By the end, Tree couldn’t even recognizer herself. Boy had hacked away at everything that was beautiful about Tree, until she had nothing of herself left. And then she was so beaten down and brutalized that she became unhappy, though she had difficulty even admitting it to herself. She had done everything for Boy, to try to please him, because she thought that would make him happy. She failed to even consider what would make herself happy.
And we all thought that would be the moment when Tree would rise up and fight for herself. That she had finally reached rock bottom and would have no choice but to step away from an abusive situation and try to start reclaiming some of herself. But she didn’t, because she refused to admit that Boy was the problem.
So Boy came back, and Tree immediately began apologizing because she couldn’t figure out what to give of herself to make Boy happy this time. She was already practically dead and had been exposed to rot, disease, and pests, due to Boy’s brutality. She didn’t even have her self-respect. She was empty and said she had nothing left. And we all believed her, because we watched it happen in horror.
And Boy again disregarded Tree completely to focus on his needs and how tired he was, because he was quite possibly the most selfish prick to have ever graced the page. So to add insult to continuous injury, the boy sat on her, further crushing Tree beneath the weight of his abuse and neglect.
And Tree lied to herself and said she was happy with the little strand of life she had left, because she thought that the only value and purpose her life had was in her complete service to Boy, at the total expense of herself.
She didn’t wave her branches in the breeze, or shelter a nest of baby birds (because Boy cut her branches). She didn’t see new trees spring up from her apples to grow tall with her and become her friends (because Boy stole her apples, further ensuring her isolation and unhappiness). She didn’t reach her full potential, because she never considered that her life was worth something more than complete servitude to someone else’s wishes and desires.
Tree was depressed and lying to herself. Boy was depressed and worrying about himself. The reader is now depressed.
This is the most horrific effing story of abuse to ever enter a child’s hands, and since 22% of women and 7% of men experience abuse in their lifetime, perhaps it’s time to retire this extremely dated and sexist story, for the sake of all genders. Let’s not applaud the behaviors of Boy or Tree. They’re both wrong in their actions and choices, and people shouldn’t behave in these ways. It’s dangerous and unhealthy.
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233