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Lakewood Times

“The Breaking Bench” by Annie Bartos


The Breaking Bench

Growing up, Henry’s parents would take him to a small park on the corner of his long street in his suburban neighborhood. At this park are a couple of trees, one swing set, one simple slide, and one bench. When he was young, his parents would take him frequently to get out his energy, but the more he grew up, the less they would take him until they completely stopped.

This was for a couple of reasons. It was partly because as he got older, he became less interested in going, but mostly, they stopped taking him because of the divorce. Now he lives in two different houses on two different streets at opposite ends of his suburban city — his mom residing at the original and his dad at the new. Both of his parents refuse to go to that park anymore, but Henry goes all the time.

Every day after school — no matter how old he has gotten or what the weather is — Henry passes and visits the park on his way home. He sits on the bench and looks at his surroundings, viewing the swingset and slide where his parents once played with him. He sits on the bench and reflects on all that took place on it — reading books and taking breaks after playing and making sure he was okay after getting hurt. Although going to the park hurt him a little each time, it reminded him of when things were good in life. He reflects on the memories his family made and wonders where it all went wrong.

Now, Henry is a senior and is going to be leaving those two different houses on the two different streets in his suburban city to go to college. It is January, and he is patiently awaiting the results from his top school. This top school is across the country and will force him to leave what he is familiar and comfortable with. While this saddens him, he also knows it will be good for him to have a fresh start.

Once a week Henry attends therapy to work through the stress of school and his parent’s divorce. He’s been attending since he was ten — a couple of months after the divorce. After it happened, he never got particularly close with either parent — he more just learned to keep to himself. Slowly but surely though, he has learned to open up, especially to his therapist. 

“So, what is making you so nervous today Henry?” His therapist asked during his weekly Saturday appointment.

“Well I am supposed to get the results back soon to see if I get into my top school,” he replied. He was shaking a bit — in his voice and hands — and she could tell.

“How are you managing this stress?” She asked.

He wasn’t sure how to respond. If he was being completely honest with himself, he was not managing it well at all. After the divorce, he conditioned himself to push his feelings away. His therapist knew this, and he knew that she knew this, so all he could say was, “I’m not.”

She took a moment to write in her notes and then looked back up at him. She stared at him for a while, her eyes getting smaller as she dove more into thought. Finally, after what felt like a lifetime, she asked, “Do you have a safe space? One where you can unwind, with no fear of judgment?”

He stared blankly back at her. He could not think of a place where he truly felt safe. The constant traveling between houses did not offer him a connection with either bedroom, and truth be told, he did not feel safe in either home in general. After a couple more seconds of thought, it dawned on him. “I have a park.”

Monday after school, he walked with purpose to the little park at the top of his long street in his suburban neighborhood. The advice she had given was to go to the spot, close his eyes, take some deep breaths, and process all of the emotions he was feeling — about school and whatever else he was feeling. So once he got there, that is what he did. He sat on the park bench, which had slowly broken and withered away as he got older, closed his eyes, took some deep breaths, and thought about his feelings.

At this moment, he truly did feel safe — protected by the freezing snowy air and from the judgment of the outside world. When he was done, he opened his eyes, let out his final deep breath, and stood up, ready to walk the rest of the way home. He started to walk away, but suddenly his phone buzzed. He stopped, opened it up, and saw an email from the school. He walked back to the bench, slowly sat down, and stared at it for a moment. He closed his eyes again and took more deep breaths, processing his emotions on the situation. Eventually, after calming himself down, he looked back at his phone and opened the email.

After he finished reading, he looked up at the park. He looked at the rusty old swingset and slide that were engulfed in snow. He looked at the few spread-out trees that beautifully glistened in the sunlight. He felt the bench underneath him, the withering and breaking bench that had once felt brand new, and he smiled. A bittersweet place with memories of his once-happy family was now a place he would remember forever as the start of the rest of his life.

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