The Great Retreat

Oliver was only five when he realised that the world was about to end. By “the world” I mean ‘his life’, and by “end” I simply mean ‘completely change’. You see, he was a creative boy whose imagination took him to all sorts of special places; a child prodigy that his parents never understood. For now was the time that this little boy was to start school. Big school. Scary school. Big, scary school.

He had no siblings and he wasn’t exactly the most social child. Oliver wasn’t slow at learning, nor was he thick, but his lack of social teachings and graces didn’t give off the right impression to new faces. As a toddler, he’d been starved of affection by his parents forcing him to withdraw and find solace in his mind. If you’d asked him to make small talk with a few relatives, he’d turn his nose up at you in fear. But, if you gave him a pencil and some paper, he’d draw you a masterpiece without even taking the time to blink. By now, I’m sure you’re able to work out the sheer horror pulsating around Oliver’s brain as he tried to compute his chances of being able to stay incognito amongst hundreds, maybe thousands, of other children.

The first thing he did was lock himself away. Oliver retreated to his little hidey hole in his room – location: underneath his bed. He stayed there for a while… thinking…

When he was done, he crawled out and went into the garden with his notebook and sat on the swing. Barely pushing himself, he opened the book to a new page and started to draw a part of the same tree he’d drawn a thousand times before. But, this time he concentrated his energy on one single leaf that has fallen off its twig. It was a smallish leaf, with some parts of it that had already turned brown. It reminded him of himself and he nurtured this drawing into something so detailed and magnificent that he managed to surprise even himself. He sat there and stared at it for a while.

Upon further inspection of his own drawing he was able to see the many small parts that made up this leaf. Pulling himself closer to the item, he was able to see the many vein-like features that comprised the leaf’s form. In fact, it looked like there was a little tree upon the leaf itself. One that looked exactly like the tree the poor leaf fell from. It was at this moment that Oliver realised the circle of life really was inevitable and true. The entire world’s concepts and facets were one, big amalgamation to simply be churned out and melded into each other to form one brand new amalgamation.

And isn’t that what was happening to Oliver too? His life was simply joining another set of lives that would come together to create one big mess, called ‘School’. As the sun started to set, he was feeling a little chilly and so took his new friend, Leaf, and his new-found way of thinking indoors, to get ready for dinner. He was onto something. Something big for him.

After dinner, he found some tape and stuck Leaf next to its drawn counterpart in his notebook. That was the first time he’d drawn something tiny enough to be placed next to his own version. He would usually deliberately sketch and colour very elaborate looking buildings and test himself on the amount of detail he could put into it. Leaf was officially his first small-scale project. One that he’d just managed to learn a great deal from. He felt happier knowing he’d learnt a little more about the world and was able to sleep soundly that night.

Oliver was awoken at the crack of dawn by the noise of his mother’s racket downstairs as she yelled very loudly over the phone, dealing with business clients in another part of the world. He usually hated this part of the day and nothing was different about it today. Pushing himself out of bed, he grumpily got ready for the day ahead and grabbed some food from his mother in the kitchen. He had only a week to go now before he was shipped off to Big Scary School and the nerves were settling in again. After working himself into a bit of a sweat, he clambered under his bed. The panic set in and he found himself under there for a few hours. Upon returning to the world, he felt confused. And a little lost. He thought he’d managed to get himself past the horrible thoughts poisoning his mind. Apparently not – he was stuck and he knew it.

A few days and drawings later, Oliver’s mother asked him to pack for school. He was to be sent off on his own into the big, wide world all by himself. This is where he would grow into a Big Boy; someone who would never know his parents – except he didn’t know that yet. Had he been aware of this revelation whilst packing, he probably never would have begun the arduous task. Halfway through, he felt nauseous and opened his notebook. All the memories of being under the tree came flooding back as he stared at Leaf. Leaf stared back. He ran his fingers over its back, seeing it stuck there under the tape. Now more than anything he felt more like Leaf; trapped under this heavy burden of sticky, being told what to think and feel. He had to change his life and he knew it. If he didn’t do anything now, this feeling would last forever. He got his things together and sat gawking at his bag. Opening his notebook, he sketched his backpack. It was the roughest, most untidy drawing he’d ever pencilled. Tomorrow was the day.

The curtains were opened with haste and Oliver was dragged out of bed, kicking and screaming (in his mind). His clothes were shoved onto the bed for him to wear and his breakfast was already waiting for him. His mother explained to him that he’d be gone for a while and that she and his father would visit him. He wasn’t stupid; he knew where he was going. To spite her, he wore a different shirt.

In the car on the way to Big Scary School, his mother’s phone was ringing non-stop. She huffed and puffed about not being able to answer it and as they reached the gates of the school, she slammed on the brakes and left the car to return the call. Oliver looked ahead at all of the other children being left there. Boys and girls of all different sizes, being forced to occupy these large grounds because their parents didn’t care about them. Well, that was his opinion anyway. As he gazed, he saw this little girl sitting under a tree, with a notebook. He left the car to investigate.

As he got closer to the girl, he realised she was writing in her notebook and asked her what she was writing. She looked at him puzzled and told him she was telling her notebook how scared she was of starting school all on her own. For the first time in a very long while, Oliver smiled and took out his notebook. He ripped out the page with Leaf on it and gave it to the girl, telling her she was no longer alone. She smiled a bewildered smile and they both walked towards Mildly Scary School.

His mother called out after him wishing to say goodbye, but Oliver simply turned his head and raised a hand. His goodbye was short and sharp.

Oliver finally left school at 18. He went on to draw one of the best selling comics ever written, with his new found friend, at the age of 21. He didn’t really understand fame and why people liked him, but he was happy to be doing what he loved. They eventually amassed a small fortune and bought a house far away from prying eyes.

His parents grew older and eventually withered into old, lonely souls wondering how their only boy was doing. They regretted letting him just walk off into the distance, never bothering to chase him to find out where, or how, he was after leaving him at the school gates. I know for a fact that his mother thinks about him everyday.

She regrets never showing him love and missed him more as the years went by. She really did mean to go and see him, but work just got in the way. I also know that it pained her deeply every time he refused to come and see her when she did make her way down to the school, albeit a few years too late.

I miss you, my dear boy. I miss seeing you in the morning and I regret never giving you the hugs you deserved. I’m eager to hear from you and see how well you are doing. I’ve destroyed our relationship greatly and am asking for your heart to see me another way. I’m just sorry it’s taken so many years for me to write this letter. From the bottom of my heart, I do love you.

Please forgive me.

Yours forever and always,