Quentin loved trees, even when he was a young boy. They possessed a mystique, a universal charm, you could say, that always entranced him. In kindergarten he once played a tree for a play and refused to take off his costume for weeks afterward. He would even stand on street corners, still, not moving a muscle, for hours on end. People stared at him. Quentin’s family began to refer to him as “Quentin Tree”, a nickname he always loved. He never stopped loving it, even when people made fun of it. He would casually walk past everyone, never stopping to explain himself.
Time wore on, and Quentin eventually removed the costume. But people were staring again when he was spotted in public wearing a glued-on “Leaf Crown”, as he put it. Boy, did people laugh that day. Kids would sneak up behind him with imaginary axes, pretending to chop him down. He never noticed them.
Sydney as it is today: Quentin was 28, single, exceedingly lonely. He used to work, ironically, as a tree lopper. Any notion of a friendship with another human being was given up a long time ago, in fact most likely when the bullying worsened at high school. The other tree loppers at Quentin’s work laughed at him all the time: he liked to sit in front of a tree and stare up at it, not realising all the time that had passed. Then they would throw bark at him, laughing all the while they did it.
This gave them great amusement; Quentin, however, acted obliviously. He was never aware of the bullies, much less the permanent damage it did to him. He only realised the extent of the damage when he got older, and even then he hadn’t realised enough.
‘Look out, look out, big bad flesh monsters,’ Quentin used to scream as he bounded down the hallway. Once the bounding stopped, he would proceed to throw old bits of wood at the family dog. The dog had to eventually receive therapy for excessive abuse. In reality, he was screaming about flesh monsters to no one.
Quentin’s parents would routinely call doctors to try and find help, any kind of help, for their son. The typical comment from the other end of the line was always “I can’t help you. Look elsewhere”. Quentin, meanwhile, always seemed to be standing in the corner, imitating some tree he’d recently seen. ‘Quentin, come and have some dinner,’ dad said. No response. ‘Quentin, come and sit with your father,’ mum said. Again, no response.
It was almost as if he struggled to be human, to be normal. Everyone’s little reaction to a Quentin scream or a Quentin yell or a Quentin jump or even a simple Quentin word confirmed this. A jump was rare, that is. He rarely acted with any kind of physical or emotional excitement. The noisy streets of Sydney’s inner city never interested Quentin. Dissatisfied, he would run off, carelessly bumping into people, to the nearest forest, usually French’s Forest, to escape. One workmate always agreed, grudgingly, to drive him there. He never bullied him; he accepted him, if you can call it that.
This particular workmate always smoked cigarettes when he drove there and would apathetically flick the butts at other cars once he was done. ‘Nice day, Quentin,’ the workmate said one day. No reply. Quentin would gaze straight out the car window, transfixed, eyes widened, mouth gaping, at the rows and rows of tall trees that passed him.
Quentin’s in grade prep. Most of the other kids in his class are interested in the same things----sport, cars, make-up, toys, you get the picture. They, for lack of a better word, succeed at fitting in. Quentin never fitted in, and prep was the time in his life when this fact was most evident. The other kids teased him, of course. Bullying was a logical progression, an expectation on Quentin’s part. He knew the others didn’t like him. What’s important here is that he never gave up: he never stood down to compromise his own personality.
This courage shown by Quentin would often irritate his bullies, as if they’d ran out of ideas on how to continue making his existence a living hell. It was indeed a living hell. His teachers can profess to this. Sadly, they were in some ways worse than any of the kids, since they never stood up for Quentin to protect him.
To be sure, there are always two sides to every story, and Quentin’s story was no different. The problem here was that his perspective was usually ignored. This wasn’t because of who he was, but because of his obsession with trees. Yes, he was human, but was he worthy of respect in other people’s eyes? No. The times when Quentin most needed to be listened to were the times when he was most ignored. You can’t walk back from this, and his lack of social relationships explained it all: people believed whatever was said about him, thereby learning to avoid him. If only they had learned to listen to Quentin, to sit down with him and talk to him, things would’ve been better.
But you can’t get everything you want, can you? Questions like these were always ringing in Quentin’s mind, tormenting him over how he understood himself. It also affected how he understood others’ perceptions of him, and always for worse. If anyone wants to be shown an example of a hard life, then they only have to look at Quentin’s. All the evidence, after all, lies not in what was said and done, but in what wasn’t said and done.
Two conscious eyes were ablaze with wonder, and these two eyes were always Quentin’s. Sometimes he wouldn’t stop looking at trees for hours----sometimes five; at other times fifteen; even for an entire day once. And then people, strangers who knew nothing about him, would stare at him, almost as if they were condemning him and his existence.
How was Quentin supposed to react to such reactions? It wasn’t fair, nothing was fair, but he pushed on, ignoring them as best he could. People even grew jealous of how strong he was. He wasn’t always perfectly aware of his strength, his capability of staying true to himself. All that mattered was that he was capable of doing anything, given the nature of his obsession and how it controlled all facets of his life.
The world had to get used to Quentin. This was always the case, and yet people constantly forgot it. Many felt he had to get used to them rather than the other way around. But this could never do. Quentin only ever wanted to be accepted, to be left alone, to be given the complete freedom to be himself in spite of how others felt about him and his obsession.
Such a dream of Quentin’s would get difficult, sometimes too difficult for him to even cope with. Suicide was always at the back of his mind, dimly shining its light as a reminder that there was an alternative to not being accepted. Alas, Quentin pushed on.
‘Do you feel sick, Quentin,’ the psychiatrist asked, obviously probing for any problem he could find. No answer. There used to be a large beautiful tree that stood outside the psychiatrist’s office. At some sessions, Quentin wouldn’t utter one syllable. He was too busy admiring the tree’s beauty, its structure, internally and externally, the peaceful kind of face it seemed to wear, a face he thought was looking at him.
There was always time left over for Quentin to say something, to discuss his feelings to the wealthy expert sitting in the big leather chair. Nothing ever came. It was as if these sessions only made him sicker, or at least intensified his love of trees. He didn’t want talk; he wanted action, life itself.
For Quentin, a tree, any tree, was a representation of life, of everything that had come, had gone and was to come again. No one understood this better than him. ‘What else is life but this wood and leaves,’ Quentin would think to himself, brushing past small bushes as he did. An answer wasn’t necessary. There was always fifteen minutes left in a session. The psychiatrist would ask him a question, and the next ten minutes were soon filled with stares, glances to the floor, awkward silences, even frustration. But Quentin wasn’t frustrated. No, no. He was merely making fun of the proceedings.
End of session. Cease and desist: ‘Ok, Quentin, I think that it’s for today’ No words but the sound of the tree lover’s boots stamping out of the office. After this, Quentin would never return again. He had had enough, enough of the shame and the guilt that had been forced onto him ever since he was a young child. The last thing he wanted was to change who he was.
Once they were there and actually in the forest, Quentin would instinctively run off, searching for the next best tree. The workmate, helpless, would have no other choice but to stay behind and chain smoke. Hours passed. No sight of Quentin, or Treesey, as the workmate nicknamed him. Quentin knew the workmate was a larrikin, a joker, and therefore went along with whatever he said.
Sometimes it would get intensely windy in the forest: all the trees swaying and moving and shaking at a frenzied speed, reflecting a kind of desperation that communicated the circle of life to all onlookers. One of these onlookers was this workmate, who was always worried about Quentin’s whereabouts. Worried, that is, without trying to show he was too worried.
And then, in a flash, Quentin would sprint back to the workmate’s car. He would always be carrying bunches of twigs and sticks. The workmate’s reaction was priceless: a frozen stare of confusion. Puzzlement is actually the better word for it.
He knew there was something wrong with Quentin, but he wasn’t sure what. But naturally, he would try and ignore this, preferring to treat him as a normal guy, as one of the guys. Quentin had never been considered one of the guys, much less a guy. Most saw him as a freak, that odd kid in corner of the room who never spoke to anyone. The tension that existed between them was nearly palpable, but as weeks went by, their friendship seemed to grow. Quentin didn’t expect anyone would accept him, and the workmate didn’t expect he would accept him as he had. Normality would at last come through in Quentin’s life in the form of a friend.
There was a family event on last week. Quentin was there, visibly depressed. He had two sisters, but only one of them ever truly cared about him. Her name was Gabby. She always wore black jeans and kept her hair short, the sort of tomboy you’d probably find looking out of place amidst a group of stereotypically feminine blonde girls.
‘Is Quentin mentally ill, Gabby,’ some ignorant monster would always ask her. Angered, with staring eyes, Gabby would always invariably reply, ‘Yes. But get some sense first before you ask me a stupid question like that’ Then she walked away, she always walked away, with confidence to wherever Quentin happened to be standing. This always pleased him, enough to call her his “Second Favourite Tree”. No one else understood this but them. It was a secret code, like a passageway in the dark only you know about. You never get lost finding it, for you’ve been there a hundred times before.
Quentin was always lonely; he lacked friends. His parents had tried to help him in this area, but always to no avail. Quentin believed he was more connected, both physically and spiritually, to trees than he was to people. If anybody guessed there was an issue with him, then that was it----his natural aversion to all things human or vaguely civilised. People would try to talk sense into him, again and again. All Quentin needed, according to him, were trees.
They were all that made him feel happy and comfortable in the world. Without them, he’d probably die. One day a boy tried to steal a tree branch off Quentin, and he reacted by snatching it back and nearly stabbing the boy to death with it. There were severe punishments inflicted on him after this incident, including one where couldn’t touch a tree for a month.
I had always loved Quentin, all the way back since he was a little boy running in and under and other which way through trees. The sun seemed to love him, and he loved it back. He always let me play with him. Ah, it’s all coming back to me now.
About seventeen years ago the whole family went to some kind of environmental awareness event. It was held not far outside Sydney. Quentin was there, of course, and all our little cousins and relatives and what-have-you. I remember there being this mechanical tree setup, operated by a man who had a remote control. Now Quentin, who hated anything that seemed unnatural, went up to the setup and tried to tear it down. He kept shouting “You imposter, you imposter”, apparently at the tree and not at the man. It’s recalling days like these where I realise not only how ill my brother was, but also how beautiful he was.
I mean, who would stick up for nature, for trees themselves, by attacking a mechanical tree like that? Not many. Perhaps no one would except someone like Quentin. This Quentin happened to be my brother, and I’m grateful for that. I can also recall another day where he and I were having breakfast. I asked him, ‘What do you want, Quentin?’ I’ll never forget his response: ‘Tree toast with a cup of tree tea’.
I guess it was all for the best. We all struggle with things, with the lies and myths that life naturally brings to the table. Quentin’s struggles were no different to anyone else’s, except that his always tended to have more lasting damage than others’ do. Maybe it was the structure of his brain, made him see life differently or something. In any case, my brother was who he was, and no one can take that away from him.
But Quentin and Gabby were to grow apart. She could never stop worrying about him and what he was going through. Depression even set in for her, followed by long and exhausting periods of stress. Don’t get this all wrong, it’s not like Quentin wanted anyone to stress over him. He couldn’t help who he was.
Regardless of whether he intended to or not, he still did, and no one could deny it. Not even Quentin himself, the undisputed tree in the room. Sometimes Gabby felt like hitting him over the head. Not because she hated him, but because she sorely lamented the situation of her life. She often wished she could’ve gone back and been given a different brother, one who was, for all human clichés, perfect. But Gabby wasn’t perfect, nor was Quentin. She had to learn to see him as being perfect in his own way. It would be hard. It always had been in any other conceivable time in history. This was Gabby’s challenge, her life’s task.
It had taken Gabby her whole life to achieve this goal----the goal of accepting her brother as he was. She had even, in times of great distress, rejected him, hoping to ignore him and find someone else to care about. But this never happened, for she loved Quentin too much. He also loved Gabby, far more than he did his other sisters. He loved her even more than he loved his own parents.
It might be hard for some people to understand this kind of love. When someone’s mentally unwell, the stakes, as it were, become raised. In Quentin’s case, these stakes never went down; they were always there. This is probably why Gabby loved the lone tree lover as much as she did: she didn’t want to lose anything, and this meant beating the odds that had been stacked against Quentin.
Family events had always been disastrous, particularly when Quentin was involved. He was only six when he attended his first one. Trees were already in his head and in his eyes at this point, and this was before he even started attending school. Everyone who met Quentin came away with an impression of him that carried an odd mixture of pity and confusion. But as with anyone or anything, of course, life went on for him, as did all trees.
Things had changed for Quentin, and they hadn’t. He’d grown up; he’d improved his relationship with his parents; he’d gotten a job; and he’d finally made a friend----the workmate that was mentioned earlier. This old workmate had recently decided Quentin wasn’t all that bad.
Quentin, although pretending he didn’t want friends, actually did want them. This workmate was a godsend, one of the few people in his life who’d taken pity on him and had decided to help him. Not to say this was easy, it wasn’t. It took a long time for him to accept and understand Quentin for who he was, especially since his mates laughed at him for doing it. In spite of the ridicule this workmate received, he didn’t care. He liked Quentin for him, and Quentin liked the workmate too.
‘Want a drink, Quentin?’ ‘Sure,’ was always the answer, quick and loud, highly enthused. Now they were going out drinking together. Occasionally Quentin’s anxiety would get the better of him, often at the expense of others. One night they were both at a restaurant: a waiter asked for his order, and he merely sat there, staring out the window at a nearby tree.