Once there was a man whose name was Tim, though most people called him Fetch thinking that was his name.
Tim, or Fetch, was slightly eccentric and always dragged a large dead branch around with him. It looked like half a tree, really. One day the neighbourhood bully had mocked Tim walking by with his branch, tossed him a ball and yelled, “Here, fetch!” The other boys had laughed, and somehow the name had stuck.
Dragging a branch around with you all day every day brings a lot of problems with it. Tim had a hard time finding a job or a flat. Shops didn’t like it when he came in, and after an incident with the door, he couldn’t even go on the bus anymore. People mocked him and sometimes threw things.
Whatever difficulties the branch caused him, Tim found a way around them. Sometimes he thought wistfully about all the things he couldn’t do because of the branch, and then he hated it. Again and again, he decided to let it go, but somehow he just couldn’t.
A few times he tried to get help. The first time, they wouldn’t even let him in to see the doctor as he refused to leave the branch outside. Then, one day, he saw an advertisement for a new therapist promising a 100% success rate in letting things go. Tim decided to try again and made an appointment.
The man with very shiny teeth invited Tim to lie down on the couch. He was to close his eyes, let go of the branch, and count backwards from 100 in steps of 3. When he opened his eyes, everything would be alright, and he would no longer need the branch. Tim was scared, but he so longed to free himself of the branch that he screwed up his courage and forced himself to try. When he opened his eyes again, the branch was gone.
Tim screamed and screamed, and even under sedation he only calmed down when he was safely holding on to his branch again. He left the office shaking and promised himself he would never, ever trust anyone again. Better to live with his branch, however poorly, than to subject himself to such an ordeal again.
So time went on, and Tim still lived with his branch. The many practical difficulties didn’t bother him so much, but he did get lonely. No one seemed to want a friend who dragged a dead branch around with him. So when one day, as he was walking in the park, a lady looked up from her book and gave him a nod and a hint of a smile, it was almost a shock.
Tim thought he might have been mistaken, so the next day he took care to walk past the bench she was sitting on, and again she gave him a smile. It became a habit: he would walk past her bench, and they would exchange a smile. This may not sound like much, but for Tim it quickly became the best part of his day.
So when one rainy day she wasn’t there, he was very disappointed. He turned to leave the park, but then she called from a pavilion. Elated by this sudden turn of events, he went up to her, sat down beside her on the pavilion steps, and said hello.
From then on it became a new habit: they would sit on the bench together a while and talk. Nothing much, just things about the weather and the park, or maybe the squirrels. Then one day she asked him whether she could touch his branch. This was quite a shock for him. People had mocked his branch, some boys had tried to kick it, but no one had wanted to touch it, much less asked his permission to do so. But still he shook his head, he’d rather she didn’t. “That’s fine,” she said, “it’s your branch.”
A few days later, he shyly said she might touch the branch if she wanted. And she did. Gently, and not for long. “It’s a good branch,” she said. Tears came into his eyes, and he hurried off. “Why did you say that?” he asked the next day. “Well, it clearly means a lot to you,” she replied.
One day he asked about her job, and she told him she was a therapist with an office beside the park. He told her about his experience with the man with the shiny teeth. He couldn’t quite hear what she muttered, but he did catch the words “dangerous” and “quack”. Some weeks later, after making her promise she would never try to take his branch away from him, he made an appointment.
“Where did you get the branch?” The question surprised him. He had never really given it much thought, it seemed to have always been there. But slowly it came back to him. The sea-trip when he was a boy. The accident, the screaming. Grabbing hold of a floating branch, and never letting go.
“So it saved your life,” she said. Tim looked at his branch with new eyes. “I guess,” he said. “That’s something to be grateful for,” she said. “But maybe you don’t need to hold on to it all the time anymore?”
Step by step, Tim learned to let go of the branch. First just for seconds, then minutes. Soon he could cross the room and sit on the couch, hardly taking his eyes off it in the beginning, later only glancing at it now and then. Then he could leave it in the waiting area, and one proud day he came to the office without it.
Tim kept the branch, in his bedroom at first, then moving it to the spare room, and finally into the attic. And when he came across it by chance he would remember that whatever difficulties it had caused him, one day, when he had nothing else to hold on to, it had saved his life.