My Friend Had a Secret: One Reason I Became a Counsellor

I haven’t always lived in Barrie, Ontario. As the daughter of a soldier, I grew up on military bases and therefore had a lot of friends I lost track of due to postings. My best friend and neighbour for years was a gentle girl named Tammy and I often wonder about her still.

Tammy and her siblings had been posted across the country along with their mother who was living with a military police officer who they called Skip. At 9 years old, Tammy still wet the bed and I was quick to reassure her that it was okay and I wouldn’t tell anyone that she had to wear diapers at night. She felt so ashamed.

We were great friends and spent all of our long summer days together. I was fierce and daring where she was timid and uncertain. Looking back on it, I’d love to borrow some of that magical daring of my childhood. I thought I could fly, if I just tried hard enough. Sometimes Tammy wasn’t allowed out to play and sometimes she was very sad, though I could usually distract her with some escapade or elaborate game.

I remember vividly, a day where it rained and we were playing in my room.  Tammy was morose, sitting on the floor in my closet, very quiet and disengaged. She stared off at nothing and my antics proved ineffective in garnering her smiles. I was too little to realize the bed wetting was an indicator of childhood distress. I didn’t realize that her brother, whom I feared due to his behaviour, was acting out sexually when he pinned the girls down and “humped” them until they cried. I had no idea that their mother’s broken arm was the result of much more than a fall down the stairs. It wasn’t until many years later that I found out neighbours had seen Skip pin Tammy’s mother to the floor with a knife at her throat or that he’d chased her out of the house into the street to assault her in front of the community. I suppose none of the common soldiers wanted to cause ripples with a military cop. Or maybe they didn’t think it was their business or their problem.

On this day, I’d decimated my room, pulling out every toy and trick I had to try to make Tammy happy. She was sad and finally told me she had a secret but I had to promise not to tell anyone. This is when she told me how Skip beat her mother. She told me that she hadn’t seen her dad in a long time and that he had put a gun in her mother’s hand and told her to shoot him or he would kill her. She said that’s why they left her dad to run away with Skip. It turned out this change wasn’t for the better.

I didn’t know what to do for Tammy. I was only about 9, but somehow it was clear that she just wanted me to sit with her. She needed me to believe her, to listen to her and to stay there as her companion while she cocooned herself in my closet.

I was already Tammy’s loyal friend, but I became more protective. I was smaller than she was, but one day a giant of a girl pushed her down and I stepped up as her defender. It’s the only fight I’ve ever been in and my performance was dismal. Tammy and a group of girls stood by as I humiliated myself by repeatedly charging the big girl, being picked up, swung around, and tossed onto the ground. The school principal finally broke it up and wrote our names in The Black Book, much to my horror.

In my child’s heart, I just knew it was the right thing to do; I knew somebody had to stand up for Tammy. I just didn’t know to whom I should have made my stand.

Why am I counsellor now? For so many reasons, and Tammy is one of them. I wonder how she overcame the bedwetting and I wonder if she’s ever told her story as she’d be about forty years old by now. I know there was a lot more happening in her life than she could articulate to me at the time.

And I do this work because now, just like back then, I want to sit closeby when someone is hurting, I want to advocate for them when possible, and to give them some of the respect and appreciation all people deserve. I hope the little girl who was Tammy’s true friend for a few years made some small difference in her life, and I hope the trained and experienced grown up counsellor I am now can make a more effective impact in the lives of the clients who gift me with their stories and secrets.