Dr. Diehl checked his schedule for the morning and saw that Anthony DiNozzo was his first patient. This would give him a chance to do some more work on the resilient child case study he had started after his last visit.
DiNozzo had starting coming to him when his employer mandated counseling for him after the death of one of his colleagues. He had made it clear, early on, that he didn't want to talk about Kate or the circumstances leading up to her death. But since the sessions were mandatory, he agreed to answer the doctor's questions about other things.
Within five minutes of meeting the man, Dr. Diehl realized that his volubility was a defense mechanism. However, it was useful. Tony talked, and talked, and talked and even though most of it was utterly meaningless; Dr. Diehl had the rare ability to pick out the important bits.
He liked the man; thought that he was bright, funny, and coping relatively well with the loss of his friend and partner. But as he questioned him, he started to notice a difference in the way he answered certain questions. Any question that dealt with his childhood, even tangentially, was smoothly deflected into a funny story.
That was when the doctor had realized that there was something his patient was covering up. So he subtly targeted his questions toward Tony's childhood and so far he had learned a lot.
Today, he asked him about why he decided to become a cop. And that turned out to be a very good decision. He learned more about Tony, from that one simple question than he ever thought he would.
Tony started to answer with an obviously (to Dr. Diehl anyway) rehearsed answer about his love of cop shows and movies as a kid, the way the ladies liked a man in uniform, the thrill of yelling "Freeze, dirtbag!"
But all of that was a lie, or at least not the complete truth. Tony was a cop because he wanted to help people, but that was something that Dr. Diehl had to work to pull out of him.
He guided Tony back to his childhood by asking him to describe the first time he ever met a real-life cop. Tony hesitated, clearly uncomfortable with the topic, but the he had apparently decided to trust Dr. Diehl, and the story that unfolded was something that the doctor would never forget.
Tony told him about his best friend, James, who he met at summer camp when he was twelve years old.
Tony loved summer camp. It was easy to hide your parents' indifference to you at camp, where no one else's parents were around either. The only tricky part had been the letters.
All the boys got letters from their parents every week. Some of them got one almost every day and Tony knew that people, the counselors at least, would soon notice that one boy never got anything from home. So he fixed the problem by writing to himself. He just dropped the letters into the mailbox at the beginning of the week and a few days later, they would call his name at mail call along with all of the other boys.
Most of the boys never shared the contents of their letters with each other, so after a while, he realized that he didn't even have to write anything. He just mailed himself blank pages each week. It was perfect.
It was also the reason that he noticed James. James was the only other kid who didn't get any mail that first week, but by the second week, thanks to Tony's plan, he was the only kid not getting anything.
So Tony mailed him a letter. It was short, because he didn't know what to say to this boy that he barely knew, but James understood. And they became instant best friends.
Throughout that long summer, Tony's other friends drifted slowly away. He didn't have anything in common with them, not really. But he and James became closer than ever. They sat together at meals, bunked together in the same cabin, played on the same team in every sport, and most importantly, they talked.
James talked to Tony about his parents. At first, Tony didn't know how to respond to the awful stories that James told him, but he realized that it seemed to help his friend just to tell them. And he found out that it helped him to tell his stories to James.
James was the first person that Tony ever felt comfortable enough with to be honest about his family. He confessed that he was sending himself letters and James, instead of looking at him like there was something wrong with him, eyes full of pity, told him that he was brilliant and started doing the same thing.
They sat together and watched the other kids interact with their families on the first parents' weekend. One of the fathers picked his son up and swung him around playfully. Tony was jealous and he did what was already coming so naturally to him; lied to cover up the pain.
"I love it when my dad does that." But then he remembered that there wasn't any reason to lie to James and he corrected himself. "I mean, I would love it if my dad did stuff like that. He doesn't, though."
James burst out angrily. "I hate my dad. I don't want him anywhere near me. He never does anything like that. The only time he ever touches me is to beat my ass whenever I do something to piss him off." He looked a Tony, embarrassed at his admission and walked away.
A few minutes later Tony found his friend sitting out on the dock down by lake. He sat down next to him and said softly. "My dad hits me too."
Tony explained to James that the older he got, the more his dad seemed to hate him. When he was very young, his dad didn't even seem to notice him. But a few years ago, he seemed to decide that his son needed some discipline. Nowadays it seemed to Tony that he could hardly even breathe without pissing off his dad.
James' father was even worse. James had been hospitalized a few times with broken bones, courtesy of his alcoholic father. He always had a convincing cover story though and no one ever thought to investigate the injuries.
They told each other everything but it never occurred to either of them to report their parents.
On the last day of camp, Tony and James said goodbye to each other with muttered "see you around" "catch you later, alligator" "after a while, crocodile".
They didn't keep in touch. In fact the next time Tony saw his friend was his first night home from boarding school during Christmas break. James showed up at Tony's house, unannounced. He was hurt. His face was all bruised and his arm was obviously broken.
Tony handled it the best he could. James needed to go to the hospital. So he took his dad's car and convinced James that the doctors couldn't tell anyone about his father if James didn't want them to.
He knew it was a lie but it didn't matter; James was his friend and he needed help. He took his friend to the hospital, and while James was getting x-rayed, he called the police himself.
The police officer that took statements from the boys promised James that he would make sure that his father never hurt him again. Neither boy believed him, but he kept his promise. He was the first adult that Tony had ever met that really fixed something.
James got to go and live with his aunt and uncle and no one ever hurt him again. Once James got over being mad at Tony for calling the police, he encouraged him to tell on his own father. But Tony didn't have a loving aunt and uncle to live with, so he lied.
That lie killed his friendship with James, but it was worth it. He helped his friend get out of bad situation and kept his secret intact.
Tony told him that his father had never really hit him. He said that he had pretended that he had to make James feel better and so that he would be his friend. He saw the sense of betrayal in James' eyes and was not surprised that he never spoke to him again.
The truth was that the night he took James to the hospital, Tony's father had beaten the shit out of him. He was pissed that Tony took the car, pissed that he was talking to the cops, and terrified that his son was going to rat him out.
Tony didn't want to rat out his father. He knew that one day he would be free of him and until that day, he could keep up his cover. He already spent most of the year away from home and it was only a matter of time until he got too big for his father to beat him anyway.
He never came home for Christmas break again, though.
Tony could take care of his own problems.
But he also found out how good it felt to help someone else. And that was when he decided that he wanted to be a cop.
After he heard this story, he knew that even as a child, Tony had demonstrated one of the other essential characteristics of a resilient child; altruism. He had given up the only real friend he had ever had because it was the right thing to do for his friend.
It was sad, though, that he never understood that he needed and deserved the same kind of help.
As he went through his mail before leaving that evening, his heart went out to that poor little boy, sending himself blank pages in the mail.
Authors Note: Altruism is defined as:
1. the philosophical doctrine that the right action is that which produces the greatest benefit to others
2. the principle or practice of unselfish concern for the welfare of others