A Walk in the Woods
I remember running. I remember the beating, sure, but the running is what comes to mind first. I detest running – always have, even as a boy – but I ran so hard and so fast that day that every part of my body hurt. Parts I didn’t even know I had were aching. I thought I was going to heave on the forest floor and lose everything I’d eaten for a week. Fear will do that to you, and I was so horribly afraid of my father.
To this day I don’t remember what it was I’d done to set him off, but whatever it was his belt had come off and lashed me a half dozen times before I knew what was happening. I scrambled away and out the door knowing that he wouldn’t follow me into the woods. This land had belonged to my grandfather and for as long as I could remember my father was afraid of the woods out back. I never did work out why, but he didn’t go in them for anything and on more than one occasion I spotted him just staring into them with a look on his face like he’d just been told he was going to die.
I ran further into those woods that day than I ever had before. That was the first time I’d found the shack. I’ve always assumed that my grandfather – your great-great grandfather – built it, though I have no proof. It had three walls giving it the most perfect northern light through the absent wall. There was a wrought iron chair covered with the detritus of the forest positioned before a makeshift wooden shelf that clearly served as a desk. It was cool and comforting in that shack. I distinctly remember pulling the chair out – it made a horrible metallic scratching sound across the warped wooden floor – and sitting down after I’d dusted it off. My butt had barely touched the seat when it happened.
I was still sitting in the shack, but it had been restored to a habitable state. The missing fourth wall was filled with full length sliding glass doors. What I remember most was not being afraid, but more than that, having a feeling that everything was finally alright. I heard a little boy call to his daddy, and I turned to see a child running towards me from the woods. I scooped him onto my lap when he reached me and we gave each other a hug filled with more love than I’d ever felt in my life up to that point. We talked, about what I won’t say, but what is important is that I experienced a relationship between a father and son that wasn’t based on fear, but on mutual respect and love. I realized that it was within me to become that man. I embraced my future son one more time and squeezed my eyes shut wanting the moment to never end, but when I opened my eyes I was a lone young boy in a deteriorated shack in the woods, my back still stinging from the lashes I’d just received.
Some decades later my father died and I inherited the property. I don’t think he really wanted to leave it to me, but he didn’t have anyone else to give it to since my mother had died when I was a baby and he had no siblings. I resolved to fix up the shack and I did, having it professionally refurbished into a studio suitable for my painting. I had them leave as much of the original structure as possible, and over your grandmother’s objections I kept that metal chair, though I did consent to her repainting and making cushions for it.
I can see in your eyes that you’re wondering if that day ever came. The day when I was sitting in the studio and your father ran up to me. You may not believe me – truth be told, I don’t think your father ever really believed me – but that day did come, and I was aware that something was happening beyond my understanding, which is why I’d stopped drawing a moment before I heard your father’s voice.
I once asked your father if he ever had an experience in those woods. I’ve always felt he hesitated just a little too long before saying “No.”
Now you asked me if you can play in the woods, and in the past I’ve always said yes and taken you to my studio, but now you’re about the age I was when I first found the shack. So you go alone into the woods today if you want. If you get lost I’m sure you’ll get found again.