For as long as I have lived in my current home, I have had the privilege to walk, roam, explore and enjoy acres of woods all around me. I have fond memories of my boys and long winding walks along the ravine, near ponds and in the middle of newly cut roads, still little more than wide dirt paths.
The woods was always a place of calm for my head and heart. When John was at his worse we still walked the woods, and I remember fondly those nightly walks where he stopped screaming long enough for me to enjoy being with him, despite his stoic manner I felt a bond grow between us. I would sit on the edge of the ravine showing him the rushing water and talking softly to him as he went limp in my arms.
Many years later when he was a teenager, his Dad bought him a small gator to ride in the woods. John was old enough to drive, but unable to ever do so. To make things a bit fairer for him, the John Deere gator seemed to put him on the same playing field as other teens, even if it was driven by his Mom. We met with other young boys on big boy toys in the woods and raced, forged streams, and exchanged such comments as, “Man that was so cool!” or “Did you see that thing sling mud!” John was allowed to level the playing field just enough to be one of the neighborhood kids.
My dog Cindy hunted, my son John smiled, my heart sang with peace as we wandered each worn path, studied budding plants, watched leaves turn in the fall. More than once I would tell John to memorize each path in his mind so that if the day ever came that he could not walk the woods, he could walk it in his mind and go back to that happy place.
A couple of weeks ago John and I set out for a long walk. We turned down a familiar road and headed toward the woods. We were stopped by a yellow sign that said, “Posted, no hunting, fishing, or trespassing.” I was dumbfounded, when had that happened? I looked back at the neighborhood that had grown up in the last couple of years. The roads had been cut when John was just a toddler, and long after they were paved, they remained without a single house. Now most of the lots where built on and a neighborhood of children had moved into the area. Maybe I thought, it’s posted for safety reasons for the children. I had warned some of the older boys not to have guns or bow and arrows in the woods due to the endless stream of people who wander in and out. Maybe that was it. I left the neighborhood and headed back closer to home and to a different entrance.
Again, posted. Over and over each entrance that we knew oh so well held the same posted sign. Suddenly with the swipe of a few signs, our world closed in on us. We were cut off from the ravine, ponds, grapevines for swinging, and open grassy fields for running. I sat down with John at the entrance of the woods and closed my eyes. Each path I knew by heart. I knew where the flowers grew. I knew the best spot to watch deer cross. I knew where panthers were seen, and where the water moccasin lived. But I was locked out and it hurt, it hurt deeply. I couldn’t shake it or understand why until a few days later.
I was talking to a friend who had lost her husband. We spoke of that day when life changes, one day everything is just so and then in a split second, the life you knew is gone. Nothing you can do will change that fact. I have no clue what it is like when your spouse dies, but I do know what it is like to have your child change over night.
It hit me then that was why loosing the woods was so depressing to me, it was like loosing John all over again. Oh the woods is still there, I can see them, I just can’t be a part of them or them a part of me. That was what happened to John. One day he is smiling as I lay beside him in bed reading “A Dragon in a Wagon” and he is quoting the story right with me, and the next night, he does not even know what a book is, let alone the one he loved oh so dearly.
Yes, I could still see him, but he was gone. I was posted right out of his life, unable to do more than stand at the edge and peer in. I prayed that something would change, we could go back and be us again, but that never happened. In time John and I connected, but it was never the same. The years of growing up disabled shaped John into another person, one I grew to know and love dearly, but it was not the child he had once been or the child I knew.
My neighborhood has changed. What I knew to be true is gone. I’ll adjust, I’ll move on, and I’ll find new paths just as I found new paths to reach John. Things will never be the same again and I know that, I have already had this experience.
Today was a warm day in Mississippi. Our north eastern friends are blanketed under a blizzard. John and I took the gator and Cindy the dog out for a long drive. We went where the woods was still open, and rode past the posted sections. I felt a twinge of sentimental longing for the last snow we had and the time we spent playing in the woods. I looked over at John who was grinning ear to ear as wind blew his curly hair straight. We went up and down the road waving at people who stopped to smile at us as we passed. At a dead end strip of road I parked for a few minutes to let Cindy down to run the edge of the woods. I talked to John about what the word Posted meant. He fingered the letters on the yellow sign.
“Remember how I always told you to memorize the woods, well now you know why, it’s just a memory son, we will have to forge new memories this summer of new places and new paths.” John turned and walked back to me and we hugged.
No I will never as long as I live forget the sound of my son’s voice. It is etched in my mind. Even if he got it back tomorrow, it will not be the voice I knew and remembered. At least I am no longer posted from being connected to John and am welcome to be a part of his life again.
As for the posted woods, we will move on. John taught me a long time ago you never forget the good, but you put your past in a safe place and focus on the here and now. I am thankful for the years we had in our beloved forest, but I am now looking forward to the new places John and I will explore. I know we will not only make the best of our life change, but we will thrive in our new challenges. We already have.
1st Photo by: Craig Moulding via Flickr
2nd Photo by: Chris GoldNY via Flickr