Avoiding The Road

For seven years I have avoided The Road. Perhaps longer.

I did not need the book description to know that I would avoid reading it. I picked it up, held it in my hand, and I knew. There was a little boy in it.

I have avoided other stories too. I have never watched Blood Diamonds or The Pursuit of Happiness. I stopped reading The Kite Runner during the kite battle, before Hassan finds the kite. I turned off The Walking Dead as the bullet sliced through the deer. The boy fell in dead leaves and I have never watched another moment. I did watch Life is Beautiful. I had to, and I wept in front of my students, as if a man can be broken by fiction.

There are probably more stories that I have left in my spiritual wilderness over the years. I cannot know. It was never a conscious choice, a mental category that framed my yes and no. It was just there.

It is not for the words themselves that I set The Road aside. Its sparse narrative, torn images of a grey world, reveal the skeins of a thousand untold tales. In those few words a reader could learn to hate the sky, or love water, or forget the way forever. It is brilliant.

It was never the words, or even the images. It was the story.

It is always the story.

And in 2006 Cormac McCarthy told the story that I have never had the courage to tell.

Seasons change by the slow arc of the earth, lives change by the collection of postcards and phone bills and mismatched socks. Somewhere over the unmeasured, bending moments of life, my reason for avoiding The Road has itself bent. But where it was uncertain in seasons past, it is certain to me now:

It is my son, wet and bruised and naked, skin turning blue because breath would not come, a sliver nearer to life than death.

It is my son, curious simian gate, tiny fingers slipping from mine in the crowd.

It is my son, at the breakfast table, cereal soggy because he has too many questions to ask.

Grief has a way of distilling life, so that the pixels of hard universal fact blur in the radiant palette of yellow to green to blue. So all of my life as a father is found on a single night, this night, when I was just a boy.

Smoke makes a sound as it suffocates you, exchanging cells of life for cells of death in your lungs. And I awoke.

I stood there in the darkness, rushing heat and smashing glass and thickening grey breath. I was inches from his door, my brother’s door. He would not wake on his own, I knew. He slept beneath heavy blankets, stuffed animals squeezed against his sweaty cheeks.

I could have touched that paneled door.

But I was afraid, and I turned away, trusting my father to save us. I knew he would do anything to see us live.

Fathers do anything to see their sons live.

My bare toes froze in the unseasonable cold. The front door closed to the flame and smoke. They remained inside, my father and brother. It was the end of their story.

And while I used to mourn my father and my brother, now I mourn my son, still living. If I were gone, what he would miss. What I would miss. My father missed so much.

So for twenty-four years I have avoided The Road. Perhaps longer.

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About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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19 Responses to Avoiding The Road

  1. Perhaps you should write the story. Your words were expressed so movingly and beautiful. I had to read it twice to convince myself you weren’t just quoting from the book which I haven’t read either. So sorry to hear what happened when you were just a child. Must have been devastating. 😦

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    • Thanks Teresa. They are my own words, but I was trying to mimic Cormac McCarthy’s thin style in The Road.
      I think the story will emerge, sometime. I have given it as a public talk 15 or 20 times, so it is no secret. But print is different.

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  2. robstroud says:

    I agree with Teresa’s comment. Your story is quite moving… the very kind of thing we are tempted to avoid precisely because it is so “real.” There is, I’m told and have seen, healing in the telling. And those who hear the words are transformed as well, seeing their own families with new and more compassionate eyes. Perhaps the day will come…

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  3. pageariel says:

    I agree, there is a story to be written from your tragic past.

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  4. orthodoxmom3 says:

    I don’t even know what to say.
    I can see you avoid such books for the same reason I am drawn to them. Mine is a story of abuse. I am drawn to such stories because they tell part of my own and I admire the strength to tell the story. I have not told my own. I am not sure that I will. Perhaps it will come out in pieces. I’m sure your past does come out in pieces. In emotions on the page. It may not be spelled out clear to the reader but it is there. This post is more obvious, of course and I wish you peace in your heart. But I think all of our writing is composed of such events…affected by them. Perhaps not revealing…but somehow there.

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  5. Thanks Brenton. Your road helps me walk mine.

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  6. Brenton,

    As a fellow father I understand your fear and caution. For years I wrestled with a repeating dream that one or more of my sons was in a raging river and I was running the shore line trying to catch up so I could dive in and save them. Then last August my youngest son, living away from home for the first time at twenty years old, the son that I rose in the middle of the night every night since he was diagnosed with diabetes at seven to make sure he checked his blood, the son whom I resuscitated many times as he went into brittle seizures, Zach, bought a motorcycle one day and died on it the next.

    Now, like Lewis after Joy’s death, I must move beyond the theoretical problem of pain, and learn if my faith is strong enough to stand up when everything is on the line. As you probably know already from your own memories of loss (I am sorry for what happened to you and what you have gone through), there is no amount of caution that can keep at bay what we fear. May the Lion help us to live beyond our fears with courage, joy, and undying love, even if what we fear happens. I think Zach would want that for me as well.

    Under the Mercy,

    Craig

    PS. Does all of that mean we should or should not read Cormac McCarthy? I think I have to practice wisdom and do what helps me live with courage and faith and love. That could go different ways for each of us at different times. Best to you in every way.

    Sent from my iPad

    >

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    • Craig, I don’t know how you even write that down. I mean that quite literally: I don’t know how. I can’t see around that corner. It’s a corner I hope I never have to come to. Of course, in my mind, you are absolutely right. I just don’t know how to think about it.
      “The Road” is a brilliant book. It really is. But, reader beware. It is a very real book in its rawness.

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  7. Marie Anne says:

    Heartbreaking… So sorry for your loss. Writing is often the best form of therapy.

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  8. Thanks for moving me to reflect on life, and the kind of conversations we have too seldom. David

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  9. The thing inside me dropped like a cold stone as I read this. Some things seem unsayable, and therefore, unreadable. Thank you for writing so powerfully about this.

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