My first words were the names of trees. Trees became books and begat more words. I became a writer. But for my father books remained trees: I remained unread. Perhaps he only could accept from me the words that he’d taught me as a child. When I wandered into the forest of my imagination and came back with these new words it is as though he had to reach for the chainsaw.
Ignorance flounders in the same sea as censorship. They share a relationship with silence: an active, not passive silence. But it’s not just my words that fell upon ignorant ears to be silenced: he disavowed himself entirely of literature, and for the most part the written word, from the age of seven - the same age, coincidentally, at which I wrote my first short story. A single boarding school encounter with The Black Narcissus was sufficient to dissuade him from entering into dialogue with an entire synaptic topography; a vast universe of human and post-human stories, ideas, trials, sorrows, ecstasies, eddying ghosts, future memories, debates, dialectics and reconcilliations - to this day I understand he’s read two novels. He’s a good human but our inner lives must be very different. Now he has retired from forestry and I’ve written a novel: several hectares of thorny conifers shielding our protagonist from the naked glare of sun and ensuring he need never be scared of the dark.
My novel sits thus far unpublished on my desktop - it remains if not a lump of wood, a tree felled with no witness. The echoes of having gone forever unread by my father sting my ears but I try to screen them out. I know the novel will fall into the right hands at some point. We all want to be heard. I’m almost grateful to my father for amputating this entire part of me from our relationship so I’d spend the next few decades refining my animation of a phantom limb.
I was pretty much mute until I was eighteen, but by God did I write: every day. I was far too occupied in the act of observation to commit to the act of speech, plus, in all honesty there was nobody to speak to. So I wrote. I remain still pretty inaccessible except via my writing. There is more of me on the page than there will ever be at the bar or the dinner table. I’m more socialized now - which is not to say more social. That brief venture is on the wane: I've learned the skill but it's not my vocation! If I’m to be truly known it’s via my writing. And that’s what I came to realize in recent months spent at the family homestead during a period between homes - no matter what the perceived tensions between my father and I; no matter what course were pursued of either damage limitation, compromise, studied patience or attempted healing, the schism keeping us from ever truly reconciling is simply that he doesn’t read books and I do. It seems far too wide a gulf for our extended fingertips to meet in the middle. We don’t speak the same language. His forest is petrified and mine is bowed fronds of honeyed, antiseptic pine, knitted into a canopy to contain the wolves. For a man who’s spent fifty years cultivating the raw materials of the printed page, it still infuriates and baffles me that he never got beyond those first words.
He pointed me towards the forest; I never left, and he’s scared of my dark. Generational trauma gives birth to a pregnant child, and if I eat any more coal we will be left with only tundra.
The irony would be, of course, if he read this.