Six months ago, I put my son on a plane from East coast to West. His backpack was laden with survivalist gear: tent, sleeping bag, buck knife–even snake garters, ridiculous equipage for a vagabond’s life in San Francisco. I considered it a small victory to have talked him out of his 10-pound mini-shovel and heavy-duty mallet at the last moment. Lugging these around, I told him, would kill him long before he used them to fight off mountain lions.
He was on a quest to find his life. A classic hero’s journey, my Odysseus. It wasn’t his first try: He had decided to live in the woods outside Louisville, Ky., the summer before. Why Louisville, I really can’t say. I think he liked the idea of it as southern city, and therefore terra incognita for a man raised in New England. His dream was to live on foraged food, create a leaf shelter, and live beyond the reaches of the corporate complex that enslaves men and dominates world consciousness.
He lasted about 10 days in Louisville, only one of them spent in the woods–some odd tract he found just outside of town. He called me in a panic during a crashing thunderstorm asking for advice. After I got him settled safely, if soggily, in a dell, he spent a sleepless night on the ground before heading back to town and spending all his (well, mine) money on a motel for the remainder of his trip.
The irony with which I recount these early misadventures is a luxury I no longer have. In those days, I still thought Sean [not his real name] would snap to his senses. Or at least join a commune. I clung to the hope that he would somehow forge a path in the world filled with stretches of happiness, deep fellowship, outlets for his considerable creative intelligence, and even peace. And who is to say he hasn’t found those? I pray for what I can’t believe.
The fact is, I have now lost my son.