There is a 160 acre forest preserve not even half a block away from the house I grew up in. My sister and I spent the majority of our childhood playing in those woods. We knew them like the back of our hands. In the summer we would run around in the woods, walk along the trails-- we knew all of the trails. The main ones which were predominantly used for trail rides from the stables a couple miles down the road, and the "secret," less traveled ones that were worn enough so that you could run them without tripping, but not so obvious that non-locals would spot them.
There was a not-for-locals trail across the street from our house. The woods in SW Cook County don't fuck around. They're not like the trees in Oregon, tall and sparse. There are a lot of trees vying for space in my woods, and if you were driving by, you would never guess there was a trail a few feet away from the road. If you were to walk about a half a mile up the street, there is an entrance to the forest preserve. The road loops around to the other side, creating a circle of field in the middle. Parking spots line the edge of this road and all around it.. trees. The land slopes down a little into a big open area with a few picnic tables overlooking a small, glacial kettle. About 21,000 years ago, the Wisconsin Glacier retreated, and in doing so, created Lake Chicago. Great-great-great Grandaddy to Lake Michigan, I guess you could say. At any rate, the area where I lived used to be Lake Chicago, and the pond in the woods across the street was created by glaciers. (Niagra Falls was an outlet for Lake Chicago; that should give you an idea of how fucking HUGE it was.) The tunnel we used to get from the east wood to the west wood, passes beneath a road that follows one of Lake Chicago's beach lines.
When we were maybe ten or eleven, my sister and I and our friends went into the woods. We took the trail by our house and came out into the clearing by the pond. (This is the pond on which we learned to ice skate, btw.) After walking around and exploring for awhile, we decided to head back to my house. Everyone started walking up toward the parking lot, and I said we should take the trail because it's faster. No one wanted to take the trail, so they said I should take the trail and they would walk home via the road, and we'd see who got home first.
I watched them walk away and then hurried down to the path. It was getting close to sunset by then and the woods were a lot darker than when we'd arrived. I stood at the trail head ... and panicked. The thought of walking into the woods alone suddenly terrified me. I walked back across the clearing, up the hill and sat on a parking curb and cried. I heard something and when I looked up, my dad was walking toward me, hands in his pockets, smoking a cigarette. He looked at me, I looked at him, and then I stood up and we walked home.
That is one of my fondest memories of my dad because he didn't say a word to me but everything in that silence said, "I'm your dad and I love you. I'm here when you need me, and I will keep you safe."
My dad died 22 years ago today, on Mother's Day. I talked about this day with my therapist last week and at one point she said to me, "I think your father would be very proud of you." I hope she's right.
I'll never stop missing my dad, but life goes on. Some years it's harder to face May 13th than others, but life still goes on. In some ways, I'm glad for the pain I feel when I miss him, because it means he was a good man and we still hold him close in our hearts.
I don't know what's "out there." Nothing, I believe. But if I'm wrong, wherever my dad is, I hope he knows how much I loved him. To this day, I can't pass a forest without thinking of that day. For some of us, childhood was often a time of fear. It's good to have this memory, when I'm scared and alone, to remember the time when someone saved me from the darkness.
I love you, Dad.