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“There is never just one transgression. There is a wound in the flesh of human life that scars when it heals and often enough seems to never heal at all.”

- Gilead, Marilynne Robinson

Thomas and I camped out near the fire pit by the creek. This was the day after Thanksgiving. I went down at dusk and pitched the tent and started a fire. There’s something to building a fire. I haven’t quite got the art of it down yet, but I enjoy it just the same. An apprentice fire builder. Wild Bill used to build fires that seemed to sparkle and erupt when you threw a match on them, like the burst of Creation. I mess with my fires a little too much; moving the logs around, wondering if I’d laid enough kindling. I want that perfect, bursting fire. Later, everyone came down and we roasted hot dogs and marshmallows. The boys’ cousins were there along with LonAnne’s brother. They had to leave early, though, so Shirley took them all back to the house. I hadn’t wanted to camp out. I’ve never enjoyed camping all that much and I’ve got a bad back that can’t much take the hard ground. Still, she meant well and saw something in it for the boys and me. I often lose sight of the precious things she intends for us or I rush around looking for the ways she means to harm or set me up. There are so many little wounds like this that we pick at. Later, I tell her some version of this and she looks at me like I’m crazy, which I am, which my father’s father was, the fruit falling rotten from that old tree. It’s a hard thing not to do what was done unto you. I’ve only known a few that could do it. Wild Bill was one. And Lord knows he had bad done unto him. But still, you need someone who understands you in this life and I’m not sure either of us understands each other much.

William was fussing that he wanted to sleep in grandma’s bed and it seemed that I’d pitched tent in vain. But Thomas said he was up for it. He said it in this way that contained all sorts of possibility. “I want to,” he said, almost as if he were surprised as anyone by his newfound desire, as if it could go either way, but he’d give it a shot. I love him for this voice, this attitude. So, after their baths, Shirley brought Thomas back to the campsite and we crawled in the tent, he with his book (The Last Treasure) and me with mine (Gilead). We lay there for a while reading with our flashlights, listening to the strange night sounds. A big dog in the neighborhood across the creek. Crickets. A deer digging at the ground and snorting. Coyotes far off in the distance. I worried a little about the deer just because it was rutting season and male bucks have been known to attack things that get in their way. Finally, Thomas said he was done reading and needed to get some rest. Sometimes he seems like a grown man to me, as if his wisdom and general weariness encompass my own. I’d covered over most of the fire, but the wind blew through the embers and rekindled it. The light from the flames flickered against the tent. I tossed and turned quite a bit, trying to get in a position that seemed comfortable enough, listening for the deer. I could still hear the snorting and imagined the buck making a good run at the tent and poking one of its antlers into my side. Do you ever feel more vulnerable than when you are in a tent? Thomas smacked his lips and I put my hand on his head, drifting off.

We both woke up to rain. I hadn’t put the rain tarp over the top and the droplets were coming through the mosquito screen roof onto our heads. “My book,” Thomas said, reaching for where he placed it last. “It’s safe,” I said, holding up the plastic bag I’d put it in. Later he will tell me he was concerned because it was a library book, but I like to think he would’ve done that no matter what, such is his love for books. I can’t deny some vanity in all this, for I think I’ve given him aan inclination towards books and reading that he might not gather were he someone else’s child. If I do nothing else, I think. For a moment I prayed a foolish prayer. “Lord, please let this rain pass.” Like Christ in the garden only this was rain and what right did I have, really, asking God to intervene to keep us dry? What if someone had prayed for rain? What if rain were desperately needed? “Scratch that,” I said. I told Thomas to keep under the sleeping bag and I scrambled to put on my pants and shoes. I unzipped the tent and picked up Thomas. He didn’t have any shoes so I had to carry him over to the John Deere Gator, a cross between an oversized golf cart and a four-wheeler that we’d parked next to the tent in case of emergency. I turned the key several times, but it wouldn’t start. “Dad, the lightning,” Thomas said. He was shivering. By now we were in the middle of a thunderstorm. Shirley, God bless her, had turned on the porch lights at the house, which was roughly two hundred yards away. I grabbed Thomas, throwing him over my shoulders and made a break for it. Now, let me say this. I’ve heard of people running much further with a full blown adult on their backs, sometimes through war zones or in a flight of terror. I’ve heard these people say they never thought once, never stumbled, never stopped or gave the angels pause. I don’t mean to oversell this. The house was two hundred yards away and Thomas is an eight-year old boy. But it was a thunderstorm with lighting striking fairly close. I could barely make out the path in the dark and the ground was slippery rock and mud. And I had just done with putting my back into a sore ache by sleeping on hard ground. Thomas was whispering into my ear, “Oh please, let’s make it.” I was thinking the same thing. I remembered my mom telling me about a kid who was struck by lightning while on a riding lawn mower. “It was clear sky,” she told me, shaking her head, her eyes telling me that it was just as God said…like a thief in the night. All this to say, I guess, that I didn’t stop or stumble even though I had every reason to be afraid.

I’m clearly dramatizing. It’s my greatest weakness and my only strength. We made it to the house fine. I dried Thomas off and put him down in bed next to his grandma and brother. I crawled upstairs into bed and listened to the rain tapping on the tin roof. As I lay there, my breath high in my throat, wakeful from the mad exodus, I thought about how old wounds heal hard, like the old preacher in Gilead says. I thought about this land, how its turned over its fair share of misery on top of our heads and yet we stick with it, trying to forge new memories, running through the occasional thunderstorm and side-stepping the lightning, setting up fires and tents despite all, the whole time whispering, whispering with all of our broken hearts, “Oh please, let’s make it.”

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