Before continuing with Father Davidson’s story, it would first be helpful for the reader to learn more about Richard, because his story plays such an important role in the early life of the Father. And ultimately, his relationship with Richard is what set the course and trajectory for the remainder of Father Davidson’s entire life.
Richard was tall and thin but his body was twisted slightly to the left due to a curvature in his spine, so he didn’t stand as tall as he actually was. He held his right arm up close to his chest most of the time, with his right hand hanging flaccidly at the end, so that he somewhat resembled a bird with a broken wing. His right ankle also lacked strength, so that his toes pointed slightly inward and his foot dragged along the ground a bit when he walked; this was mostly imperceptible, but when he ran, he moved with a pronounced limp. He had an attractive face, but unfortunately most people he met never recognized this, due to a chronic spasm which caused his mouth and nose to pucker—giving him a look of perpetual disgust. His voice was high and nasally, which didn’t endear him to the girls, of whom he deeply desired to be endearing.
He was prone to fits of anger, so this made it scary and difficult for others to get close to him, and caused him to live much of his life alone; so he was lonely most of the time. Most of his energy he expended on running away, and on finding places of relative safety. His father was usually drunk, his mother generally too busy, and his siblings totally embarrassed and horrified by his presence; so his home was not a safe place. At school he had no friends, and his teachers—they put on a brave face—on a good day they could be cordial towards him; but most days they tried their best to ignore him, hoping he might go away.
They often got their wish. Whenever possible Richard retreated to a place of refuge he had found not far from his Junior High School—a short distance off the path he took to and from his home. It was down in a ravine, through thick underbrush which nobody but he had ever tried to pass. Were it not for a group of kids from school who chased him into the ravine one day he never would have found it. Terror-stricken he pushed his way into the brambles, and though they tore at his face, he kept pushing and pushing through until eventually he came out the other side into a small opening under the trees, beside a little stream. It was quiet, it was safe; and he loved it.
For the remainder of his adolescence he considered this place his home. Over time, he brought planks of wood and arranged them in a semblance of walls, which he fashioned between the trunks of several closely growing cedar trees. During the rainy months, the trees shed most water off of his little home, but he brought some pieces of plastic that he had found, and was able to string them up to make a serviceable roof to catch any water that came down from the foliage above. He had blankets and a pillow that he brought from his bedroom.
He liked the feeling of safety that he experienced in his forest home, and most of the time he liked the solitude. When he was with his family, in his other home, his life was difficult and he yearned to be back in the forest. So his feelings confused him, and he couldn’t understand why he often felt sad when he finally was by himself under the trees—he missed his family. Actually, he missed the idea of his family, but he couldn’t have told you that. That was a more sophisticated understanding than he could have articulated. He badly wanted a family to love him; just not his family, which didn’t love him. He wanted to be loved.
Perhaps to fill this void, or for some deeper, unknown psychological reasons, Richard learned a great deal about birds. He became obsessed with everything to do with birds. But in particular he devoted himself to bird nests. These fascinated him and he began to collect them. He found them in the obvious places—in trees—but also in unexpected places like wood-piles, and sheds, and even old discarded cars. They could be made of all sorts of materials and woven in many different patterns, or built-up like mounds of clay, and some even still had eggs in them. He loved these the most, and he spent many nights up tending to the eggs, keeping them warm, and waiting for them to hatch.
He rearranged his own sleeping area under the cedar trees to mimic the style of nest typical of a ground bird, this nest is known as a ‘scrape’, and it is simply a hollowed-out depression in the ground. He made his scrape in the fallen cedar foliage and cones which littered his private clearing. He felt something approaching joy when he curled up in his ‘scrape’ and looked out from under the cedar trees. He pretended that he was a quail or maybe a killdeer, hiding under the foliage, safe from all predators. In time, quite a few other birds made their homes in the vicinity, even using some of the nests he had collected and had hung in various trees and tucked here and there into surrounding shrubs.
He observed them intently and tried recreating their songs and mannerisms. They felt like a family to him and he imagined that they loved him. He began to make more nests himself, learning to weave small twigs and grasses intertwined with pieces of fabric, or hair, or whatever else he could find while he was at school or wandering around town. He searched for special objects to incorporate into each new nest that he built, maybe a piece of foil he pulled out of the trash, or a necklace he found under the bleachers. He believed these little touches made each nest unique and important, and it made him smile to give his loved-ones these gifts. “Every nest needs to have at least one special thing hidden within it,” he decided. “The most special thing to the ones who live in it. That’s a home.”
Several years passed, and Richard was in High School now. He didn’t like the changes with his new school: the different buildings, the different classes, and the different directions he had to walk—he preferred that everything would stay the same. He liked routines. But there was one very important change that he did like. He liked it so much that he sometimes sang at the top of his lungs at night while he lay in his scrape under the cedar trees. It was something that he had never had since the time he first made his nest there. Something all the other birds had in their nests that he alone didn’t have. But now he did have it, and it made all the difference. Hidden away in his nest was a special thing, the thing that made his nest finally a real home. It was a small photograph of a girl, a girl he had met in school who he loved more than anything else in his life now—a beautiful girl named Amelia.
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