David’s Room

Editor’s Note: I wrote this piece when David was eight years old. I read it at his funeral after he was killed by a distracted driver in a crosswalk at the age of 27. Today is his 33rd birthday. He will always be my little boy. I ache at his absence.

Stepping into my son David’s room is a little like falling into the middle of a huge natural disaster. Dog-eared books, greying socks and bits of cracker crumbs drift across his bedroom floor like so much flotsam left in the wake of a tropical storm. The top of his desk is hopelessly buried under an avalanche of pencil shavings, drawing paper, felt markers and glue bottles. A flurry of shredded fabric, all that remains from a recent craft project, blankets the bedcovers like volcanic ash.

And overhead, a gigantic green plastic fly dangles from a wire, its bulging, fireball eyes surveying the wasteland below.

I’ve often thought that David’s room could qualify for disaster relief. The only problem is no safety inspector would make it through the booby traps set up to keep grown-ups at bay.

I’ve often thought that David’s room could qualify for disaster relief. The only problem is no safety inspector would make it through the booby traps set up to keep grown-ups at bay.

Small plastic figures, placed with military cunning, dot the floor ready to slice like a bayonet through bare feet. A toybox dragged into the centre of the room, is as effective as an armed check-stop in blocking a parent’s approach in the middle of the night.

But to be fair, it is the room of an eight-year-old boy, and as you dig through the wreckage of toy fragments and frayed books, you unearth the treasures of a childhood that is disappearing too quickly.

A cluttered shelf holds a wealth of riches from a walk through the river valley. A wilted four-leaf clover, a rock, a piece of driftwood. The delicate shards of a robin’s egg rest on top of a rubber spider. I remember David carefully picking the pieces from the ground on a warm early summer’s day while wondering what happened to the baby bird it once held.

A bedraggled teddy bear claims permanent residency status on the bed, its straggly grey fur worn clear away in spots from night-time hugs. David solemnly informs me that he will never be too old to sleep with Softy.

Teddy bears are okay, night lights aren’t. David says the dark isn’t such a bad place with his friend, Spike the lizard crouched nearby in his terrarium. Still, it doesn’t take much for the shadows to come alive. While the night light is gone, David asks that the bathroom light be left on just in case he has to run for his life in the middle of the night.

I can handle David’s fears of monsters and bogeymen. But I ache at my inability to make the real life terrors that hunt down and corner even little boys go away.

David knows about serial killers and HIV, wars and abductions. He relates stories whispered in the schoolyard of murder and kidnapping. At those times, words fail me and I’m left feeling hollow and angry at a world that pushes such horrors into the face of a child.

And child he is. Some days he cries and rages and threatens unspeakable violence against his little sister who has taken a toy from his room without permission. Minutes later he curls up next to her on the bed in the room from which she has been banished forever and reads her stories.

I tell him he is my treasure, my angel. He grins and rolls his eyes and allows me to put my arms around him and hold him close. For one brief moment, he hugs me back. Then he is gone.