The road did not always have a name. It was just a road, barely wide enough for two cars to pass in some places, dusty in dry times, slippery in wet. It connected two county-maintained highways, both of which had names but no road signs. People didn’t often need directions out that way, but when they did, they were given and received by landmark. When we moved there in January 1974, becoming the only human residents on that three-mile stretch, Daddy went to see Mr. Fred Darley about buying insurance for the house. The insurance company wanted an address — a real address — something other than Route 1, Register.
“We need a name for that road,” Mr. Fred told Daddy. “How about Bradley Road?”
Daddy wasn’t about to be that presumptuous and quickly demurred. He didn’t need a road named after himself.
“So let’s call it Settlement Road then,” Mr. Fred suggested, and Settlement Road it became.
Our first mailbox was up at the paved road, two miles from the house — something about the postal service not extending its route for an initial period. Eventually it got moved to the crossroads, only a mile away. At some point, the USPS decided we were there to stay and let us dig a hole and plant a box at the edge of the road right outside the front door. The mailman leaned out his window, stuffed the bills and magazines and sale papers inside the mailbox and then turned around in our driveway to head back to civilization. It was a big day.
Our cars and trucks and tractors were pretty much the only traffic — except for the mailman — and the sound of an approaching vehicle always prompted Keith to the living room window to see who it was. Mama complained that her drapes got dirty from all the pulling back and peaking.
That was a really long time ago. The road is still dirt, dusty when dry and slippery when wet, but no one flinches at the sound of a pick-up or a four-wheeler. We don’t recognize every vehicle, and, sadly enough, the drivers of some of them don’t even wave when they pass by. Just the other morning, I had to wait at the end of my driveway — Wait at the end of my driveway? What’s with that? — for two cars to pass, neither of which was driven by someone related to me, before I could pull out into the road.
Along with my surprise came another feeling, one that lasted less than a moment but that I could describe only in ridiculously inappropriate terms: I felt trespassed, violated, even victimized. When had this road, this path for vehicular traffic, become so, well, public? When had my little piece of creation become so open to the rest of the world? How could I have missed it?
I did not pay a lot of attention to the surveyors who plotted out the tracts where other people now live. I did not really notice the distant sounds of the well-drilling equipment or the backhoes. I never really looked all that far past the bend where the palmetto scrubs begin growing.
Change is never sudden. There is no single second in which the metamorphosis takes place, no twitching of Samantha Stephens’ nose to blame. Not really. It is just the realization of change that is sudden. And sudden is painful.
To avoid that pain, one must pay attention. Be it weight gain or sunburn or the disintegration of a relationship, it is neglect and distraction and failure of concentration that are at fault. To ward off the extra 10 pounds, the burning red skin, the visceral ache of a broken heart, one must watch and listen; one must choose deliberately; one must do nothing by rote. That, if we want to eliminate the regret and sadness and panic that accompany every occurrence of sudden, is the challenge.
I am more careful now at the end of my driveway. I take my time looking both ways, up and down the road that did not always have a name.