Wild – Cheryl Strayed

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wild

I was twenty-two, the same age she was when she’d been pregnant with me. She was going to leave my life at the same moment that I came into hers, I thought.

We went to the women’s restroom. Each of us locked in separate stalls, weeping. We didn’t exchange a word. Not because we felt so alone in our grief, but because we were so together in it, as if we were one body instead of two.

Her love was full-throated and all-encompassing and unadorned. Every day she blew through her entire reserve.

Sometimes he gave it to her without a word, and sometimes he told her no in a voice as soft as his penis in his pants.

“How are you doing?” the nurses would ask me in melancholy tones. “We’re holding up,” I’d say, as if I were a we.

He was still the kind and tender man I’d fallen for a few years before, the one I’d loved so fiercely I’d shocked everyone by marrying just shy of twenty, but once my mother started dying, something inside of me was dead to Paul, no matter what he did or said.

Each word I spoke erased itself in the air.

These dreams were not surreal. They took place in plain, ordinary light. They were the documentary films of my subconscious and felt as real to me as life.

She would always be my mother, I told her, but I had to go. She wasn’t there for me in that flowerbed anymore anyway, I explained. I’d put her somewhere else. The only place I could reach her. In me.

The hot air tasted like dust, the dry wind whipping my hair into my eyes.

Blood is thicker than water, my mother had always said when I was growing up, a sentiment I’d often disputed. But it turned out that it didn’t matter whether she was right or wrong. They both flowed out of my cupped palms.

It was my hiking outfit and in it I felt a bit foreign, like someone I hadn’t yet become.

There was the woman I was before my mom died and the one I was now, my old life sitting on the surface of me like a bruise. The real me was beneath that, pulsing under all the things I used to think I knew.

My mom was dead. My mom was dead. My mom was dead. Everything I ever imagined about myself had disappeared into the crack of her last breath.

…he left, the door of our marriage would swing shut without my having to kick it.

It didn’t go that way. I was who I was: the same woman who pulsed beneath the bruise of her old life, only now I was somewhere else.

Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told.

A phantom from my actual life.

My mind was a crystal vase that contained only that one desire. My body was its opposite: a bag of broken glass.

They were layered and complex and inexplicable and analogous to nothing.

My new existence was beyond analogy, I realized on that second day on the trail. I was in entirely new terrain.

The silence was tremendous. The absence felt like a weight.

Nothing fit until one day when the word strayed came into my mind. Immediately, I looked it up in the dictionary and knew it was mine. Its layered definitions spoke directly to my life and also struck a poetic chord: to wander from the proper path, to deviate from the direct course, to be lost, to become wild, to be without a mother or father, to be without a home, to move about aimlessly in search of something, to diverge or digress.

I had diverged, digressed, wandered, and become wild. I didn’t embrace the word as my new name because it defined negative aspects of my circumstances or life, but because even in my darkest days—those very days in which I was naming myself—I saw the power of the darkness. Saw that, in fact, I had strayed and that I was a stray and that from the wild places my straying had brought me, I knew things I couldn’t have known before.

Alone had always felt like an actual place to me, as if it weren’t a state of being, but rather a room where I could retreat to be who I really was.

I had problems a therapist couldn’t solve; grief that no man in a room could ameliorate.

As omnipresent as the snow was, I also sensed its waning, melting imperceptibly by the minute all around me. It seemed as alive in its dying as a hive of bees was in its life.

Some days I forbade myself to think about it, lest I go entirely insane.

Perhaps by now I’d come far enough that I had the guts to be afraid.

That was my father: the man who hadn’t fathered me. It amazed me every time. Again and again and again. Of all the wild things, his failure to love me the way he should have had always been the wildest thing of all.

I was entering. I was leaving. California streamed behind me like a long silk veil. I didn’t feel like a big fat idiot anymore. And I didn’t feel like a hard-ass motherfucking Amazonian queen. I felt fierce and humble and gathered up inside, like I was safe in this world too.

He hadn’t loved me well in the end, but he’d loved me well when it mattered.

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