I admit that my choice of quitting my job and Paris in order to travel is strongly connected with what I hope to be some kind of catharsis (read more on that here). Yet it was only after I booked my one way ticket to Bangkok that I read (and discovered) the book Wild by Cheryl Strayed. I have been an avid reader ever since I learnt how to do so, but rarely have I read a book I identified with as much. And it was after reading this book that I KNEW for sure that I made the right decision.
Strayed lost the ground under her feet after her mother died when she was in her early twenties. In brutal and painful honesty she describes the grief of losing the most important person her life, her difficult childhood, her relations falling apart, her abortion and getting hooked on heroin.
It was then that she decided that something had to change. She had to change. Her cure: walking. Without much previous hiking experience and a ton of wrong equipment in her backpack, Strayed walked more than a thousand miles on the Pacific Crest Trail – a pretty savage trail on the American west coast, going all the way from Mexico to Canada.
Nothing did. Nothing would. Nothing could ever bring my mother back or make it okay that she was gone. Nothing would put me beside her the moment she died. It broke me up. It cut me off. It tumbled me end over end.
It took me years to take my place among the ten thousand things again. To be the woman my mother raised. To remember how she said honey and picture her particular gaze. I would suffer, I would suffer. I would want things to be different than they were. The wanting was a wilderness and I had to find my own way out of the woods. It took me four years, seven months and three days to do it. I didn’t know where I was going until I got there.
It was a place classed the Bridge of the Gods.
During her three-month adventure, she encountered many an obstacle, solitude, difficulties – but also new friends and gratification. It was exactly what she needed in order to get her life back together.
I can not only relate to her experiences (apart from the heroin and abortion parts, for which I still can’t judge her), but also her love for literature, her take on solitude (those two often go hand in hand) as well as her feminist and rock’n’roll mindset. Sometimes it would even freak me out how well she put into words exactly what I was feeling, but was uncapable of expressing myself.
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.
Almost two decades after embarking on her PCT adventure, she published her autobiographical novel “Wild”, which was also adapted to a movie starring Reese Witherspoon. And while the movie is pretty good and will probably join the eternal list of classic travel movies, in my opinion it just does not do the book all the justice it deserves, as so much of the book’s essential honesty is left unsaid. (Big love for the soundtrack though)
Here are some more of my favourite quotes and passages of Wild – A Journey From Lost To Found:
I had to change. I had to change was the though that drove me in those months of planning. Not into a different person, but back into the person I used to be – strong and responsible, clear-eyed and driven, ethical and good.
Of all the things that convinced me that I should not be afraid while on this journey, of all the things I’d made myself believe so I could hike the PTC, the death of my mother was the thing that made my believe the most deeply in my safety: nothing bad could happen to me, I thought. The worst thing already had.
It was wrong. It was so relentlessly awful that my mother had been taken from me. I couldn’t even hate her properly. I didn’t get to grow up and pull away from her and bitch about her with my friends and confront her about the things I wished she’d done differently and then get older and understand that she had done the best she could and realize that what she ha done was pretty damn good and take her fully back into my arms again. Her death had obliterated that. Her death had obliterated me It had cut me short at the very height of my youthful arrogance. It had forced me to instantly grow up and forgive her every motherly fault at the same time that it kept me forever a child, my life both ended and begun in that premature place where we’d left off. She was my mother, but I was motherless. I was trapped by her but I was utterly alone. She would always be the empty bowl and no one could fill. I’d have to fill it myself again and again and again.
Much as I loved and admired my mother, I’d spent my childhood planning not to become her. (…) “I’ve never got to be in the driver’s seat of my own life,”, she’d wept to me once, in the days after she learned she was to die. “I always did what someone else wanted me to do. I’ve always been someone’s daughter or mother or wife. I’ve never just been me.”
“Oh Mom,” was all I cold say as I stroked her hand.
I was too young to say anything else.