A long time ago, so long that I actually don’t remember when (but then again, I don’t remember breakfast this morning so…) My aunt gave my sister and myself a book. She said “you both HAVE to read this.” no if and’s or but’s. My aunt has great taste in books (not surprisingly, she did work in a library for many years) so I have always trusted her opinion. But for some reason I never picked this one up. Recently when I was in Jasper I took it from my sisters house because this book had now become an Oscar nominated major motion picture, and the mere thought of it was pulling my soul into the pages.
The book :
Wild by Cheryl Strayed.
For a couple of months I left the book on my shelf, walking by it with a side glance both intrigued and afraid. I knew the synopsis. I knew the struggle. I knew cancer. I knew death. I knew this was her journey of mourning and struggle and pain and suffering. I knew that there would be some sort of triumph at the end, a “finding yourself” kind of moral lesson. But most importantly I knew this book would reach down into the deepest parts of me and pull things out I work to keep hidden.
But I didn’t read it. I wouldn’t watch the movie and I wouldn’t open that book. I was afraid of the pain, I was afraid of the self acknowledgement and I was afraid of any sort of forward movement emotionally. I have found a place I can be both sad and not; both happy and not. I found a place I can suffer and smile all at the same time and I wasn’t ready to blow that wall down. About a week ago I held the red, hard cover in my hand, the jacket removed as always, and slowly flipped it open to the first page with words. Well, one word actually.
All alone, top right side of the page. I just stared at it. Why was I so anxious about reading a book. Its a book. I have read countless books, non fiction WWII, Afghanistan, cancer, death, hope, hopelessness. I’ve read books about getting lost and about being found, about rape and about murder. But this one seemed different. This one was calling my name and I had to give in.
By page 59 I had cried 3 times, threw it, paced around my room, wanted to disappear, wanted to run away, and took inventory of my life trying to come up with a plan to escape for 3 months too. I felt the urge of wanting to scream and cry and ball up in a corner in a dark place and never come out. As I read her words I felt her pain. Deeply and unapologetically.
But on page 59 I read this too:
“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 PCT, the death of my mother was the thing that made me believe the most deeply in my safety: nothing bad could happen to me, I thought. The worst thing already had.”
The worst thing already had. What do I have to be afraid of? A broken heart? Been there. Hopelessness? Check. Being let down by epic proportions? Time and time again. Loss? The most incomprehensible kind. Embarrassment, envy, anger, loneliness; All of it. All of the worst’s I have already been through and to the most severe of degrees. So what is it that I am afraid of?
I only made it 10 pages past that point last night before I had to put it down. I could feel my heart beating so hard I thought it was going to leap out of my chest. I am afraid of living. I’m afraid of feeling life course through my veins. I’m afraid of success, of love, of happiness. I am afraid of any highs, even though it’s highs i’m so desperately in search of. All I have been doing is concentrating on finding my “new normal” as the bereaved like to call it.
Well, fuck normal.
I have a steady job, a roof over my head. I pay bills, and grocery shop and do laundry and clean and cook and day by day my life unfolds the same. Over and over. Yes this is what I need right now, there is no denying the importance of stability especially when your world has been turned up side down, pissed on and crushed beneath the feet of the universe, but normal? No. Not a chance. It isn’t me, it cant be me. I wasn’t made for normal and even if I was, after losing my Lil, normal will never be an option again.
If the rest of the book falls short of profound (though I cant see how it could), I will still cherish those 59 pages that have reminded me that I am who I am. I am broken and beautiful. I’m strong and stubborn. I come with 100lbs of baggage that I wouldn’t trade for the world. I have big ups and bigger downs. I am not normal, I will no longer be in search for normal. I have known the extraordinary and should expect the rest of my life to follow suit.
It has to start somewhere. Whether it is the trail head of the Pacific Coast trail at the Tehachapi Pass in California or on a brown leather couch at your dad’s house in Banff, Alberta (if that’s even when it all started, only hindsight will know). The power to not be afraid comes from my understanding that I have already faced my worst fear.
Lilee taught me that life can be extraordinary, no matter the circumstances
Loss has taught me that life is also cruel and disgustingly unfair
and Cheryl Strayed has taught me (so far) that I have nothing left to fear.