Do you ever finish a book and find yourself fighting with it for days after you finished? You devoured it so you must have liked it, but you are resisting. Maybe you’re pissed about some part of it. Maybe you’re pissed it’s over and you miss it. Maybe it triggered you and brought some piece of you to the light that you thought was doing just fine molding in the dark recesses of your soul.
That’s me right now. I’m fighting with Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. My thoughts keep returning to it, like a fresh wound I can’t stop looking at. I have written and deleted the following sentence three times in the past five minutes: I loved this book. It’s like I can barely bring myself to write it, but I’m not sure why.
Should you read this book? Yes.
Parts of the book were as compelling as any nonfiction I’ve ever read. How an ill-prepared, recreational heroin user whose personal life is pocked by divorce, an abortion and the death of her beloved mother approaches a grueling months-long hike is as great a set-up for a story as I can imagine. It beats the bear-shit outta Bill Bryson’s account of walking the Appalachian Trail in A Walk In The Woods. I love a good journey story– and hers does a masterful job of tracking her physical and emotional progress as she advances through California in extreme conditions which would have left me deader than sage brush at high noon.
That’s probably all you need to know, and frankly, if Oprah says you should do something, do you really need to check with Outlaw Mama before proceeding?
But, I have so much more to say that I’ll pretend is about the book, but just know this: The following is all about me and has nothing to do with Ms. Strayed or her amazing book.
But there’s this whole mother theme that made me twitchy as I read about it on the bus. When I start pacing while reading a book on public transportation, I can only assume a nerve has been struck. Hard. And Ms. Strayed’s book is like a mallet to my central nervous system.
As a mother, I read about Ms. Strayed’s adoration of her mother and thought, there is no way I am inspiring this kind of devotion in my children. Strayed was crushed by her mother’s death, and the book has elegiac passages wherein Strayed tries to make sense of her mother’s too-short life. The grief that Strayed describes upon the death of her mother twisted my stomach with shame. First, I am not capable of inspiring that amount of grief (I assume), and second, I am not sure I could feel it for anyone other than my children.
Maybe her relationship with her mother was particular to the kind of family where the dad is a giant, abusive asshole– and maybe seeing your dad beat the shit out of your mom produces a certain fierce devotion and loyalty. Trauma bond is a phrase that came to my mind while I read. I can’t picture my absence from my children’s lives grinding them down so thoroughly. In fact, I hope it doesn’t. It would be awkward if my 2- and 4-year-old children ditched school to walk the PCT. When I pass, I hope they feel sad for a while– I hope they listen to Willie Nelson on my birthday and fist pump me when they score a good sample at Costco. I picture them leaving hydrangeas on my grave and apologizing for being such assholes when I tried to talk on the phone for five minutes. For the record, I am OK if they skip the part where they destroy their marriages, dabble in hard-core drugs and sleep around. A small, tasteful tattoo of my face (without bangs) would be alright.
As a daughter, I felt the same tug of should I feel this for my mother? It’s not a fair question because my mother is alive, in good health, and living the purposeful life of a newly retired woman in the great state of Texas where her social life is teeming with more opportunities than mine. When she passes, I hope I don’t go off the rails– I hope my journey to let her go (not anytime soon), involves tears, extra therapy, writing about all she meant to me and taught me and great appreciation for who she was to me and who I am because of her. I don’t think I can spend the kind of energy mourning her that Ms. Strayed needed to.
Naturally, I am now asking myself if that means I don’t love my mother “right” or “enough.” There’s a hovering question: What’s wrong with me that I don’t love like this? Should I? Why is my love so bland?
Most importantly: Who’s going to shoot heroin and walk thousands of miles when I die?
As you can tell, this is a good use of my precious free time. Instead of starting a new book, writing my own, or taking up equestrian arts, I am sitting here comparing myself both to Ms. Strayed and her mother. I think it’s time to start a new book, one without any mother issues. Note to self: Steer clear of Medea.