I wrote a memoir for my thesis. For five years, I’ve been writing a memoir for my thesis. Even before I knew there would be a thesis I would write. Re-written now three times, it has shaped the landscape of my life, and changed me for the better over time. I am proud that it is finally done, edited, and ready for something else. Here is section one. To all of you who have stood beside me and encouraged me within this community, thank you. We are a composition of the ones we stand beside, and I am nothing without you.
Tentative title: Dead Girl Living in a Nectarine Sky
On the Backbone trail, I cry. My dog is there beside me, watchful, her curious face locking in on my eyes in certain sadness, her ears alert. I cry because the map does not make a single bit of sense. I put it away. I rely upon the guidebooks in my head, the part of me that knows the look of broken twigs and well-worn paths. My father raised us in the outside lands.
The trail splits before me. There is no sign to indicate the choice that may be right, but I finger at the fractured branches, and trace the prints of feet in silted sand. One branch feels newly broken, in the way it bends beneath my grip. Fewer rocks line the ground, less vegetation growing at its lining. I turn left. Find my path and continue up into the hills, rising up against the siding of the valleys.
As I continue on the trail, I recognize the fact I am alone. Total isolation, as I have intended. When I went to get my permit signed, I remember hearing the rangers from outside the door, laughing. What an idiot. She’ll never make it.
Sometimes, I am fire. A woman who needs healing can walk many miles. We have the mother strength within us. A woman who has something to prove to herself is restless, made young again with need. When a woman needs assurance she is strong, she will not tire. She will walk 35 miles.
The sage is soothing to anxieties. But still I cry. Perhaps I am too hot, too tired. Perhaps my dog is also. I am alone—and not as brave as I once thought I was.
I sleep with a knife beneath my pillow and one palmed in my left hand. Snakes cross my path. Small rocks exude from surfaces beneath my tent, digging into the fragile skin of my back. I do not sleep. I am punishing myself.
The trail continues. My dog grows tired. I know that she has moments left, not miles. But we have miles to go. My phone is dying. I sleep with knives beneath my pillow. And dogs beside my head.
I am testing myself in the ways of ancestors long passed over to the otherworldly realms. I am testing myself in the way of fasts, of giving up the easy living things, of thirst and fear and painful, hot uncertainty.
I think I should have listened to the rangers. But they did not know my need for living. When I tell them I can do it, they tell me that they did not mean a thing by it. Awkwardly staring down at the boots that scuff up against the floor. Quiet, they are shamed, but only because they know that I am listening. That I have heard. They do not know how hard it was for me to stay alive. I need to prove that I am worth it.
I sleep with knives beneath my pillow.
But all of this comes after.