When I started reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed, I only knew it as the book that inspired the film starring Reese Witherspoon. As a middle schooler, I promised myself to never watch a movie before I read the book, a vow I've stuck with over the past ten years. So for the month of January, I dug into Cheryl Strayed's novel recounting her adventure traveling the Pacific Crest Trail.
I want to preface this post by saying I hate the novel Into the Wild. After reading about Chris McCandleless' quest across the country in high school, my senior sports seminar revisited the book my senior year of college. I was part of the minority hating the book, mainly due to Chris' blatant disregard for the ones who loved him. While students in my class argued that he was following his true bliss, a hero able to disengage from societal pressures, I saw him as a coward, unable to reciprocate the love and respect dozens of people had for him while he traversed his journey. I don't think someone who breaks hearts and ignores the feelings of those around him a hero. Going into reading Wild, I was nervous that this novel would be the same existentialist approach of avoiding emotions to cope with a difficult past.
However, I was pleasantly surprised with Wild. It was a raw look at Cheryl's journey, where she didn't sidestep her past errors or assume a God-like ambivalence to those around her (cough cough Chris).
"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."
Cheryl understood her own need to be alone not just to to prove herself, but also to battle her demons. For me personally, the most moving part of the novel was her navigation through her mother's cancer diagnosis, death, and the aftermath. This journey particularly struck a cord with me. I remember with stunning clarity sitting on the front porch of my childhood house eating blueberries (with too much sugar to have any type of health benefits) after a pre-season cross country practice my freshman year of high school. My dad's black Toyota Tundra spit dust in its wake coming up the driveway. I remember him coming to the front porch and telling me he had cancer. The words, at that time, didn't fit in the context of my world. My dad's body was strong from throwing us in the pool and working outside at his excavation company. He was the type of person that people remembered, whether it was his piercing blue eyes, his teasing personality, or his larger than life persona.