The trees were friendly, they gave me rest and shadowed refuge. Slipping through them, I felt safe and competent. My whole body was occupied. I had little energy to think or worry.
And so, despite the complex web of paths, waterfalls, cliffs, as a hiker wanders downhill, drainages merge, faint, abstract paths coalesce, thicken, until there is one path – the one, natural, trodden way.
Water was liquid silver, water was gold. It was clarity—a sacred thing. Drinking was no longer something to take for granted. I’d never needed to consider water before.
I was passive by nature. I had always been. Arguing felt unnatural and uncomfortable. I was always agreeing even when I didn’t really, instinctively looking for ways to forfeit power, to become more dependent, to be taken care of. I realized how intensely Icecap reminded me of Jacob. They were similar, both diligent and harsh in their judgments—and my big brother’s sureness had always comforted me.But as I ran on sore legs to keep up with Icecap, my tendency toward silence stressed me.
This was trail magic. Sea Breeze’s fire, his light, his heat, his life, remained, their salvation. It is a fact that all drainages, if followed downhill, lead to the same lowland water body. Lost and fallen hikers follow drainages down because walking ridges is harder. And so, despite the complex web of paths, waterfalls, cliffs, as a hiker wanders downhill, drainages merge, faint, abstract paths coalesce, thicken, until there is one path – the one, natural, trodden way. It isn’t a coincidence that Sea Breeze, Brandon Day and Gina Allen, and countless other hikers all wandered, lost, down the same steep slope to nowhere.
I saw now that bad men existed who would take advantage of any weakness and insecurity they found when violating a victim. I saw it was not my fault; I did not choose to be raped or kidnapped. But now I was learning how to protect myself from the predators, to trust my No and my instinct and my strength. I was learning I was not to blame, I couldn't prevent men from trying to hurt me, but I could definitely fight back. And sometimes fighting back worked.
The bravest thing I ever did was leave there. The next bravest thing I did was come back, to make myself heard.
I’d believed I needed to be steady in myself before I could function with others—but surviving alone no longer felt like a good way either.
On this walk I'd had so much time and space to actually figure out who I was without my mother's influence. I understood now: the things that my mother had found made her happy were not the same as the things that made me happy. And I understood: that was okay.
Still I walked into the snow, moving to keep warm, burning precious energy searching for an answer I couldn’t think of. I didn’t turn back, compelled to continue without the trail. I didn’t want to risk futilely backtracking. If I couldn’t find the trail before dark, I could wake tomorrow disoriented and desperate, without having even made any new miles; my loss of the PCT should have distressed me, but a new instinct led me forward. In this moment of despair I was refusing to stop fighting. I asked the mountains for some guidance, the strength to get myself out of here, and pulled wild power from within myself I’d never known I’d had.I was no longer following a trail.I was learning to follow myself.
And if I'd be left alone in the woods again, I smiled to think how I'd find new gifts and thrive. At the end of a long trail and the beginning of the rest of my life, I was committed to always loving myself. I would put myself in that win-win situation.
I was promising myself strength.I had to write it, say it, make the effort and fake it before I actually believed I could do it.
I was the director of my life, it was already true, and I would soon lead myself to my dreamed-of destinations.It was the task of my one thousand miles of solitude.
I no longer needed to peel myself of my skin, or to hide. To Dash the colorless ephemeral things that existed just beneath my surface were as vivid as the beauty marks he traced on my cheek.
I knew with certainty now—I could say no, and he would stop. Above all, I felt the fierce beauty of the choice. I knew now what it was that had held me from falling into my desire to be with him fully: I first needed to make sure he was a man who would respect my 'No.
The harsh dimness that follows loss isn’t static, but charged with the energy of immanent change. Hurt, I was left with a choice: wallow and stay in the dark, or seek light and fight to reach it. These two paths emerged. I had this choice to make. Loss is the shocking catalyst of transformation. I saw that this mountain valley, haunted by senseless murders, darker, had absorbed unthinkable violence and turned it into mesmerizing light. My rape became my catalyst. Rape gave me cause to flee the muteness – forced me into making a bold and forceful change. I chose to fight to find a way to leave to seek my own strength and beauty. I was searching to find the way to make light.
I saw for the first time that I could stop giving people the power to make me feel disrespected. In my anger I began to see the absurdity of allowing this boy to shame me.
You don’t need extra food, extra water, extra clothing for extra warmth – anything extra. You don’t need soap or deodorant. Everything you carry you should need daily.
If I couldn't find the trail before dark, I could wake tomorrow disoriented and desperate, without having even made any new miles; my loss of the PCT should have distressed me, but a new instinct led me forward. In this moment of despair I was refusing to stop fighting. I asked the mountains for some guidance, the strength to get myself out of here, and pulled wild power from within myself I'd never known I'd had.I was no longer following a trail.I was learning to follow myself.
For this entire walk, my desire had ashamed me, as if my wanting to be kissed that night mitigated the fault of Junior's sudden deafness. I'd been given stacks of reasons to blame myself for an act of violence committed by another. I had blamed my flirting for his subsequent felony. My college taught me: my rape was my shame. Everyone I'd trusted asked only what I might have done to let it happen. In my gut, I'd always believed I'd caused it.I finally questioned it.
For all my life, I had been passive when faced with dangers. I was stunned as I swam to find that I had, for the first time in my history, asserted myself and been truly heard—respected. It felt monumental, I was buzzing with adrenaline. It was as if I’d become someone else entirely.I had escaped a kidnapper. It finally felt real. My body unclenched tension in the balmy pool.I was proud of the strength I’d found. I was the one who asserted he take me back; I caused him to listen. I was no longer a passive Doll Girl, trapped. This was me learning I could trust my voice—I’d used it, and it finally worked! I was triumphant. This escape showed me: I had grown, and grown vividly.
I had feared this end, wondered where I would go from it, from the moment I first stepped on this footpath in the desert. But I found I was not afraid of reaching it now. I was happy. I hadn't found every answer for where I was going, but I now had all I needed to take these next steps. I knew I would do what I needed to become a writer now.
All I could think as he was speaking was that, if he touched me at all, all the miles I’d walked, the pain I’d felt, the beauty I’d drunken like milk, like good wine making me happy, the four million steps I’d taken, would all add up to nothing. They’d be stolen. They’d vanish like the teeth children lose when they get hit. Only after the blood was washed away would I see that they were gone.
It finally had to.I understood that it wouldn’t be easy, it would be very hard; I’d need to resist the habit I had developed long ago – with conviction. I’d have to be impolite, an inconvenience, and sometimes awkward. But if I could commit, all that discomfort would add up to zap predatory threats like a Taser gun. I’d stun them. They’d bow to me. I’d let my no echo against the mountains.
In the aftermath of destruction, a silence settles – the stillness of fresh loss. People’s cheerful chatter is fainter, the blue color of sky dimmer; now that horror is undeniable and feels inescapable, the value of life seems lessened.
Living as Wild Child, I could no longer be Debby Parker comfortably — this name that I’d been given at birth that defined me before I’d had the chance to define myself.
She’d taken care of me in all the ways my body needed, but the devastation of my rape had made me feel the weight of the essential way she had neglected me: she hadn’t nurtured the potential of my strong and healthy independence.
Squatting on my bed–after twelve years of trying and missing, in about two minutes total–I put my own contacts in for the first time. Second try on the right eye, first try on the left. I blinked in the contact, my apartment where I now lived alone and my story coming into focus.
I hoped my solitude would help me reclaim my innocence, remember who I’d been, to find who I wanted to be. To become her. To love her, Deborah, Debby, Doll Girl, Wild Child, me, despite the irreversible truth that I’d been raped. I was learning again that I could trust myself and, also, I was seeing, other people. I was brave enough now to go out alone towards what I wanted, to trust that I was strong enough for it, to know that help would come when I needed it. It always came.