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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
I didn’t know what I would do. There was no way I could survive. I stared at my damp tent ceiling, feeling the frigid air against me, the frozen ground against my bottom, so cold my bare skin burned. I needed to get to the next trail-town, Mammoth Lakes. There was no one here to save me now.
This was a vision of wildness contained – caged. Huge, powerful animals whose wild dignity was stripped from them.Panic jolted me. These animals had had their freedom seized by people who put their own desires first. In the glint of the silver cage bars I saw the same steely repression, the same cold entitlement that allows people to feel it is okay to steal bodies and lives as I glimpsed while frozen beneath Junior. The boy who had put his few minutes of pleasure before my entire life.
He hadn’t treated me with the love and compassion I wanted, but I was worthy of that love, and someday some boy would have it for me. I hadn’t found it yet, but I would find it soon.
My path, beyond doubt or denial. I just hadn’t looked toward it. I wasn’t lost. I’d always known the way. If I’d only allowed myself to look. I had never been lost, only scared.
death is not a pretty flower that had almost pricked me. It was not a small annoyance I could simply bypass and quickly disregard. It was really The End.
I couldn’t yet piece together the disconnected clues to understand the origin of these lights. To explain away strange magic, I’d convinced myself there was an unseen road cutting across the boundless desert floor like a scar. I imagined its different possible courses. The mystery intrigued me. I couldn’t think of the real destination this road would have been built to lead to, but I accepted I couldn’t see, and I accepted it was there, strange but – from where I stood – a beautiful vision.
My mother overstated the dangers of the world – invented threats. And so I saw: Starbursts’ hoof-made gelatin never gave me mad cow. Mad cow was not a threat to me. And so I thought: most risks weren’t truly real.
The entire time, he’d only ever looked at my body, never at my face, his empty eyes hungry, never seeing me at all. I wasn’t the presence of a person, but a body. I could have said anything, he wouldn’t have heard me. He’d never responded, not by stopping, not with his words.
Chinese proverb says that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. This journey had begun with the coercion of my body, with my own wild hope.
I’d begun at the soundless place where California touches Mexico with five Gatorade bottles full of water and eleven pounds of gear and lots of candy. My backpack was tiny, no bigger than a schoolgirl’s knapsack. Everything I carried was everything I had.
I felt like I belonged to an ancient tradition of all young people given this same task of finding their own ways through to the futures they wanted for themselves.
I wrote through darkness, vividly seeing: my passivity was not a crime; my desire to trust was not a flaw.
From that unremarkable gap in dense northern forest, I could finally see clearly that if I hadn’t walked away from school, through devastating beauty alone on the Pacific Crest Trail, met rattlesnakes and bears, fording frigid and remote rivers as deep as I am tall—feeling terror and the gratitude that followed the realization that I’d survived rape—I’d have remained lost, maybe for my whole life. The trail had shown me how to change.This is the story of how my recklessness became my salvation.I wrote it.