That’s real love and real happiness. It’s when you go to sleep every night hoping that you are less happy than your lover, it’s hoping that you’ve given everything you could to them so that their day could be just a tiny bit better.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
He was sprightly and uncommonly good looking, with a quiet, magnanimous confidence that attracted people. He was my hero, too, and I listened to him. He gave me lots of wise advice. He told me to put myself in win-win situations, and that, “You have to know what you want, and you have to get it
She taught me only how to need to be taken care of. I was here because I needed to learn to take responsibility for making my own decisions — to earn my own trust.
I’m so drunk,” I said through the bathroom door, though it wasn’t true. I’d declared it to him in my anxiety to take pressure and responsibility off of myself for what I wanted to do next. I had already decided I at least wanted to kiss him, be held. Yet my desire surprised me. I felt the weight of shame not only on rape now, but on sex too. I was confused by it. I felt unready to hold myself responsible for the decision if I slept with him.
The wisdom of my body had cultivated vibrantly since those sadness-drunken months after the rape when I’d felt so numbed by the hurt and shame that I didn’t move further. No longer. The way I felt about being sexually shamed had changed. Now I was angry that others were trying to shame my sexuality in the first place. I flushed—this time not in shame—but in rage.
These tools were my parents’ way of saying: What you’re doing is important. We support it. We want to help you find your way.
I was desperate not to confront the fact that this really could be it—that nineteen didn't matter, that there really was a point at which even young bodies fail. I was not immortal.
Though I was starved for contact, I didn’t stop to talk to any of these strangers. I had forgotten how to convincingly speak the polite things strangers say to each other.
I needed to begin respecting my own body’s boundaries. I had to draw clear lines. Ones that were sound in my mind and therefore impermeable, and would always, no matter where I walked, protect me. Moving forward, I wanted rules.
I needed to stop hiding: I was raped. It was time to honestly be exactly who I was. I saw—the shame wasn't mine, it was his, and I could stop misrepresenting myself, and I could accept myself.
And the idea of light unexplainably produced out of nothing was haunting, it shook me. A flat drab mountain could produce its own light, no one in this whole world knows why, and if that was possible then of course there must be other things that seemed impossible that weren’t, and so anything—great and terrible—felt possible to me now.
I had stripped naked in front of men. Drunk. In morning’s somber brightness I tried to remember why I had done it. Total exposure had seemed like the only way to be seen more clearly, heard, but now it seemed the opposite: a wild act that would define me.
I doubted I could survive in the woods without these very basic things to help me. It seemed like a tremendous leap of faith to forsake the tools I’d always been told I needed. And yet leaving college to walk was such a massive leap of faith already, and nothing I’d ever trusted and believed in seemed true any longer.
It was suddenly Technicolor clear: the only thing holding me from giving myself vision this entire time had actually simply been me.I saw how in the fall and winter of my childhood, I'd walked through the golden aspens. And then I simply committed and gave myself my own eyes.I had once again proven that again alone, I was again enough.
I realized that no, no one would actually come to save or even stop me, I had absolutely no choice. The scale tipped: the moment not doing it became more difficult and unbearable than just doing it.
She had wanted me to hold rape inside me like a dark pearl, keep it in there, as it grew, as I grew cramped, as it overtook me as hidden things do. Secrets become lies. I'd carried in every step I took this lie, the shame of it.
Absolutely devout in her complete care of my body, she had only taught me to be weak and voiceless. But I had unlearned that lesson. Our enmeshment no longer felt to me like proof of love. I was no longer willing to permit this silencing. Helplessness didn't have to be my identity, I wasn't condemned to it. I was willing—able—to change. Our enmeshment had been enabled by my belief that I needed her to help me, to take care of things for me—and to save me—but, back in the home where I'd learned this helplessness, I found I no longer felt that I was trapped in it.
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 threads like a Taser gun. I'd stun them. They'd bow to me. I'd let my no echo against the mountains.And better to feel bad for a moment saying no—and stop it—than to get harmed.I would take better care.That small word, no. I'd see its deity.
I made a conscious effort to name my needs and desires. To carefully listen to and accurately identify what I felt. Hunger, exhaustion, cold, lower-back ache, thirst. The ephemeral pangs: wistfulness and loneliness. Rest fixed most things. Sleep was my sweet reward. I treated bedtime as both incentive and sacrament.
I had no evidence. No physical signs of my rape existed anymore. My body had already purged them. That was the irreversible reality.