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Backpacker Magazine – December 2007
Recently released as a full-length memoir, The Source of All Things was first published as a feature article in BACKPACKER in December 2007. This is the full-text of that article.
Now a full-length memoir, The Source of All Things by Tracy Ross is available from Amazon.com and other booksellers.
Yesterday, I'd left the trailhead near Stanley and headed north, out of the showering aspen leaves and past the hillsides covered in scree. Even if I couldn't find answers at Redfish Lake, I thought, I would still hike into my favorite mountains to clear my head. When I got to the dead ponderosa overlooking the limestone pipes, I'd taken a picture of myself and my pack. And when I reached the lake surrounded by snow-capped peaks, I'd tried to pitch my tent, but it was slushy and muddy and I started to cry.
Around 6 p.m., I packed up my things and turned down the trail. It's okay to go to pieces, I thought, and then I started to run. I ran until I reached the lower basin, where I found strangers camped by a lake. Their closeness soothed me, so I laid out my gear, cooked some oatmeal, and went to bed. An ice cloud formed around the moon. The next 12 hours felt endless, like how I imagine solitary confinement would be.
The summer of 1985, I stood in the middle of the Perrine Bridge and didn't jump. It might have been that the wind was howling so hard I couldn't balance on the rail. I might have remembered the cat my brother told me he threw over, after he dipped it in gas—how it didn't light on fire but seemed to scream. I stood there for a long time, and then I turned around and walked to the house of a friend whose mother was dating a cop.
The next day, the police knocked on my parents' door and asked them for my things. When I later testified against my dad, I learned he had denied everything, then refused to take a lie-detector test. At the hearing, my mother wept quietly in the second row. I was moved into a foster home and became a ward of the state. My dad, who continued proclaiming his innocence, was sentenced to a year of abstinence—from me.
Somehow, in those darkest days when I was being shuttled from home to home and finally back to my mother, my parents decided that it would be best if they got back together. I moved to Oregon to live with a relative so my dad could go home. Several months later, when the year of our separation was over, my parents came to pick me up.
They thought they could jump-start our family and forcibly undo the damage that had been done. On the eve of their arrival in Oregon, my dad granted me a sparse admission over the phone—something like, "I did it. I'm sorry." But it felt halfhearted, and I knew he was holding out. For the next year, I unleashed my hatred upon him, daring him to touch me so I could have him locked up. I mocked him for being an Idaho hick. And I meant it when I told him I'd kill him if he weren't such a worthless fuck. A year after we reunited, when I was 16, I used my military pension to pay for boarding school in Michigan, planning never to return.
It almost worked. In following years, I extricated myself from my family by disappearing for months at a time. I went to places that didn't have phones, like the Utah desert and Mexico. I enrolled in college several times—and dropped out when the urge to disappear became stronger than the need to fit in. But through it all, I continued to fragment.