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December 2007

The Source of All Things

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.

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 ****. 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.

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