Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail - Cheryl Strayed (2012)

Part IV. WILD

                                                        When I had no roof I made

                                                        Audacity my roof.

ROBERT PINSKY,
“Samurai Song”

                                                        Never never never give up.

WINSTON CHURCHILL

11. THE LOU OUT OF LOU

I was standing by the side of the highway just outside the town of Chester, trying to hitch a ride, when a man driving a silver Chrysler LeBaron pulled over and got out. Over the past fifty-some hours, I’d hiked fifty miles with Stacy and Trina and the dog, from Belden Town to a place called Stover Camp, but we’d split up ten minutes before when a couple in a Honda Civic had stopped, announcing that they only had room for two of us. “You go,” we’d each said to the other; “no, you go”—until I insisted and Stacy and Trina got in, Odin lumbering behind them to sit wherever he could, while I assured them I’d be fine.

And I would be fine, I thought, as the man who drove the Chrysler LeBaron made his way toward me on the gravel shoulder of the road, though I felt a sick flutter in my gut as I attempted to discern, in the flash of a second, what his intentions were. He looked like a nice enough guy, a few years older than me. He was a nice guy, I decided, when I glanced at the bumper of his car. On it, there was a green sticker that said IMAGINE WHIRLED PEAS.

Has there ever been a serial killer who imagined whirled peas?

“Hey there,” I called amiably. I was holding the world’s loudest whistle, my hand having traveled to it unconsciously over the top of Monster and around to the nylon cord that dangled from my backpack’s frame. I hadn’t used the whistle since I’d seen that first bear on the trail, but ever since then, I had a constant and visceral awareness of where it was in relation to me, as if it weren’t only attached to my backpack by a cord, but another, invisible cord attached it to me.

“Good morning,” the man said, and held his hand out to shake mine, his brown hair flopping over his eyes. He told me his name was Jimmy Carter, no relation, and that he couldn’t give me a ride because there was no room in his car. I looked and saw it was true. Every inch except the driver’s seat was crammed with newspapers, books, clothes, soda cans, and a jumble of other things that came up all the way to the windows. He wondered, instead, if he could talk to me. He said he was a reporter for a publication called the Hobo Times. He drove around the country interviewing “folks” who lived the hobo life.

“I’m not a hobo,” I said, amused. “I’m a long-distance hiker.” I let go of the whistle and extended my arm toward the road, jabbing my upright thumb at a passing van. “I’m hiking the Pacific Crest Trail,” I explained, glancing at him, wishing he’d get in his car and drive away. I needed to catch two rides on two different highways to get to Old Station and he wasn’t helping the cause. I was filthy and my clothes were even filthier, but I was still a woman alone. Jimmy Carter’s presence complicated things, altered the picture from the vantage point of the drivers passing by. I remembered how long I’d had to stand by the side of the road when I’d been trying to get to Sierra City with Greg. With Jimmy Carter beside me, no one was going to stop.

“So how long have you been out on the road?” he asked, pulling a pen and a long, narrow reporter’s notebook from the back pocket of his thin corduroy pants. His hair was shaggy and unwashed. His bangs concealed then revealed his dark eyes, depending on how the wind blew. He struck me as someone who had a PhD in something airy and indescribable. The history of consciousness, perhaps, or comparative studies in discourse and society.

“I told you. I’m not on the road,” I said, and laughed. Eager as I was to get a ride, I couldn’t help but feel a little delighted by Jimmy Carter’s company. “I’m hiking the Pacific Crest Trail,” I repeated, gesturing by way of elaboration to the woods that edged up near the road, though in fact the PCT was about nine miles west of where we stood.

He stared at me blankly, uncomprehending. It was midmorning and hot already, the kind of day that would be scorching by noon. I wondered if he could smell me. I was past the point where I could smell myself. I took a step back and dropped my hitchhiking arm in surrender. When it came to getting a ride, until he left I was screwed.

“It’s a National Scenic Trail,” I offered, but he only continued looking at me with a patient expression on his face, his unmarked notebook in his hand. As I explained to him what the PCT was and what I was doing on it, I saw that Jimmy Carter wasn’t bad-looking. I wondered if he had any food in his car.

“So if you’re hiking a wilderness trail, what are you doing here?” he asked.

I told him about bypassing the deep snow in Lassen Volcanic National Park.

“How long have you been out on the road?”

“I’ve been on the trail about a month,” I said, and watched as he wrote this down. It occurred to me that maybe I was perhaps a tiny bit of a hobo, given all the time I’d spent hitchhiking and bypassing, but I didn’t think it wise to mention that.

“How many nights have you slept with a roof over your head in that month?” he asked.

“Three times,” I answered, after thinking about it—one night at Frank and Annette’s and one night each at the motels in Ridgecrest and Sierra City.

“Is this all you have?” he asked, nodding to my backpack and ski pole.

“Yeah. I mean, I have some things in storage too, but for now this is it.” I put my hand on Monster. It felt like a friend always, but even more so in the company of Jimmy Carter.

“Well then, I’d say you’re a hobo!” he said happily, and asked me to spell my first and last names.

I did and then wished I hadn’t.

“No fucking way!” he exclaimed when he had it all down on the page. “Is that really your name?”

“Yeah,” I said, and turned away, as if searching for a car, so he wouldn’t read the hesitation on my face. It was eerily silent until a logging truck came around the bend and roared by, oblivious to my imploring thumb.

“So,” Jimmy Carter said after the truck passed, “we could say you’re an actual stray.”

“I wouldn’t say that,” I stammered. “Being a hobo and being a hiker are two entirely different things.” I looped my wrist into the pink strap of my ski pole and scraped the dirt with the tip, making a line that went nowhere. “I’m not a hiker in the way you might think of a hiker,” I explained. “I’m more like an expert hiker. I hike fifteen to twenty miles a day, day after day, up and down mountains, far away from roads or people or anything, often going days without seeing another person. Maybe you should do a story on that instead.”

He glanced up at me from his notebook, his hair blowing extravagantly across his pale face. He seemed like so many people I knew. I wondered if I seemed that way to him.

“I hardly ever meet hobo women,” he half whispered, as if confiding a secret, “so this is fucking cool.”

“I’m not a hobo!” I insisted more vehemently this time.

“Hobo women are hard to find,” he persisted.

I told him that this was because women were too oppressed to be hobos. That most likely all the women who wanted to be hobos were holed up in some house with a gaggle of children to raise. Children who’d been fathered by hobo men who’d hit the road.

“Oh, I see,” he said. “You’re a feminist, then.”

“Yes,” I said. It felt good to agree on something.

“My favorite,” he said, and wrote in his notebook without saying his favorite what.

“But none of this matters!” I exclaimed. “Because I myself am not a hobo. This is totally legit, you know. What I’m doing. I’m not the only one hiking the PCT. People do this. Have you ever heard of the Appalachian Trail? It’s like that. Only out west.” I stood watching him write what seemed like more words than I’d spoken.

“I’d like to get a picture of you,” Jimmy Carter said. He reached into his car and pulled out a camera. “That’s a cool shirt, by the way. I love Bob Marley. And I like your bracelet too. A lot of hobos are Nam vets, you know.”

I looked down at William J. Crockett’s name on my wrist.

“Smile,” he said, and snapped a shot. He told me to look for his piece on me in the fall issue of the Hobo Times, as if I were a regular reader. “Articles have been excerpted in Harper’s,” he added.

“Harper’s?” I asked, dumbfounded.

“Yeah, it’s this magazine that—”

“I know what Harper’s is,” I interrupted sharply. “And I don’t want to be in Harper’s. Or rather, I really want to be in Harper’s, but not because I’m a hobo.”

“I thought you weren’t a hobo,” he said, and turned to open the trunk of his car.

“Well, I’m not, so it would be a really bad idea to be in Harper’s, which means you probably shouldn’t even write the article because—”

“Standard-issue hobo care package,” he said, turning to give me a can of cold Budweiser beer and a plastic grocery bag weighed down with a handful of items at its bottom.

“But I’m not a hobo,” I echoed for the last time, with less fervor than I had before, afraid he’d finally believe me and take the standard-issue hobo care package away.

“Thanks for the interview,” he said, and shut the trunk. “Stay safe out here.”

“Yeah. You too,” I said.

“You have a gun, I assume. At least I hope you do.”

I shrugged, unwilling to commit either way.

“ ’Cause, I know you’ve been south of here, but now you’re going north, which means you’re soon entering Bigfoot country.”

“Bigfoot?”

“Yeah. You know, Sasquatch? No lie. From here all the way up to the border and into Oregon you’re in the territory where most of the Bigfoot sightings in the world are reported.” He turned to the trees as if one might come barreling out at us. “A lot of folks believe in them. A lot of hobo folks—folks who are out here. Folks who know. I hear Bigfoot stories all the time.”

“Well, I’m okay, I think. At least so far,” I said, and laughed, though my stomach did a little somersault. In the weeks preceding my hike on the PCT, when I’d decided not to be afraid of anything, I’d been thinking about bears and snakes and mountain lions and strange people I met along the way. I hadn’t pondered hairy humanoid bipedal beasts.

“But you’re probably fine. I wouldn’t worry. Chances are, they’ll leave you alone. Especially if you have a gun.”

“Right.” I nodded.

“Good luck on your hike,” he said, getting into his car.

“Good luck … finding hobos,” I said, and waved as he drove away.

I stood there for a while, letting cars pass without even trying to get them to give me a ride. I felt more alone than anyone in the whole wide world. The sun beat down on me hot, even through my hat. I wondered where Stacy and Trina were. The man who’d picked them up was only going to take them about twelve miles east, to the junction of the next highway we needed to catch a ride on, which would take us north and then back west to Old Station, where we’d rejoin the PCT. We’d agreed to meet at that junction. I remotely regretted having encouraged them to leave me behind when that ride had come along. I jabbed my thumb at another car and realized only after it passed that it didn’t look so good that I was holding a can of beer. I pressed its cool aluminum against my hot forehead and suddenly had the urge to drink it. Why shouldn’t I? It would only get warm in my pack.

I hoisted Monster onto my back and ambled through the weeds down into the ditch and then up again, into the woods, which somehow felt like home to me, like the world that was mine in a way that the world of roads and towns and cars was no longer. I walked until I found a good spot in the shade. Then I sat down in the dirt and cracked the beer open. I didn’t like beer—in fact, that Budweiser was the first whole beer I’d ever drunk in my life—but it tasted good to me, like beer tastes, I imagine, to those who love it: cold and sharp and crisp and right.

While I drank it I explored the contents of the plastic grocery bag. I took everything out and laid each item before me on the ground: a pack of peppermint gum, three individually wrapped wet wipes, a paper packet containing two aspirin, six butterscotch candies in translucent gold wrappers, a book of matches that said Thank You Steinbeck Drug, a Slim Jim sausage sealed in its plastic vacuum world, a single cigarette in a cylindrical faux-glass case, a disposable razor, and a short, fat can of baked beans.

I ate the Slim Jim first, washing it down with the last of my Budweiser, and then the butterscotch candies, all six of them, one after the other, and then—still hungry, always hungry—turned my attention to the can of baked beans. I pried it open in tiny increments with the impossible can-opening device on my Swiss army knife, and then, too lazy to rummage through my pack for my spoon, I scooped them out with the knife itself and ate them—hobo-style—from the blade.

I returned to the road feeling slightly hazy from the beer, chewing two pieces of the peppermint gum to sober up, while cheerfully stabbing my thumb at every vehicle that passed. After a few minutes, an old white Maverick pulled over. A woman sat in the driver’s seat with a man beside her and another man and a dog in the back seat.

“Where you headed?” she asked.

“Old Station,” I said. “Or at least the junction of 36 and 44.”

“That’s on our way,” she said, and got out of the car, came around the back, and opened the trunk for me. She looked to be about forty. Her hair was frizzy and bleached blonde, her face puffy and pocked with old acne scars. She wore cutoffs and gold earrings in the shape of butterflies and a grayish halter top that seemed to have been made with the strings of a mop. “That’s quite a pack you got there, kiddo,” she said, and laughed raucously.

“Thanks, thanks,” I kept saying, wiping the sweat from my face as we worked together to cram Monster into the trunk. We got it in eventually, and I climbed into the back seat with the dog and the man. The dog was a husky, blue-eyed and gorgeous, standing on the tiny floor in front of the seat. The man was lean and about the same age as the woman, his dark hair woven into a thin braid. He wore a black leather vest without a shirt underneath and a red bandanna tied biker-style over the top of his head.

“Hi,” I murmured in his direction as I searched uselessly for the seat belt that was crammed irretrievably into the fold of the seat, my eyes skimming his tattoos: a spiked metal ball on the end of a chain on one arm and the top half of a bare-breasted woman with her head thrown back in either pain or ecstasy on the other; a Latin word I didn’t know the meaning of scrawled across his tan chest. When I gave up on finding the seat belt, the husky leaned over and licked my knee avidly with his soft and strangely cool tongue.

“That dog’s got some motherfucking good taste in women,” said the man. “His name’s Stevie Ray,” he added. Instantly the dog stopped licking me, closed his mouth up tight, and looked at me with his icy black-rimmed eyes, as if he knew he’d been introduced and wanted to be polite. “I’m Spider. You already met Louise—she goes by Lou.”

“Hi!” Lou said, meeting my eyes for a second in the rearview mirror.

“And this here’s my brother Dave,” he said, gesturing to the man in the passenger seat.

“Hi,” I said.

“How about you? You got a name?” Dave turned to ask.

“Oh yeah—sorry. I’m Cheryl.” I smiled, though I felt a blurry uncertainty about having accepted this particular ride. There was nothing to do about it now. We were already on our way, the hot wind blowing my hair. I petted Stevie Ray while assessing Spider in my peripheral vision. “Thanks for picking me up,” I said to conceal my unease.

“Hey, no problem, sister,” Spider said. On his middle finger, he wore a square turquoise ring. “We’ve all been on the road before. We all know what it’s like. I hitched last week and motherfuck if I couldn’t get a ride to save my life, so that’s why when I saw you I told Lou to stop. Mother-fucking karma, you know?”

“Yeah,” I said, reaching up to tuck my hair behind my ears. It felt as coarse and dry as straw.

“What you doing out on the road anyway?” Lou asked from the front.

I went into the whole PCT shebang, explaining about the trail and the record snowpack and the complicated way I had to hitchhike to get to Old Station. They listened with respectful, distant curiosity, all three of them lighting up cigarettes as I spoke.

After I was done talking, Spider said, “I’ve got a story for you, Cheryl. I think it’s along the lines of what you’re talking about. I was reading about animals a while back and there was this motherfucking scientist in France back in the thirties or forties or whenever the motherfuck it was and he was trying to get apes to draw these pictures, to make art pictures like the kinds of pictures in serious motherfucking paintings that you see in museums and shit. So the scientist keeps showing the apes these paintings and giving them charcoal pencils to draw with and then one day one of the apes finally draws something but it’s not the art pictures that it draws. What it draws is the bars of its own motherfucking cage. Its own motherfucking cage! Man, that’s the truth, ain’t it? I can relate to that and I bet you can too, sister.”

“I can,” I said earnestly.

“We can all relate to that, man,” said Dave, and he turned in his seat so he and Spider could do a series of motorcycle blood brother hand jives in the air between them.

“You know something about this dog?” Spider asked me when they were done. “I got him the day Stevie Ray Vaughan died. That’s how he got his motherfucking name.”

“I love Stevie Ray,” I said.

“You like Texas Flood?” Dave asked me.

“Yeah,” I said, swooning at the thought of it.

“I got it right here,” he said, and pulled out a CD and placed it into the boom box that was propped between him and Lou. A moment later, the heaven of Vaughan’s electric guitar filled the car. The music felt like sustenance to me, like food, like all the things I’d once taken for granted that had now become sources of ecstasy for me because I’d been denied them. I watched the trees stream past, lost in the song “Love Struck Baby.”

When it ended, Lou said, “We’re love struck too, me and Dave. We’re getting married next week.”

“Congrats,” I said.

“You wanna marry me, sweetheart?” Spider asked me, momentarily grazing my bare thigh with the back of his hand, his turquoise ring hard against me.

“Just ignore him,” said Lou. “He’s nothing but a horny old bastard.” She laughed and caught my eye in the rearview mirror.

I was a horny old bastard too, I thought, while Stevie Ray the dog licked my knee methodically and the other Stevie Ray launched into a smoking rendition of “Pride and Joy.” The place on my leg where Spider had touched me seemed to pulse. I wished he’d do it again, though I knew that was ludicrous. A laminated card with a cross on it dangled from the stem of the rearview mirror, alongside a faded Christmas-tree-shaped air freshener, and when it spun around I saw that on the other side there was a photograph of a little boy.

“Is that your son?” I asked Lou when the song ended, pointing to the mirror.

“That’s my little Luke,” she said, reaching to tap it.

“Is he going to be in the wedding?” I asked, but she made no reply. She only turned the music down low and I knew instantly that I’d said the wrong thing.

“He died five years ago, when he was eight,” said Lou, a few moments later.

“I’m so sorry,” I said. I leaned forward and patted her shoulder.

“He was riding his bike and he was hit by a truck,” she said plainly. “He wasn’t killed right away. He held on for a week in the hospital. None of the doctors could believe it, that he didn’t die instantly.”

“He was a tough little motherfucker,” said Spider.

“He sure was,” said Lou.

“Just like his mom,” Dave said, grabbing Lou’s knee.

“I’m so very sorry,” I said again.

“I know you are,” said Lou before she turned the music up loud. We drove without talking, listening to Vaughan’s electric guitar wail its way through “Texas Flood,” my heart clenching at the sound of it.

A few minutes later Lou shouted, “Here’s your junction.” She pulled over and shut the engine off and looked at Dave. “Why don’t you boys take Stevie Ray for a leak?”

They all got out with me and stood around lighting up cigarettes while I pulled my pack out of the trunk. Dave and Spider led Stevie Ray into the trees by the side of the road and Lou and I stood in a patch of shade near the car while I buckled Monster on. She asked me if I had kids, how old I was, if I was married or ever had been.

No, twenty-six, no, yes, I told her.

She said, “You’re pretty, so you’ll be okay whatever you do. Me, people always just gotta go on the fact that I’m good-hearted. I never did have the looks.”

“That’s not true,” I said. “I think you’re pretty.”

“You do?” she asked.

“Yeah,” I said, though pretty wasn’t precisely how I would have described her.

You do? Thanks. That’s nice to hear. Usually Dave’s the only one who thinks that.” She looked down at my legs. “You need a shave, girl!” she bellowed, then laughed in the same raucous way she had when she’d said how big my pack was. “Nah,” she said, blowing smoke from her mouth. “I’m just giving you shit. I think it’s neat you do what you want. Not enough chicks do that, if you ask me—just tell society and their expectations to go fuck themselves. If more women did that, we’d be better off.” She took a drag and blew the smoke out in a hard line. “Anyway, after all that stuff about my son getting killed? After that happened, I died too. Inside.” She patted her chest with the hand that held the cigarette. “I look the same, but I’m not the same in here. I mean, life goes on and all that crap, but Luke dying took it out of me. I try not to act like it, but it did. It took the Lou out of Lou, and I ain’t getting it back. You know what I mean?”

“I do,” I said, looking into her hazel eyes.

“I thought so,” she said. “I had that feeling about you.”

I said goodbye to them, crossed the intersection, and walked to the road that would take me to Old Station. The heat was so potent it rose in visible waves from the ground. When I got to the road, I saw three figures undulating in the distance.

“Stacy!” I shouted. “Trina!”

They saw me and waved their arms. Odin barked hello.

Together we hitched a ride to Old Station—another tiny village that was more a gathering of buildings than a town. Trina walked to the post office to mail a few things home while Stacy and I waited for her in the air-conditioned café, drinking soda pop and discussing the next section of the trail. It was a slice of the Modoc Plateau called Hat Creek Rim—desolate and famous for its lack of shade and water, a legendary stretch on a trail of legends. Dry and hot, it was scorched clean by a fire in 1987. The Pacific Crest Trail, Volume 1: California informed me that although there was no reliable water source from Old Station to Rock Springs Creek thirty miles away, when the book went to print in 1989, the Forest Service was about to install a water tank near the ruins of an old fire lookout tower, fifteen miles in. The book cautioned that this information should be verified and that even if it was installed, such tanks can’t always be relied upon because of vandalism in the form of bullet holes.

I sucked on the ice in my tumbler of soda one cube at a time, pondering this information. I’d ditched my dromedary bag back in Kennedy Meadows, since most sections of the trail north of there had adequate water. In anticipation of the dry Hat Creek Rim, I’d planned to buy a large jug of water and strap it to Monster, but for reasons both financial and physical I was hoping that wouldn’t be necessary. I hoped to spend my last bits of money on food at that café rather than on a jug of water, not to mention the misery of carrying that jug for thirty miles across the rim. So I almost fell out of my chair in joy and relief when Trina returned from the post office with the news that southbound hikers had written in the trail register that the tank mentioned in the guidebook was there and that it had water in it.

Exuberantly, we walked to a campground a mile away and set up our tents side by side for one last night together. Trina and Stacy were hiking out the next day, but I decided to lay over, wanting to hike alone again and also to rest my feet, which were still recovering from the blistering descent from Three Lakes.

The next morning when I woke, I had the campsite to myself. I sat at the picnic table and drank tea from my cooking pot while burning the last pages of The Novel. The professor who’d scoffed about Michener had been right in some regards: he wasn’t William Faulkner or Flannery O’Connor, but I’d been utterly absorbed in his book nonetheless and not only for the writing. Its subject hit a chord in me. It was a story about many things, but it centered on the life of one novel, told from the perspectives of its author and editor, its critics and readers. Of all the things I’d done in my life, of all the versions of myself I’d lived out, there was one that had never changed: I was a writer. Someday, I intended to write a novel of my own. I felt ashamed that I hadn’t written one already. In the vision I’d had of myself ten years before, I felt sure I’d have published my first book by now. I’d written several short stories and made a serious stab at a novel, but I wasn’t anywhere close to having a book done. In the tumult of the past year it seemed as if writing had left me forever, but as I hiked, I could feel that novel coming back to me, inserting its voice among the song fragments and advertising jingles in my mind. That morning in Old Station, as I ripped Michener’s book into clumps of five and ten pages so they would burn, crouching next to the fire ring in my campsite to set them aflame, I decided to begin. I had nothing but a long hot day ahead of me anyway, so I sat at my picnic table and wrote until late afternoon.

When I looked up, I saw that a chipmunk was chewing a hole in the mesh door of my tent in an attempt to get to my food bag inside. I chased it away, cursing it while it chattered at me from a tree. By then the campground had filled in around me: most of the picnic tables were now covered with coolers and Coleman stoves; pickup trucks and campers were parked in the little paved pull-ins. I took my food bag out of my tent and carried it the mile back to the café where I’d sat with Trina and Stacy the afternoon before. I ordered a burger, not caring that I’d be spending almost all of my money. My next resupply box was at the state park in Burney Falls, forty-two miles away, but I could get there in two days, now that I was finally able to hike farther and faster—I’d done two nineteen-milers back-to-back out of Belden. It was five on a summer day when the light stretched until nine or ten and I was the only customer, wolfing down my dinner.

I left the restaurant with nothing more than some change in my pocket. I walked past a pay phone and then returned to it, picked up the receiver, and pressed o, my insides trembling with a mix of fear and excitement. When the operator came on to assist me in placing the call, I gave her Paul’s number.

He picked up on the third ring. I was so overcome by the sound of his voice I could barely say hello. “Cheryl!” he exclaimed.

“Paul!” I said finally, and then in a fast jumble I told him where I was and some of what I’d been through since I’d last seen him. We talked for close to an hour, our conversation loving and exuberant, supportive and kind. It didn’t seem like he was my ex-husband. It seemed like he was my best friend. When I hung up, I looked down at my food bag on the ground. It was almost empty, robin’s-egg blue and tubular, made of a treated material that felt like rubber. I lifted it up, pressed it against my body, and closed my eyes.

I walked back to my camp and sat for a long time on my picnic table with A Summer Bird-Cage in my hands, too staggered with emotion to read. I watched the people make their dinners all around me and then I watched the yellow sun melt into pink and orange and the softest lavender in the sky. I missed Paul. I missed my life. But I didn’t want to go back to it either. That awful moment when Paul and I fell onto the floor after I told him the truth about my infidelities kept coming to me in waves, and I realized that what I’d started when I’d spoken those words hadn’t led only to my divorce but to this: to me sitting alone in Old Station, California, on a picnic table beneath the magnificent sky. I didn’t feel sad or happy. I didn’t feel proud or ashamed. I only felt that in spite of all the things I’d done wrong, in getting myself here, I’d done right.

I went to Monster and took out the cigarette in the faux-glass case that Jimmy Carter had given me earlier that day. I didn’t smoke, but I broke the case open anyway, sat on top of the picnic table, and lit the cigarette. I’d been on the PCT for a little more than a month. It seemed like a long time and also it seemed like my trip had just begun, like I was only now digging into whatever it was I was out here to do. Like I was still the woman with the hole in her heart, but the hole had gotten ever so infinitesimally smaller.

I took a drag and blew the smoke from my mouth, remembering how I’d felt more alone than anyone in the whole wide world that morning after Jimmy Carter drove away. Maybe I was more alone than anyone in the whole wide world.

Maybe that was okay.