When she’d been a fledgling reporter with dreams of conducting hard-hitting , insightful interviews with heads of state, Arlys had imagined herself in life-and-death situations, and how her courageous and intrepid on-the-spot reporting would impact the nation. Now, as she faced a drunk, potentially crazy colleague with a gun, her mind went blank. Panic sweat rolled greasily down her spine.
After the film I asked Theresa about her own birth experience with me and learned that she had entered the hospital alone and frightened, whereupon she’d been whisked away to a room neighboring other birthing rooms, a harried nurse running back and forth between Theresa and two other women, all of them afraid and calling for the nurse’s attention. Theresa recalled the intense pain of labor, having little understanding as to what was happening with her body, with no one to explain anything or provide any comfort, all the while begging the nurse not to leave her alone as, through the walls, the terrified screams of her neighbors penetrated. I came into this world after some hours of the torture she described to me, pulled out with forceps, silent, possibly stillborn, Theresa had thought. The doctor held me by my feet and slapped my bottom a few times until I let out a small weak whimper. Theresa’s story shocked me.
Sara’s encounter with Curtis cast a shadow of uncertainty over my world. In Synanon I had not worried about rapists in the night or child molesters hanging around churches, luring young girls like Sara and me to their homes to do sleazy things under the guise of an interest in our hobbies. Curtis had seemed harmless, but he wasn’t. That night, I couldn’t sleep. Fearful thoughts clamored through my mind, a parade of every possible thing that could happen. I finally got up and went into the kitchen, opening the drawer where Theresa kept the spatulas, serving spoons, and kitchen knives. I took the biggest knife I could find and went back to my room, where I shoved it under my pillow, climbed under the covers, and finally drifted off to sleep.
Casimir had been a typical vampire—the quintessential vampire, in fact. And look what had happened to him! Whereas I . . . well, I was different. I was active and empathic and dependable and involved. I wasn’t anything like Casimir. It’s funny what lies you tell yourself when you’re scared to death.
“...there are people out there, like Madame, who don’t hate you or wish you any harm, but who nevertheless shudder at the very thought of you—of how you were brought into this world and why—and who dread the idea of your hand brushing against theirs. The first time you glimpse yourself through the eyes of a person like that, it’s a cold moment. It’s like walking past a mirror you’ve walked past every day of your life, and suddenly it shows you something else, something troubling and strange.”
“What we lack in education and experience, we more than make up for in gumption, and a willingness to put ourselves out there. We know a lot more today than we did a year ago, and each new lesson has empowered us with a deeper understanding of how capable we are, if we allow ourselves to simply learn, without fear.”
“You’re doing fine, Cheryl,” he said. “Don’t worry about it too much. You’re green, but you’re tough. And tough is what matters the most out here. Not just anyone could do what you’re doing.”…He wasn’t tougher than me. No one was, I told myself, without believing it. I made it the mantra of those days; when I paused before yet another series of switchbacks or skidded down knee-jarring slopes, when patches of flesh peeled off my feet along with my socks, when I lay alone and lonely in my tent at night I asked, often out loud: Who is tougher than me? The answer was always the same, and even when I knew absolutely there was no way on this earth it was true, I said it anyway: No one.
–Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed