It was a difficult hike. The path was rocky and there were very few birds and the weather was not inviting. We never stopped just to take it all in: the natural world, etcetera. And there was so far to go. Even my foresightful friend grumbled as we gazed at the incessant scribble on a posted map: “We haven’t even reached halfway.” I’d looked forward to the walk for weeks, the anticipation pleasurable, but like a round stone in the mouth, ultimately futile. And I knew I’d be glad to have completed it. So the path, narrow and tough, lay between anticipation and triumph, a strip of coarse flint.
We got lost three times. Modestly. We’d simply deviated from the path. So we’d bushwhacked – modestly – to meet the path again (we did not retrace our steps, that last resort -- no, we would get through this humbling journey with our pride intact). Maybe we stepped away from the obvious trail because we were lost in our impulsive, roaming conversation, but more, I think, our bodies took example from it. A number of my stories were uninspired and rambling, bearing no fruit of wisdom, not even a raisin. But true friendship forgives the droughts, waits them out. In the same way, we made time for each other’s gnawing, recent injuries, neither of which had a clear explanation. A knee. A calf. As if we were becoming old women! As if.
The rigor of the hike was such that I could hear myself speaking – I couldn’t forget myself; it was a mental version of clenching one’s teeth. A third of the way in (after two hours of conversation), I noticed that I had used the word “trauma” several times. Was there something I wanted to say? I scanned my organs, physical and metaphysical: no. In fact, my traumas are finally all tucked in. I know exactly where they are and I do not fear them. They are bundles now, that I managed to pin down and bind with rope spun of reckoning, forgiving materials. For their own sake as well as for mine – for them to have a bit of a life, dormant as they may be, amid the greens and browns, the lapping shores, the swooping seabirds, the selfless, swollen mosses that in six months, at the height of the drought of summer, will sustain entire forests, letting go as unconsciously as they now hold on.
Not long ago, my daughter, now in her early twenties, was thinking about a life other than hers. She was thinking of mine. “That must have been so hard,” she said, referring to a particular time, the cherry on top of a long, devastating period. And I could not travel back to that time, not even to say, Yes, yes it was. Healing did mean a kind of erasure. But at the same time, that period is woven into every swatch of me, a thread alongside the others, warp as much as weft. I won’t say they are darker threads, and I won’t say they blaze, either. It’s the difference between bodies in the yard: whether they are hidden, or marked and prayed over. It’s the difference between murder and death, between live electrical wires and the strings of an instrument.
How strange that my daughter was seeing my trauma now that I had put it to bed. That she was witnessing it and expressing empathy, which was comforting, actually, but no matter how insightful it was – how on the pulse – it was not going to breathe life into it. I do not mean to be impenetrable to my daughter – and children often feel their parents are, of course, intentionally opaque, that they have secrets, keep their suffering to themselves. Perhaps I was not ready, or was not brave enough, and now I’m lying about having put it to bed, or having absorbed it. In the balance is that I do not want her to be contaminated by it. But neither do I want to give the impression that I could cut it out from my past and show it to her, isolate it, because it was too large for that, too powerful, the way she is large and powerful – and I am shot through with her, with every changing instant of her being – all of the swath of me that I define as self. The full entirety of who I am.
My friend and I stopped once during our difficult hike, to eat. My hunger was sharp and clean, unequivocal, which was oddly pleasurable. I’d made the sandwiches, hoping to redeem the mushy, day-old ones I’d bought for our previous hike. They satisfied the definition perfectly: ham, cheese, lettuce, mayonnaise, mustard, two slices of bread. Unfortunately, so I learned there and then, good sandwiches break from definition. We ate my cloying sandwiches on a bench sixty feet above a rough cove. At one point, a flock of dark cormorants rose and swooped over our heads like shards of a tossed plate. Then, in the dark water, a shadowy darkness appeared – a rounded oblong shape. A seal, the largest I have ever seen. Lone and calm, in no hurry to breach, hovering just beneath the surface, satisfying no expectation. It moved through the water and eventually away, belonging, sublimely.