I have spent nearly two weeks inside Wild, Cheryl Strayed’s sprawling memoir of hiking the Pacific Coast Trail in California and Oregon. She went alone, though along the way met and befriended several other hikers and passersby. The trail was her Holy Grail, kind of, something she had to conquer after spiraling out of control. Her mother died. She cheated on her husband. Left him. Started using drugs. Divorced her husband. Stopped using drugs. Relapsed. Fell in with the wrong kind of guy. Salvation in the form of a physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausting trip.
When I finished Wild last night, I was still up, listening to Avery watch the iPad, and I started reading Bill Clegg’s Ninety Days, the follow-up to his Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man. Clegg also spiraled out of control, descending into paranoia, mania, illicit drug use and sex with men who were not his boyfriend, ultimately losing his relationship, dignity, and successful agency. That book ended with his decision to enter rehab, which is where Ninety Days begins, with his leaving rehab and reintegrating back into the life he left behind. I thought I’d read the first chapter, but I couldn’t stop, and finished the book in about two hours.
Some books are like that for me. I start and can’t stop until I finish. Others, like Wild, are more difficult for me to read straight though. Something about Clegg’s book, written in present tense — despite the events having happened more than five years ago — demanded a straight-through read, while Strayed’s book, written in past tense (the events depicted happened 17 years ago), could be read in a more leisurely way, as if I was hiking alongside her and taking breaks when the story started to hurt.
Memoirs about different types of relapse and recovery, and the realization that despite your best intentions, sometimes going through things alone is not the way to reach the other side.