I recently read the book, "Into the Wild" by Jon Krakaurer. It is the story of a young man who couldn't stay still in society. Abandoning his wealthy parents, Christopher McCandless donated his savings account balance to a charity dedicated to ending world hunger and took to the open road in his used car. When the car refused to start on the side of a flooding river, he abandoned his wheels along with most of his possessions and began his travels by foot. For the next couple years, he squatted, hitchhiked, and camped, pausing occasionally to work for enough loot to buy necessary supplies and food for his final and most ambitious adventure, Alaska, where he lived for several weeks, sleeping in an abandoned bus, forging for berries and hunting squirrel before falling tragically ill and dying. Alone in the bus and brush, his already skeletal body became crippled by poisonous wild potato seeds, which were never recorded as poisonous in the boy's books. Severely weak, the young man was unable to hike for help and after days of suffering, he died from starvation and the poison.
At this point in my little book report, my mother is calling me to plead that I continue shaving my armpits. It is her biggest fear for me. A fear, I've learned, that stems from the summer her sister briefly stopped shaving her underarms. "Rachey, whatever you do, please do not stop shaving your armpits!" With which I always reply, "MUM! I'm not GUNNA!" I will shear my armpits forevermore. I promise. And I will never move to the woods to live in an abandoned bus. The thought of that life frightens me more than running from cowboy bank robbers down steep slippery cement steps in high healed shoes and ankle weights. I don't know that I'll ever want to camp alone, let alone in a place considered an "outback," "wilderness," "the side of Rt.66" or "the woods." I have no plans to abandon society with a ten pound bag of rice, hunting rifle and crinkled copy of War and Peace. I tried making summer dresses and failed, as my immediate family enjoys recalling. I thought I was being crafty and savvy, buying discount fabric with my internship stipend, cutting and sewing pieces of material into makeshift skirts and dresses. Without a sewing machine or patterns, I'd lay on the fabric, wrapping it around myself, pinning it into place and attaching ribbon straps and bodice belts to keep the cheap cotton from falling down my nineteen-year-old frame. I was in Vermont at the time, interning at a community theater. When I called home to boast about my self-taught sewing skills, my mother mailed me a box of skirts. c/o Rachel Cummings.
I can respect the deeply dug desire to be alone. To never know what your day will entail and if you'll even survive it. To never receive insurance bills, angry letters or newspapers of sad suicide stories where little boys hold up classrooms at gunpoint before turning their guns toward their troubled heads. To have a life of leaving. Leaving acquaintances, possessions, gossip, caffeine addictions and the noise of the planet deteriorating.
Still I choose to be here amongst the chaos of humanity than at the mercy of the dark woods. I choose traffic and elevators, shopping malls and family reunions, music and conversations, company and confrontations. Homemade pie crust and citrus scented dish soap. Nights of sitting on stools in my favorite bar, chattering over the crackling of peanut shells and the sipping of hard apple cider. I choose yoga class, salad dressing, fat orange carrots and doughy brie cheese. I choose late nights at the movies, watching bad action movies with scoffing friends who, still tipsy from dinner at Chili's, chuckle with me until the credits roll and the cinema's staff waits with broomsticks, flashlights and trash bins. I choose burritos, tucked and swaddled, a baby of beans and salsa that steams when the flour skin is bit and torn. I choose my family of competitive comedians where everyone yells to be the heard by our mother, the Supreme Court judge of all that is funny. I choose to lay on the couch, listening to my father's impromptu acoustic guitar concerts. I choose to fight my brother's urgings to eat like a cavewoman. I choose to be here, amongst teasing matches with my sisters where my little sister punctuates every fight by yelling, "Well, Rachel pooooped in the closet!" Which, when this happened last week over Christmas' roast beef dinner, I exclaimed, "I was two years old!" And for the first time, my mother made a weird, inclining sound, as if to say, well not really. I looked to her to finish and after some questioning, I learned that the pooping in my mother's pumps incident happened not when I was two years old, but when I was four. ... I choose to be surrounded by strangers. To be alone in my body, in warm cafes and city sidewalks, wrapped between my headphones and in cold weather, my scarf strung around and around my neck like a maypole streamer. I hide in plain site.
I am starting a new full time job, leaving a perfectly fine job for another perfectly fine job. Two-week notices, I see, keep me sane, keep me sleeping in the same state with the same man. For something needs to change, progress, move. Otherwise, I collapse inside the gray lines of happiness, of happenstance. I know I am lucky to have love that loves me back, warm shelter and good food, lucky to be laughing against my lover's rhythmic ribcage like a cackling crow calling alarms to the corpses of cold roadkill, but all this while I wait for muses to appear in the windows of passing passenger side windows. For if mediocrity appears, it is as morose as the murder of child laborers and newly wed grooms. And boredom exposes time as a pile of mud that must be consumed with a spoon through one's gagging gullet until all that is left is a white flag in a puddle of yellow bile. I have no real tragedy. No grit scratching my skin. No oppression holding my head under water. Nothing to run from but my own uneasiness. So I'm moving. We're moving. Packing our things in boxes once again. Renting another moving truck and driving across town to unload and reorganize our possessions onto our old book shelves and into newly rented kitchen cabinets. By definition, I am happy. In this little marriage we have sweet safe sex where groaning grins and pointed public bones hit, pelvises dual and legs twine like vines and hundred year old wines. We are living a life of content companionship where our country's currency is laughter, debate, camaraderie and kisses. "You're in your happy place. Aren't you Rachey?" My mother asks me. "I didn't get to my happy place until my thirties." Oh but to stand at an altar and not feel so small. To grasp something more than my paper paycheck, the evening's plans or the inside stitch of my pockets. To walk through New York City in winter and not feel like a huddled hunched mass of humiliated bone, flesh and fat. To be a home owning hermit and hitchhiking vagrant with a cabin as my suitcase. To make coffee; buy groceries and drag the vacuum cleaner up the stairs without feeling like feminist fairies everywhere are dying because of me. To sleep on a train as it chug-a-chugs through town centers, cities and farmland. To be rushing everywhere. Wanted everywhere. To run in and out of society like a sprinkler in September.
I walk my dog early every morning. She in her fur. Me, inside mittens, a hat, long johns, jeans and my lime green coat, I wear headphones and watch neighborhoods as they pass by like a movie montage, gazing into glowing yellow windows to bath-robed strangers who pour water into tea kettles and click remote controls to weather channels. Slippers shuffle down sidewalks and driveways to crouch over rubber banded newspapers. Dogs run toward us before springing back to porch banisters, their leashes taut while they bark and wag their tails hello. I like this world. I like its scabbed knees and elbow patched coats, its cracked sidewalks and bold bicyclists. I like its cold quarrels in New Hampshire Walmarts where frizzy haired women in faded Levi jeans and turtle neck sweaters sneer at one another. "I hope you're happy." Donna says, her eyes darting. "Fuuck you Donna." Debbie shoots over her shoulder. "Fuck you Debbie." My friend, Amy and I walk by, witnessing. In our hands, we have a road map, a bag of candy and wide eyed grins.