Monday, May 23, 2016

On Not Having Read 'Wild'

Four years ago, in the summer of 2012, my wife and I took our mothers along with us on vacation to the Outer Banks in North Carolina.  Caty, my wife, is a planner.  While I spend long, cold winter evenings plotting out the garden for spring, she pours over travel guides to best maximize our vacation experience.  By the time it's time for us to pack up and leave, our route has been carefully mapped, the cooler packed with enough food so that we won't have to go to the grocery store right away, bird watching gear stowed away, clothes chosen for any sort of weather, and books on CD to make the 13 hour drive less hellish and more diversionary.  She'd chosen a Carol Burnett memoir, "This Time Together: Laughter and Reflection" and "Wild" by Cheryl Strayed.  One for the ride down and one for the ride back.  She let me choose which one to start with, and I'd been looking forward to "Wild" for some time, so that went in the CD player in the Subaru when we drove out of range WESA, the NPR station in Pittsburgh.
Everything seemed to be fine, which is that foolproof harbinger of impending doom on any road trip.  Not far into the book Strayed relates the devastating effect her mother's death had on her.  She recounts the cancer diagnosis, and how not long after her mother died.  My own mother's mother died of cancer when I was 4 years old, and I can tell you right now that she never recovered from that loss.  Never.  Listening to Strayed recount her own torturous pain brought all of that emotional rawness and anguish to the surface for my mother.  The backseat gave rise to a low gutteral howl that slowly gained force and became a shattering tearful scream.
"For the love of God, turn that off!  I can't take it anymore!"  She choked out.
Immediately Caty ejected the CD.  I was driving, and my mother was seated directly behind me, the scream and outburst had unnerved me at 75mph on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  Old people, because of hearing loss, tend to speak loudly as it is, so, couple that with how someone talks/shouts when they're distressed, and you have some idea what it was like being enclosed in a small space with someone who's nearly hysterical, and who feels the need to unburden themselves as to why they are hysterical.  To my credit, I kept the car on the road without incident, despite the stress of having my mother unable to control the grief she was reliving afresh, as if 46 years hadn't passed since her mother passed.
When mom finally calmed down, Caty slid in the Carol Burnett memoir.  Thank God for Carol Burnett!!!  Shortly we were all laughing, and the mood lightened.  Of course we had no book on CD to listen to then on the way home, and driving through parts of Virginia you can only find religious radio stations spouting hellfire and hate, but I learned a valuable lesson: On road trips with mom, ONLY bring puff pieces, otherwise...
Even though I've seen the movie 'Wild', I never was able to go back to the book.

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