Somewhere in the sun-washed space between Southern California's hills of sand and the present desolate volcanic sprawl I was crossing, my legs had strengthened, but - invisibly - so had my will. The wisdom of my body had cultivated vibrantly since those sadness-drunken months after the rape when I'd felt so numbed by the hurt and shame that I didn't move further. No longer.
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I saw now that bad men existed who would take advantage of any weakness and insecurity they found when violating a victim. I saw it was not my fault; I did not choose to be raped or kidnapped. But now I was learning how to protect myself from the predators, to trust my No and my instinct and my strength. I was learning I was not to blame, I couldn't prevent men from trying to hurt me, but I could definitely fight back. And sometimes fighting back worked.
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In the power of my newfound strength, I saw clearly-even though I'd been empowered to have my old college finally address my 'horrific trauma, ' make me finally feel heard, this event would never have happened had I not first given myself my own voice, the permission to call my rape rape and not shame. In telling, I forced the school that silenced me, that minimized my trauma, that blamed me for the rape, to finally respect my voice and give me the platform they should have given me in the first place. I did not need the school to call it by its name; I did it myself, and they listened. I was the powerful party that brought the closure and empowerment I'd hoped, in first finding their invitation, that Colorado College would bring.
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The harsh dimness that follows loss isn't static, but charged with the energy of immanent change. Hurt, I was left with a choice: wallow and stay in the dark, or seek light and fight to reach it. These two paths emerged. I had this choice to make. Loss is the shocking catalyst of transformation. I saw that this mountain valley, haunted by senseless murders, darker, had absorbed unthinkable violence and turned it into mesmerizing light. My rape became my catalyst. Rape gave me cause to flee the muteness - forced me into making a bold and forceful change. I chose to fight to find a way to leave to seek my own strength and beauty. I was searching to find the way to make light.
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It finally had to. I understood that it wouldn't be easy, it would be very hard; I'd need to resist the habit I had developed long ago - with conviction. I'd have to be impolite, an inconvenience, and sometimes awkward. But if I could commit, all that discomfort would add up to zap predatory threats like a Taser gun. I'd stun them. They'd bow to me. I'd let my no echo against the mountains.
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For all my life, I had been passive when faced with dangers. I was stunned as I swam to find that I had, for the first time in my history, asserted myself and been truly heard-respected. It felt monumental, I was buzzing with adrenaline. It was as if I'd become someone else entirely. I had escaped a kidnapper. It finally felt real. My body unclenched tension in the balmy pool. I was proud of the strength I'd found. I was the one who asserted he take me back; I caused him to listen. I was no longer a passive Doll Girl, trapped. This was me learning I could trust my voice-I'd used it, and it finally worked! I was triumphant. This escape showed me: I had grown, and grown vividly.
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All I could think as he was speaking was that, if he touched me at all, all the miles I'd walked, the pain I'd felt, the beauty I'd drunken like milk, like good wine making me happy, the four million steps I'd taken, would all add up to nothing. They'd be stolen. They'd vanish like the teeth children lose when they get hit. Only after the blood was washed away would I see that they were gone.
From that unremarkable gap in dense northern forest, I could finally see clearly that if I hadn't walked away from school, through devastating beauty alone on the Pacific Crest Trail, met rattlesnakes and bears, fording frigid and remote rivers as deep as I am tall-feeling terror and the gratitude that followed the realization that I'd survived rape-I'd have remained lost, maybe for my whole life. The trail had shown me how to change. This is the story of how my recklessness became my salvation. I wrote it.
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He was sprightly and uncommonly good looking, with a quiet, magnanimous confidence that attracted people. He was my hero, too, and I listened to him. He gave me lots of wise advice. He told me to put myself in win-win situations, and that, 'You have to know what you want, and you have to get it,
I couldn't yet piece together the disconnected clues to understand the origin of these lights. To explain away strange magic, I'd convinced myself there was an unseen road cutting across the boundless desert floor like a scar. I imagined its different possible courses. The mystery intrigued me. I couldn't think of the real destination this road would have been built to lead to, but I accepted I couldn't see, and I accepted it was there, strange but - from where I stood - a beautiful vision.
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This was a vision of wildness contained - caged. Huge, powerful animals whose wild dignity was stripped from them. Panic jolted me. These animals had had their freedom seized by people who put their own desires first. In the glint of the silver cage bars I saw the same steely repression, the same cold entitlement that allows people to feel it is okay to steal bodies and lives as I glimpsed while frozen beneath Junior. The boy who had put his few minutes of pleasure before my entire life.
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I didn't know what I would do. There was no way I could survive. I stared at my damp tent ceiling, feeling the frigid air against me, the frozen ground against my bottom, so cold my bare skin burned. I needed to get to the next trail-town, Mammoth Lakes. There was no one here to save me now.
I hoped my solitude would help me reclaim my innocence, remember who I'd been, to find who I wanted to be. To become her. To love her, Deborah, Debby, Doll Girl, Wild Child, me, despite the irreversible truth that I'd been raped. I was learning again that I could trust myself and, also, I was seeing, other people. I was brave enough now to go out alone towards what I wanted, to trust that I was strong enough for it, to know that help would come when I needed it. It always came.
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I reached into my pack and held something small in the fist I made. 'It's a pocketknife, ' I said, enunciating each letter. I was asserting myself, I'd snapped out of something; he visibly snapped out of something too. I saw it acutely in his dropping posture: doubt in his movement. I said, 'The truck works.' And so it did.
I was able to pitch a tent and carry a backpack twenty-five miles a day through mountains-I'd mastered a thousand amazing physical feats-physically I'd become undeniably confident and capable-but physical weakness had never been the problem that I had. My true problem had been passivity, the lifelong-conditioned submission that became my nature.
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It took me almost two thousand miles in the woods to see I had to do some hard work that wasn't simply walking-that I needed to begin respecting my own body's boundaries. I had to draw clear lines. Ones that were sound in my mind and therefore impermeable, and would always, no matter where I walked, protect me. Moving forward, I wanted rules. First-when I felt unsafe I'd leave, immediately. The first time, not the tenth time. Not after a hundred red flags smacked in wind violently, clear as trail signs pointing the way to SNAKES. Not after I'd been bitten-the violation. If I wasn't interested, I would reject the man blatantly.
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If I could mark clearly, convincingly and consistently what was good for me and also what was bad - if I could say yes and also no, as if it were the law - it would become my law. It finally had to. I understood that it wouldn't be easy, it would be very hard; I'd need to resist the habit I had developed long ago - with conviction. I'd have to be impolite, an inconvenience, and sometimes awkward. But if I could commit, all that discomfort would add up to zap predatory threats like a Taser gun. I'd stun them. They'd bow to me. I'd let my no echo against the mountains. And better to feel bad for a moment saying no - and stop it - than to get harmed.
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Second-I'd take much better care of myself. There were simple things I could do. I could start with my poor feet. These little two feet carried me each day for miles and miles, steady and flexed, tired and aching from constant daily pounding, bruised scratched and sometimes rubbed red-raw, my weight pressing and pressing them. I decided now that each night in my tent I'd massage them. I would knead them with lotion because they always ached, and at the end of thirty-mile days they burned-and it would be luxurious-something I could have done the entire way because I had been carrying sun lotion but had never taken the ten sacred minutes to do for myself.
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If I wanted to go to bed at ten o'clock I did. If I wanted to go to bed at six p.m., I did. I woke at sunrise because the new sun lit my eyes. The sun was my clock; my body my pace-keeper. I started walking when I wanted, kept going until precisely when I wanted to stop. When I was tired, feeling like stopping but wanting to persist, I'd listen to Blood On The Tracks.
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I don't remember having one conversation with my dad in the three days I was home, but looking back at my journal, I see I wrote about him. I scrawled about how I heard him telling my mom that I needed to go back. I was unhappy; he thought the hiking was better for me. I wonder why he told these things to my mother, nothing to me. I wonder if overhearing his approval encouraged me to finally fly back to the trail. Maybe. Maybe my father's faith in my walk-in me-made me feel strong enough to leave. His actual words, as I wrote them in my notebook, were, 'She's an adult now, she can do what she wants. It doesn't mean she's not selfish.' He almost understood.
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And the idea of light unexplainably produced out of nothing was haunting, it shook me. A flat drab mountain could produce its own light, no one in this whole world knows why, and if that was possible then of course there must be other things that seemed impossible that weren't, and so anything-great and terrible-felt possible to me now.
I was passive by nature. I had always been. Arguing felt unnatural and uncomfortable. I was always agreeing even when I didn't really, instinctively looking for ways to forfeit power, to become more dependent, to be taken care of. I realized how intensely Icecap reminded me of Jacob. They were similar, both diligent and harsh in their judgments-and my big brother's sureness had always comforted me. But as I ran on sore legs to keep up with Icecap, my tendency toward silence stressed me.
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I'd have to be impolite, an inconvenience, and sometimes awkward. But if I could commit, all that discomfort would add up to zap predatory threads like a Taser gun. I'd stun them. They'd bow to me. I'd let my no echo against the mountains. And better to feel bad for a moment saying no-and stop it-than to get harmed. I would take better care. That small word, no. I'd see its deity.
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I made a conscious effort to name my needs and desires. To carefully listen to and accurately identify what I felt. Hunger, exhaustion, cold, lower-back ache, thirst. The ephemeral pangs: wistfulness and loneliness. Rest fixed most things. Sleep was my sweet reward. I treated bedtime as both incentive and sacrament.
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The night Junior stayed, my right to myself was taken from me in a way that had felt more final than ever before. Then the school had denied my rape-my word. The subsequent silencing and exile-misplaced shame-were the catalysts for me to finally break free of my mother's grasp and my voicelessness and do what I truly wanted, alone. I wished to prove myself as independent and valid and strong-to my mother, and to the world. I'd believed I had needed something huge and external that no one could deny was impressive, so I could show my family I was able-so they could finally know that I was strong. Instead I had shown myself. And it felt wonderful.
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It was suddenly Technicolor clear: the only thing holding me from giving myself vision this entire time had actually simply been me. I saw how in the fall and winter of my childhood, I'd walked through the golden aspens. And then I simply committed and gave myself my own eyes. I had once again proven that again alone, I was again enough.
This was trail magic. Sea Breeze's fire, his light, his heat, his life, remained, their salvation. It is a fact that all drainages, if followed downhill, lead to the same lowland water body. Lost and fallen hikers follow drainages down because walking ridges is harder. And so, despite the complex web of paths, waterfalls, cliffs, as a hiker wanders downhill, drainages merge, faint, abstract paths coalesce, thicken, until there is one path - the one, natural, trodden way. It isn't a coincidence that Sea Breeze, Brandon Day and Gina Allen, and countless other hikers all wandered, lost, down the same steep slope to nowhere.
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I had feared this end, wondered where I would go from it, from the moment I first stepped on this footpath in the desert. But I found I was not afraid of reaching it now. I was happy. I hadn't found every answer for where I was going, but I now had all I needed to take these next steps. I knew I would do what I needed to become a writer now.
For this entire walk, my desire had ashamed me, as if my wanting to be kissed that night mitigated the fault of Junior's sudden deafness. I'd been given stacks of reasons to blame myself for an act of violence committed by another. I had blamed my flirting for his subsequent felony. My college taught me: my rape was my shame. Everyone I'd trusted asked only what I might have done to let it happen. In my gut, I'd always believed I'd caused it. I finally questioned it.
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