Monday, October 14, 2013

Cheryl Strayed's Wild, Turquoise Circles, and Dead Dogs

People "get" different things from books; that's part of what makes them so wonderful to read and discuss.

English: Take along the PCT near Parks Creek T...
English: Taken along the PCT near Parks Creek Trailhead in the Scott Mountains. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My book club's upcoming discussion in November is Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed. From the Goodreads description:
At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother's death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life: to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State—and to do it alone. She had no experience as a long-distance hiker, and the trail was little more than “an idea, vague and outlandish and full of promise.” But it was a promise of piecing back together a life that had come undone. 
Schematic overview of course and lands of the ...
Schematic overview of course and lands of the Pacific Crest Trail (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
While Oprah loved it, most of the reviews are raves, and it was the 2012 Goodreads Choice Winner for Best Memoir & Autobiography, some reviewers disliked it. Why? Some felt it doesn't describe enough of the scenery and beauty of the Pacific Crest Trail. Strayed bypassed what they felt was the best part (as did many other hikers that year), through the Kings Canyon, Yosemite, and the High Sierras, which were socked in by snow. They thought she was a total idiot in her preparations - her boots were too small, her pack was too heavy, she did no preparatory hikes to condition herself. They express concern, rightly, that she did not have the proper respect for the PCT, that people may get into their heads it's safe to try to copy her. There's also some slut-shaming - some reviewers didn't like her because she "ruined" her marriage, was promiscuous and tried heroin.

I found many of the criticisms had some validity. My family loves to camp in the High Sierras, and I've hiked in the Grand Canyon and Zion National Parks. There's something very healing and empowering about the American wilderness. At the same time, it ain't Disneyland, with nicely sanded safety fences and non-toxic paint on everything. Nature can kill you if you don't take proper precautions and treat it with respect.

Elephant Knob, in the Sequoia National Forest
Also known in my family as the place where [Name Redacted] almost fell to her death.

Nature can kill you even if you do take all proper precautions.

But Why Was Ms. Strayed Such a Mess? We Don't Talk About That

A big part of what is glossed over in the reviews, both positive and negative, was the huge impact domestic violence had on Strayed's life.

Last year (October 2012) I ran a whole series on domestic violence, which left me so emotionally tapped out I wasn't going to run a single blog post on the subject this year. Let someone else carry the ball for once.

And then I read Wild. And many, many reviews, in which nobody even mentioned the domestic violence history, and why those repeated traumas just might have led to Cheryl becoming a thrill-seeker or to choose self-destructive behaviors.

Throughout Cheryl's earliest years, her mother Bobbi was being severely beaten by her husband/father of her children (I don't recall his name being mentioned, so I'll just call him A$$clown). Bobbi would pack up the kids and leave, but this was in the days before there were widespread networks of battered women's shelters set up throughout the US. So, eventually, Bobbi would return, because A$$clown promised things would be different. Besides, she had no money and no where else to go.

Eventually, Bobbi left A$$clown for good, with her three young kids, including Cheryl, the middle child. They lived in a series of ratty apartments, receiving ?welfare? ?food stamps? while Bobbi struggled with a series of minimum wage jobs and boyfriends. When Cheryl was ten, Bobbi remarried, a fairly decent man named Eddie. Eddie neither beat nor molested the kids; he actually played with them, instead. There was more emotional stability, but financial stability was still a stretch, as the family began building a house in rural Minnesota, living without running water or modern plumbing (read: toilets) for most of the rest of Cheryl's teen years.

She married at 19, and when she was 22, her mother Bobbi died after a very brief struggle with lung cancer, at the age of 45. The family disintegrated. Eddie quickly moved on, remarrying within a year of his wife's death.

Cheryl dropped out of college, less than a semester from finishing. She threw herself into one-night stands and flings, including a man who introduced her to heroin. She and her husband Paul split and reconciled, split and reconciled, and finally divorced. She was bottoming out. Somewhere along the way, Cheryl got the wild-hair-up-her-ass idea of making this massive solo hike, over 1,100 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail, with the idea that if she did this, it would allow her to get her head, and life together.

Surprisingly, it did. Cheryl could very easily have died on the trail, but she made it, and she did turn her life around. My review of the book is here. Cheryl talks about her journey in this clip:

Domestic Violence Doesn't Always Claim Its Victims Upfront

English: pink ribbon
English: pink ribbon
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Yes, there are women (and men) who are outright murdered by their partners in cold blood, like Kay Marie Sisto. But what effect does it have on a woman to have to continually flee her abuser, small children in tow? Does struggling to provide food, shelter, and clothing for your kids once you've left an abuser take a further toll on the immune system? Does it upset the body's homeostatic balance enough, over time, to make it vulnerable to diseases like lung cancer, which claimed Cheryl's mother Bobbi? Or breast cancer, which claimed my mother?

Many doctors believe it can.

And what long-term effect does it have on a child who must watch one parent continually beating his/her parent up? Fleeing with a parent in fear for their lives?

Might a person with that background become an unstable teen who marries too young, experiments with drugs and promiscuity, and does seemingly crazy, life-endangering stunts on a whim? There are some emotional injuries that leave us permanently scarred.

In the end, Cheryl Strayed found her life on the Pacific Crest Trail. But how many other young men and women spiral out of control and don't find a way out?

The ripples of domestic violence can spread a long way out. Before we go all Judgey McJudgerson on someone who is "slutty," fat, alcoholic, a junkie, etc., consider that we don't know all the details of their childhood. At least some of these "out-of-control" people may be swallowing and numbing their pain with sex, food, booze, or other substances.

It's a Dog's Life - or Death

Recently on one of my chat groups a friend vented about an incident in her neighborhood the other night. A woman broke up with her boyfriend. He came to her place, and he shot her dog eight times.

Ex-boyfriend left, neighbors gathered, the police came.

Neighbors and passers-by had plenty to say about the victim's inappropriate behavior. Apparently she was acting "too upset" and emotional about her dog. It was just a dog, after all; her appropriate behavior should have been gratitude and relief that her psycho ex hadn't shot her.

My reaction to that

And This Is Why We Have Still to Talk About Domestic Violence

Because even though my friend from the chat board was furious with the neighbors' reaction and thought it was perfectly natural for the victim to grieve for her dog, because he's been her precious baby for five years, even though she herself had experienced domestic violence as a child, she didn't seem to "get" that the victim was in more danger than ever.

A person who has just left, or announced her (or his) intention to leave an unstable person is in what they call "the red zone." This is when most deaths from domestic violence occur.

In this woman's case, we know her ex is a) out to terrorize her; b) armed; c) willing to shoot and kill a living creature. That he shot the dog eight times (overkill) speaks to him being a sick, sadistic bastard.

I would wager that at least part of the victim's "overreaction" to the murder of her dog was stark fear for herself and her loved ones. He ex might have threatened her dog or loved ones in the past, and this act was a clear message, "It'll be you, next." Or her mother, sister, children if she has any. Shooting the dog also rendered her much more vulnerable, because now she doesn't have him to defend her or give a warning bark.

I've since learned that her family moved her out the next day - hopefully to somewhere safe.

The police don't yet have the shooter in custody.

What Can You Do, As a Bystander?

Don't talk smack about the victim. Not ever. Not even if she keeps going back to him, or she was drunk, or whatever.

Take a quick look at this clip. How many of these excuses have you said or thought? How many of these have you heard someone else say... and didn't speak up, because it felt uncomfortable?

I am ashamed to admit I have said, or thought, some of these things. But no more.

Maybe we can't eliminate every single occurrence of domestic violence and rape. But we can certainly work to make it rare. We can work to end rape culture.

An example of rape culture is, when a psycho shoots his ex-girlfriend's dog, people in the neighborhood walk around muttering about her behavior (crying too much), instead of offering her comfort, support, and protection.

Our message should never be one that shames victims, but shames the abusers and rapists.

Please consider joining the No More campaign. Add their logo to your website or blog. Follow them on Twitter and FaceBook. Share the PSA's (Public Service Announcements). Share this post, if you think it's helpful. Donate to a domestic violence assistance program in your area.

And please, speak out whenever you encounter rape culture or victim-blaming statements. Don't let them pass in silence.

Domestic Violence Resources

National Domestic Violence Hotline - 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)  TTY- 1-800-787-3224 
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (includes downloadable guides for helping women in abusive relationships)
RAINN - Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network 1.800.656.HOPE
National Alliance on Mental Illness, aka NAMI

National Clearinghouse on Family Violence - you will need to opt for English or French

Women's Aid - 0808 2000 247

Australia & New Zealand:
Domestic Violence Information Manual - phone numbers vary by territory

For Male Victims:
Why Men Stay in Abusive Relationships

Have you read or will you read Wild?
Do you share my rage at the  neighborhood reaction to the dog shooting?
Your thoughts?
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