I didn't know what the prognosis was with my mother's cancer or if it would even be treatable when I read the first chapter of Wild in which Strayed describes her mother's swift demise by this same scourge. It seemed to me that by reading about Strayed's loss, the universe was preparing my heart as gently as it knew how to say goodbye to my mother and torrents of tears fell from my face as I ate the words describing Strayed's grief.
A few days later an Orthopedic Oncologist in Indianapolis told my mother her cancer was treatable and five days later she had surgery in which they "scooped" out over 90% of the tumor and inserted an 8 inch titanium rod into her humerus bone. The remaining 10% of the tumor will be zapped by radiation. For now it seems as though we have postponed the day on which she will, "cross the river," as Strayed would say.
A couple of weeks ago one of my dad's best friends, Morris, rang me up. He was calling to check up with me and see how I was doing in the months after my dad's sudden passing. I had just been on the phone with one of my best friends, Beth, who confessed to me that she did everything my father ever told her to do: she read Kerouac when he told her to read Kerouac, Vonnegut when he told her to read Vonnegut, she saw the Grateful Dead when he told her to go see the Grateful Dead. I relayed to Morris that she was a more obedient daughter than I was and that I had not yet read any Kerouac. He was shocked to hear that I had not read any Kerouac, almost as if some type of DNA test should be conducted to confirm that I am indeed my father's daughter.
So, last night after I finished Wild, I plucked old Kerouac's On the Road from my bookshelf and began doing what I should have done twenty years ago. It is strange to move from a book about back packing to a book about traveling by buses and cars. It feels like Kerouac is moving too fast and missing so much, crying forty miles outside of New York on his first day of travel because it's raining and getting dark. Really, Jack?!? Ms. Strayed did not cry until she'd hiked 513 miles from the Mojave Desert to Crater Lake, Oregon, until she had lost her boots and four of her toe nails turned black and fell off, until her shoulders and hips had rubbed themselves raw against the weight of her "Monster" backpack and crusted over with an elephant-like skin.
Ah, I tease you Jack. But it is a strange sensation to go from Strayed to Kerouac. Although I am only 50 pages into On the Road, I feel as though Kerouac has given nearly nothing of himself when compared to all the naked grief and sin Strayed pours out on the page to her readers.
My mother gave me four of my dad's personal journals and this morning I leafed through them a bit. His writing is barely legible. I can rarely make out a full sentence, but I did stumble across a passage in which he refers to his friend, "Rizto" and confessed that he was fascinated with Ritzo in a manner that can be compared to the way Kerouac was fascinated with Neal Cassady. Do we all have our Neal Cassadys? I had one, and some day, God willing, I will write the story of how he rattled me to the core and altered the trajectory of my life.