Each week, I’ll try to share one short excerpt from the book I’m working on. Because, even though I’m working other stuff (for, both, work and pleasure), writing this book — and hopefully others — is the reason I decided to become a writer.
Obviously everything can change in the months (many months) it will take me to write this thing to its completion, but in its current iteration, this segment comes in the first chapter. Chapter 1 (again, as it currently stands) is a series of short moments in my life — from as far back as a decade ago, to as recent as the day before I leave for the trail — that help the reader understand why I decided to hike the AT.
Those reasons might change throughout the story, as I learn more about myself along the way, but the first chapter is about what I thought my reasons were, then.
So here’s a rough draft excerpt from that. It’s when I first tell my Mom I’m going to leave on the hike (which is about a week or so after I decided I was going to do it).
And if you enjoy this, then set aside $20 in a piggy bank to buy my book! Or at least sign up for my email newsletter, and follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and/or Twitter! (My Twitter following is particularly sparse, so I could really use some love there!)
Plus, as I continue putting this book together, I am always after feedback. Obviously, excerpts strip away context, but if there’s anything that felt jarring, or that resonated with you, I’d love to know. Leave it in the comments, or send me a message. I love talking about this stuff. Thanks!
“You’re what, Matthew?!” my mother yelled. (She’s the only one who calls me “Matthew,” in case you haven’t picked up on that yet.) Her incredulousness was impressive, having to travel all the way from Long Island to New Orleans by phone.
“I’ve told you four times already, Mom. I’m going to hike the Appalachian Trail.”
“I don’t understand!” Incredulousness can mean either an inability, or an unwillingness, to believe something.
“You do understand, Mom!” It’s a long trail. I’m going to hike it.” I articulated each syllable for her.
“I just don’t — I don’t — “ This was definitely an unwillingness to believe something.
“It’s okay, Mom, I get it.” I tried to make my voice calm. “You’re scared for me. There’s nothing to be scared of.” I imagined the things she might be afraid of — wild animals, starvation, nefarious rural people — and I recognized I was lying. These were good things to be afraid of.
“I’m not scared!” She didn’t try to make her voice calm. “You’re the one who should be scared!”
“I mean, I’m — “
“What about water, Matthew?!”
My grip on the phone tightened. It was a good point, but give me a fucking break. I hadn’t thought out every detail in the week since I’d decided this. “I don’t know yet, Mom. People carry small filters. You get water out of streams and lakes or something.”
“You’re going to filter your own water out of a stream?!” She said it as if I’d just told her I was going to trade in my belly button lint for gold.
“I think so, yeah.”
“Well, what about food?!”
“I have no idea, Mom! I guess I go into towns and buy it. Or I mail it to myself or something.”
“You’re going to just walk into a town and buy food with the money from the job you don’t have, and then mail it to yourself?” I heard her voice break and I couldn’t tell if she was laughing at me or fighting back tears. “That just sounds like a great idea!”
I sighed with added force into the phone, “I have savings!” Truth: I had some savings, but maybe not enough. I closed my eyes, tried to steady myself, and addressed her concern, “And you choose one option. You either buy the food in a town, or you mail it to yourself from — “
“AND WHAT ABOUT BEARS, MATTHEW?!” New concern.
“Mom!” Part of me was touched at how badly she wanted to convince me not to do this — a Mother trying to protect her son. Part of me knew she was right. What about bears?! And part of me was doing what I’ve done with pretty much every bit of advice my mom has every given me: take her point of view and dig my heels in hardened opposition. “I just decided this. I haven’t thought of everything yet — I have a month.” Truth: I had three weeks.
“Bears eat people, Matt,” her voice shrunk, as if she was afraid to wake up the bear that might eventually eat her only boy. “Do you want to be eaten by a bear?”
“Black bears don’t eat people, Mom. Grizzly bears eat people. Black bears eat nuts and berries.” Truth: Occasionally black bears eat people and, unfortunately, a disproportionate amount of what I’d spent the last two weeks reading was about this small subset of misbehaved bears.
For the first time since our 10 minute phone call started, we were silent. I could sense her brain at work. A desperate General planning her last ditch assault. This whole phone call was giving me more anxiety than I had planned on. I’d be leaving on April 23rd and I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t even have a fucking tent yet.
“Don’t you just want to get a nice job?” she pleaded. “Why do you need to do this?”
“I just had a nice job, Mom. For six-and-a-half years.” That was the easy question. Her second was harder to answer. Why was I going? Was I bored? Was I embarrassed at how my career had gone nowhere over the last six-plus years? Was I heartbroken from a relationship that lasted only five months? Good months, but only five months. That felt too embarrassing to admit. So I said the only truth I could think of at the moment: “I just think I can be happier than I am right now.” And we fell back into silence. I didn’t sense any scheming from her this time. Just consideration, which made me feel awkward. So I repeated: “I want to be happier.”
No Mother wants to stand in the way of their child’s happiness, I thought.
And out of that silence, yelled my mother, “Well, how are you going to pay your phone bill, Matthew?! Do you even have any idea what you’re doing?!”
“Goodbye, Mom.” I hung up the phone.
Truth: They were both good questions.
Thanks for reading! Again, feel free to post some thoughts, or — if you liked it — sign up for the newsletter, and follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and/or Twitter! And read the heart-wrenching short story of when my favorite shirt died, or when my 9-year-old self was nearly pummeled on Halloween.