The first time I read Cheryl Strayed I was sitting at a plastic table for four in a studio in Geneva. It was August. I had left my husband in July. Living alone for the first time in my life, I found a lot of time on my hands. I would spend mornings before work reading the Touchstone Anthology of Contemporary Creative Nonfiction, a thick book I kept on the plastic table, which stood before a sliding door, which stood before a balcony wide enough for one small, dead potted plant.
I found Strayed on page 500. She begins, “The Love of My Life” by describing the intensity of her attraction to a dangerous man in a coffee shop. She could tell that he would destroy her the way she wanted to be destroyed, the way the intensity of her grief over her mother’s death was destroying her. I recognized this desire. Not because my mother had died, but because she was barely there. She’d divorced my dad when I was ten; she had been largely absent before, almost entirely absent after. I hated needing her. It made me feel powerless and small. So in my teens and early twenties I learned how to toy with people, or let them toy with me. I wanted to be a doll in their arms because it was safer to be a doll than a person. Sometimes I wanted to destroy them, sometimes I wanted them to destroy me, to break off my porcelain nose.