Thanks so much. And thanks for reading what I write on here. That means a lot to me.
Yesterday was my birthday. I was born March 7, 1992. Almost six months to the day after I was born, on September 6, 1992, a moose hunter finds Christopher McCandless’s body in a sleeping bag on an old Fairbanks City bus. He weighed a scant 67 pounds. Off Alaska’s Stampede Trail, the 24-year-old from Virginia had been dead for more than two weeks, probably of starvation. Our lives overlapped by a few months. I was a newborn, he was in Alaska, his last travel destination.
As much as we may talk about him, make movies about him and try to understand him, we will never know the full story, the hidden motives that, like so much of history, are unrecorded and lost to us. Great men leave us to guess why they did what they did. Sufferers and conquerors alike become memorial sculptures, names and dates, and we forget that they were flesh and blood once, full of all that raw need that pushed us through life.
I tell myself that I understand a little bit of Chris’s need. It’s just something I tell myself, I’ll never know for sure. But I do know too well the fear of consistency, of being trapped by a place or a person or an institution or a pill. I know how freeing it is to not have to stay anywhere forever. This fear is so great in me sometimes that I find myself driving home from class and calculating how easy it would be to just leave. Just get in the car and drive. During the hardest part of my life, when I first told my parents I was gay, and the fights that followed, the “Christian therapy” sessions with the pastor at our Baptist church, I remember crossing the interstate on my way home from school and thinking how easy it would be to just turn left. Some days I drove very slowly, barely turning the wheel, but I always went home. I don’t know why I did. That highway, that distance, seemed full of hope. The road was a pathway to a place that would accept me. I dreamed of San Francisco and New York.
All these years later, on the verge of graduating from college, I still have that impulse. When relationships go south and we start fighting, when life delivers blows, my impulse is to flee. To chase the other guy, to have a wild night, to get far away from whatever I am in. I fantasise about a life like Chris’, short as it was. I stay in my life and do what I do because I’ve held out on the people I love, my family and friends, and it’s paid off. My family has made progress with understanding me and my sexuality, and my group of friends have become a home unlike any I could have ever asked for.
Chris, I love you, my brother, and I hope you’ve found that great American wild that London and Kerouac talked about, even if it never existed. I tell myself that death took you back to the prairie, let you hunt out the new land, or even further back, you’re a Spanish explorer, a Viking, someone standing at the helm of a ship, and it is your job to discover the world. I trust history fully in your hands.
Moon River, wider than a mile, I’m crossing you in style someday. Oh dream-maker, you heartbreaker, wherever you’re going, I’m going your way.
Two drifters, off to see the world. There’s such a lot of world to see. We’re after the same rainbow’s end, waiting ‘round the bend. My huckleberry friend, Moon River, and me.
- Johnny Mercer