A Man Who Has Been to Nature Pitches His Memoir

Ultimately, it’s a story about hope.

Photo: Frank Kovalcheck/Flickr

It seems that the elevator in this office building, which houses the prestigious publisher for whom you work as an editor, has come to an unexpected halt. Oh, did I accidentally press the EMERGENCY STOP button with my elbow? I hadn’t noticed. You see, I am a writer, so I can be quite absentminded. Also, I’m not used to elevators — or the civilized world for that matter.

I suppose we’ll be trapped here for a while. How to pass the time? What is that in your hand? A calculator? A transistor radio? A miniature television? Oh — is it a cellular phone? Yes, the hikers who found me in Nature — starving, frostbitten, and mangled by a grizzly — also had cellular phones. That is why I know what that is in your hand.

You are calling for help? Ok, fine. I understand some people find being trapped in confined spaces unnerving. However, during the eight days I spent stuck in a crevasse, waiting with unflagging stoicism for the ice surrounding me to melt from my body heat, my sole chance for survival — but hadn’t I died long, long ago, figuratively speaking I mean? — I was content to bide my time eating bits of frozen lichen and making mental notes for my memoir.

Someone will restart the elevator soon? Good to know. Good, good. In the meantime, perhaps, as an editor with great influence, you would like to hear about my book. To begin, in my previous life I was a regular guy. An average Joe. Wife, kids, two cars in the garage. But I left it all behind to live in the woods — wait for it — by myself! Just me, Nature, and the tortuous complexities of my mind.

Why did I do that? I was spurred by motives far more existential than material. I was in deep despair about life — but what is life? — when I heard Nature’s siren song. I followed it far into the most isolated regions of the wilderness with nothing more than a good knife, my own strong hands, a rifle with one bullet, and a book of matches. That was back when things still mattered…

For the first few days my spirits were high. But then exhaustion and ravenous hunger set in, and I came to wish for nothing more than to lie down and enter that perfect slumber. The never-ending rest. The eternal reprieve. By which I mean — yes, that’s right. Death. Yet suddenly, just as I was bidding farewell to each constellation, each tree, each rock — all of which I had come to regard as both friends and nemeses — I was seized by man’s greatest curse: the will to survive. And so, I trekked on.

One autumn morning I came across a decrepit, toothless old mutt. He hated me, and I hated him. Nonetheless he became my shadow. I resented him, the way he haunted me day and night, but eventually it dawned on me that I needed him. That flea-infested bag of bones was the only thing that reminded me that I was real — flesh and blood, pulse and perspiration. I never named him. I had long since forgotten my own name, so why should he have one?

The dog’s presence, always trailing me, softened the chill of the oncoming winter and inexplicably made drinking my own urine more tolerable. The suspicion and, at times, revulsion with which he regarded me reminded me to watch for the predators that lurked in brush and bramble — mountain lions, cougars, bears, wolves, bobcats, venomous snakes, and so forth. Remember how, when I had first set out into Nature, I’d brought a rifle with a single bullet? It was because of the dog’s raised hackles one fateful day that I knew when it was time…

What were the circumstances under which I discharged my rifle? I suggest buying my manuscript to find out.

I am comfortable with your silence because I learned to be comfortable with silence after the dog abandoned me — never to hear fallen leaves or frost-crusted earth crunch or crackle under his paws again. He vanished in the dead of night, an act for which I did not blame him. For I was a wretch. Man is wretched. But my ease with silence did not come immediately. For a time, I was haunted by incessant thoughts of her, always her

To whom am I referring? Only the pages of my memoir can tell. And I won’t be sending my manuscript without a significant financial incentive. In Nature I washed my scarred, sinewy body in an ice-cold brook. I grew a beard that you cannot begin to comprehend. I once encountered another man in the woods on a moonless night; we silently appraised each other before parting ways. What I’m saying is that I’m the real deal, and I’m not giving my book to just anybody — and certainly not for nothing.

Am I aware that countless other memoirs have been written by men on this subject? No — because the subject is me, and I have an unknowable soul, damaged beyond recognition, beyond salvation, beyond humanity. And even if there were books dealing with similar subject matter, if such a thing were possible, they would pale in comparison to — the elevator? Yes, it’s moving.

Would you just — ok, yes I see, this is your business card. Email you the manuscript? How do I know that you will not steal my story, which nearly cost me my life, and publish it as your own? How do I know that — no, don’t walk out of the elevator. Yes, we’re at the lobby, I realize that. I require a sizable advance. Well, no. I haven’t officially written it yet. But it’s all up here. I just have to put it to paper. Wait, just trust me — it’ll be the easiest thing I’ve ever done.

Emma Smith-Stevens’ writing has appeared in Subtropics, Wigleaf, Conjunctions, SmokeLong Quarterly, and elsewhere. Her debut novel, The Australian, is forthcoming from Dzanc Books in 2017. You can follow her on Twitter: @ESmithStevens.