On a sunny day in 1910, having recently divorced his wife, a man named Herman Hethke strolled into a canyon near Calabasas, California. Halfway down the canyon, he carved a tiny house from several boulders, and there he stayed, earning a reputation as a hermit. Sometime between 1920 and 1930, he walked back out of the woods and remarried, thereby providing a valuable life lesson: sometimes you just need a break from things, a chance to get some perspective before diving back in.
My father and I didn’t speak for about six years. After he moved to Europe, we slowly got back in touch. Mostly by e-mail. After a few years, he came to town to visit other family, and we had dinner. A year later, we met for another dinner. Ten days ago, he arrived for a lengthier visit.
They have been ten days of nightmares, of anxiety, of long venting phone calls to my mother. Ten days for which Husband should probably be sainted, as I have maybe been a little cranky at him for no good reason.
Some good has come of this visit, though. There’s comfort to be found in the knowledge that something is broken beyond fixing; you can finally stop trying so hard to make it right, and just accept that it will never work the way it should. It will clunk and grind along as best it can, unless or until it stops altogether, but there’s nothing you can do about it. And that is liberating.
Yesterday was our last day together. We went hiking. My father had been appalled, earlier in the week, to find out that I walk the world unarmed, sans weaponry. As we stepped onto the trail, he pressed a hunting knife into my hand, with instructions to carry it on me at all times. In his own very weird way, this was a tender gesture.
So off we walked, well-armed, into the wilderness, to visit the home of hermit Herman Hethke.