Along the way, I collected little aphorisms that bolstered my decision to so something so rash. Like treasures found at each stop in a scavenger hunt, people offered them unsolicited. A friend who had been in the car as a child when his father had crashed it and died said, "When you come face to face with death, you realize that life isn't endless." While waiting in the dentist's office for Kolya's teeth cleaning, I found a book quoting Mark Twain, that wry wanderer: "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." In another place, Goethe weighed in on the subject: "Whatever you can do, or believe you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it."
The words resonated like a coach's pep talk, countering the voices (some of them mine) asking what the kids would do about school, what I would do about work, why I was being so damned irresponsible, and whether I really planned to take the kids to Borneo, for Chrissakes? What would I do if they were lost, or if somebody stole Zoe from a toilet stall in the Ho Chi Minh airport, surgically altered her face, and sold her to a wealthy Bedouin on the black market? What if we all contracted dengue fever and yellow fever and rheumatic fever and malaria and dysentery and cholera and hepatitis A and B? How could I break the news to Rebecca?
Uh, Rebecca, hi, this is Dan. I'm calling from Saigon.
How are the kids? Uh, well, Kolya's doing fine. He's growing like a weed. He likes the food here.
That's sort of what I'm calling about. Interpol's on the case
We threw a going-away party for ourselves with all our friends, a wild, tequila-laced bacchanalia, letting rip for the grown-ups, a group catharsis. "As soon as you leave, you know you'll be a folk hero to all of us," a musician friend told me, leaning on a margarita as the sun set over the Rockies from our back deck. I thought, yes, why not, we'll become folk heroes! Let people tell tales of our exploits (posted on the Web, of course). Let them say they'd like to do the same thing someday, knowing they never will themselves. A friend approached me, serious. "I've been doing genealogical research, Dan," he said, and I wonder why. "I found out you're my father." I looked at him blankly, not getting it. He helped me out. "You have to take me with you."
Shortly after Rebecca and I separated, I began dating Tory. She and I had met through mutual friends on a backcountry ski trip, and after Tory heard that my wife and I had separated, she offered condolences as a veteran of an eleven-year marriage that went south. With alluring blue-green eyes and a knowledgeable guide's compassion (Tory had divorced three years ahead of me), she offered a tantalizing diversion. After a single date, she told me she was moving to Idaho to become a wilderness ranger for the summer and invited me to come up and hike.
I smiled wanly and told her that wouldn't be likely, given my single-dad status.
Three months after Rebecca and I separated, she and the kids visited her family in Maine for ten days. I had made plans to go backpacking with a buddy, but he canceled at the last minute because of an injury. I remembered Tory's offer, called, and asked if I could still meet her. We backpacked in the Sawtooths and the White Clouds, then met on her days off in Jackson Hole to climb and frolick in the Tetons, where she had once been a rock-climbing search-and-rescue ranger. It felt fabulous to sense such a strong attraction to her athletic body, to the smell of her thick, shoulder-length brown hair, to her grace and sleekness as we dove naked into mountain lakes. I wondered: Could there be life after Rebecca?
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