On my 40th birthday, I decided to do something to commemorate my mid-life point.
I took a gang of my friends out to Big Bend National Park for a 16-mile hike up Emory Peak and The South Rim, which my sister later referred to as our “death march.” On the last day of the best birthday weekend - ever, I found myself in La Kiva Bar in Terlingua, Texas. It was a Sunday afternoon and the place was occupied solely by the bartender, a wilderness guide, my wingman Evelyn and me.
I chose the seat next to the wilderness guide and began my full inspection of his being – starting with his legs. After viewing him from head to toe, my intrusive gaze met his kind and inquisitive green eyes - in a time stopping manner. I broke the silence by saying, “If we were survivors in a plane crash and we had to resort to cannibalism --and you died before I did, I would eat your calf muscles, first.” Without flinching, he replied, “I would eat your lips, first.” And so began my romance with the wilderness guide who smelled like Dr. Pepper and pork chops. We will just call him W.G., because he would hate this.
W.G. spent his time river guiding in Big Bend National Park and Denali National Park in Alaska. I remember exclaiming to my father, “I met a river guide!” To which my father said, “Of course you did.” The kind of guy who has carved a life for himself doing something outdoors, sporting a beard that confirms the 8 to 5 gig-- is just not for him, has always been my type. It’s my type with a few tweaks, that is. Invariably, I try to convert the beard to a G.Q. looking beard rather than a, “I don’t own a mirror looking beard”. W.G. and I spent some years in each other’s lives, but I would stray from time to time, tempted by someone who showered daily and who had health insurance, and a mortgage.
W.G. would tell me he loved me while I was sleeping... I hoped he would never gain the courage to say it in the waking hours because the only appreciated response is to respond in kind. Nobody wants anybody to respond with, “Awwww.” I tried to convince myself that I was probably enough of a narcissist that I just thought I heard someone telling me this in my sleep, every night.
As the years have passed, I realize I probably did have some love for W.G. The most romantic night of my life was with him. He paddled us down the Santa Elena Canyon and I only had to re-cork my bottle of wine once, as he navigated the Rock Slide Rapid. We camped under the most amazing starry sky I have ever seen.
I did eventually visit the bus where W.G. lived in the last frontier and discovered that reality has an odor. It smells like an abandoned bus in Alaska.