Based on nothing but his appearance and his manner, he seemed like
the kind of too-handsome guy who caught women’s eyes during
last call, the kind of guy those same women might regret waking up
beside the morning after they’d ignored their
girlfriends’ pointed advice about it not really being a good
idea to go someplace with “someone like him” for one
“Today?” said one of the male hikers in reply to the
question. Jack was one of the students from Oxy College.
“Have we seen her this morning? That’s what
you’re asking?” He spoke because no one else had. Jack
was polite. It was one of his many endearing traits. But he looked
away from the man the instant he identified the dark curl on the
stranger’s nostril as snot, reflexively rubbing at the tip of
his own nose as he bowed his head toward the sand. Jack had a thing
The shirtless man didn’t respond right away. His eyes were
moving from person to person in the group. His stare wasn’t
intended to be challenging ––– it was as though
he was looking for something, some sign of recognition in
“No. Nobody’s been by this morning,” Jack said,
as though he were translating his friends’ silence for the
newcomer. Jack spoke into the dirt and sand, still unable to look
back up at the man and the dried booger.
“Maybe last night. After bedtime, I guess. Since midnight or
so,” the shirtless man said with the shrug of a solitary
shoulder. “I don’t know. She got up in the middle of
the night, said she had to pee. I went back to sleep. It’s so
damn hot. When I woke up a little while ago to get ready to climb
back up” ––– he gestured toward the canyon
wall ––– “she wasn’t around. I just
walked down to the toilets by the river and... I hiked around a
little down there looking for her, and... ”
His words hung in the parched air. Almost everyone focused on the
word “hiked” and glanced down toward the man’s
feet, at least for an instant. He was wearing a faded pair of
once-but-no-longer red, beat-up, worn-heeled, drugstore flip-flops.
His footwear argued that if he had hiked around near the river at
all looking for the woman, he had hiked around only a little. The
scorpion population alone rendered the Grand Canyon floor terrain
ill-suited for protracted journeys in ninety-nine-cent
“She wasn’t down there,” the shirtless man
continued. “I mean, I couldn’t find her anywhere.
Can’t. I... um... was hoping she might’ve come over
here at... some point. Looking for... I don’t know.
She’s friendly, maybe to say hi, whatever. If you’ve
seen her, you know?”
When no one responded to his meandering queries, he shrugged
apologetically, as though his own suggestion about what might have
happened to the girl since she’d wandered off to pee in the
middle of the night didn’t make sense, even to him.
“Don’t think so,” one of the women
––– Jules, half of the couple from Santa Monica
––– replied. “Anybody see her this morning?
No one responded. She turned to her boyfriend, “Eric? You see
Eric was stuffing his backpack. “No,” he said.
“She and I were ––– We partied a
little last night. Maybe too much,” the shirtless man added,
grinning at the memory in a way that caused his nose to move and
the dried booger to crack. The lower part began hanging from his
nostril by a snotty elasticized thread. He swiped at it as though
it were a fly buzzing in front of his face ––– he
knew something was there somewhere that shouldn’t be, but he
wasn’t sure precisely where or what. “At least I did.
You know how it goes sometimes?”
Jules said, “We partied a little bit last night too. We were
back and forth to the river all night, kind of saying
Eric, whose physique compared favorably to the shirtless
man’s, turned to Jules, his girlfriend. He whispered,
“Do you know which girl he’s talking
Jules’s ponytail of long blond hair picked up every ray of
spare light in the dark canyon. Even in full sun, her hair was the
kind of blond that evoked silver almost as much as it did gold. She
furrowed her forehead. “You don’t?” she
He lowered his voice, and said, “Do you?”
She didn’t whisper her reply. She said, “Curly brown
hair. Pretty eyes. My height.” She pressed her lips together
for a moment before she repeated, “Very pretty eyes. Green,
surrounded by... amber.” She twirled a finger in front of
her. “We said hi yesterday evening on the trail. Down there,
on the way to the beach.” She pointed toward one of the paths
that led down toward the river from the cabins. “After dusk.
We talked for a little while. Where we’re from, what we did,
that sort of thing. She seemed... nice. She has an accent. She said
she’s from, what, Latvia?”
“No... Estonia, I think,” said Kanyn, one of the
students from Oxy. “It’s on the Baltic, near Russia,
she said. I talked to her too, about the same time you did, Jules.
She is friendly. Nice.” She nodded. “And great eyes,
definitely. Gorgeous.” Kanyn couldn’t look at the
shirtless man either. The snot.
The shirtless man said, “Estonia, yeah. That’s her. She
The group exchanged glances. Some surreptitious. Some not.
His Ex, Merideth
Adrienne didn’t call with the news of the latest death.
It was her diminutive body that had gone still.
It was her irreverent laugh that had been quieted.
No one from the old crowd bothered to assume her role. No one
remembered that I’d been forgotten. No one thought to tell me
that my old friend had died a wrong-place-at-the-wrong-time death
from a senseless bombing outside a café in an Israeli
Mediterranean resort town. I was left to learn about
Adrienne’s end while I was scanning the AP wire when I
arrived at my office at the network where I worked in Midtown. I
noticed a familiar name in a follow-up story about a recent bombing
After reading the wire report of the new developments, and then
rereading her name ––– I must have checked it
five times ––– I cried alone at my desk in my
office until my assistant asked me if I was all right. I wondered
at the time if I had stopped weeping because my assistant had
intruded upon my sorrow, or if I had stopped weeping because
someone had finally noticed that I was so sad.
For other people it might have been a small distinction, but for me
it was an important one. It was important, too, that I was asking
myself the question at all, and that I was unsure about the answer.
The very fact that I recognized there was a difference
––– between the desire to grieve privately and
the desire to have my sorrow acknowledged publicly
––– was significant to me.
It’s silly, but that I knew there was a difference was a sign
of my growth.
I was changing.
Alan used to quote Confucius to me. He’d say,
“Confucius said the best time to plant a tree is ten years
ago. The second best time
I’d wasted energy back then doubting whether the quote was
really from Confucius. My growth had been a long time coming. Ten
years sooner would have been a more ideal time for my development.
Even five years sooner would have been good.
Since Alan hadn’t called, I didn’t know whether or not
he expected I’d come from New York to attend Adrienne’s
funeral. Or if I’d show up at the reception. Or even whether
he had given me a solitary thought since the bombing.
I wanted him to acknowledge that I had lost a friend, too.
An old colleague from Denver’s NBC affiliate
––– it had been a CBS horn when I was there
––– had e-mailed me about the memorial service
that was planned for Adrienne in Colorado. Her note said that her
ex-husband ––– he was an oncologist in a big
group in Denver’s northern suburbs ––– had
known Adrienne through the Boulder medical community. My old
coworker knew that Adrienne and I had once been neighbors, and she
thought I would like to know about the service.
The woman had been trying to get the hell out of the incestuous
Denver news market since her divorce, and she was hoping that my
gratitude might assist her in finagling a producing gig in New York
Her ulterior motive didn’t bother me. I knew what to expect
from the business I was in. They call them networks for a
Although I’d been back to Colorado ––– I
adore Aspen and Vail, who doesn’t ––– I
hadn’t set foot in Boulder between the two funerals, the
earlier one for Peter, Adrienne’s husband, and this one for
I take responsibility for my antipathy for the town. I’d
never really made room in my heart for Boulder. I had expected
Boulder to first make room for me.
The informal gathering after Adrienne’s funeral was scheduled
to be in the house where my ex-husband and I had lived during our
brief marriage. The cottage ––– that was
Alan’s quaint counter-portrait when I described the house
where he was living when we had first met as a “glorified
shack” ––– had been built prior to the
Depression as the caretaker’s dwelling for a decent-size
ranch. The frame home sat near the top of a western-facing slope in
Spanish Hills on the eastern rim of the Boulder Valley. On a clear
day ––– most of them were clear days, at least
meteorologically ––– Alan and I could look out
almost any window and see an expanse of the Rocky Mountains
stretching from Pike’s Peak north to Rocky Mountain National
Park, and from the Front Range foothills immediately behind Boulder
all the way west to the glaciers that frosted the Continental
I loved to stand beside our guests as they inhaled that vista for
the first time.
Showing off our ramshackle house had never been an option.
Adrienne and her husband Peter had lived up the hill across the
lane, only a few dozen yards away. Theirs was the big house, the
one the founders of the ranch had built a hundred years before. It
was the house I coveted.
Her Ex, Alan
To be certain that I hadn’t missed his meaning, he said,
“I don’t think you want to do this, Al. ‘Go
there’ is what I think the kids say these days. I really,
really don’t. Blood is thicker than water.”
I counted to ten. It didn’t seem to help, so I did it again.
My anger wasn’t abating. I said, “I don’t know
what ‘this’ you’re talking about, Marty. What my
wife and I plan to do is to strive to honor your sister’s
wishes regarding her son, whom she loved in a way that was magical
for us to watch. You and I have seen the same documents. In her
will, Adrienne asks Lauren and me to raise Jonas. We intend to do
that to the best of our abilities.”
He lowered his gaze. When he looked back up he was facing away from
me, contemplating the seemingly infinite swath of the Front Range.
“You know she was... bisexual?” He swallowed the last
word ––– the loaded word ––– as
though it was a revelation not to be shared in polite
I raised my eyebrows involuntarily, not as a comment on
Adrienne’s sexuality ––– her sexual
adventures, and occasional misadventures, were a far-from-secret
part of the texture of the fabric of who she was
––– but rather as a reaction to her
brother’s condescending judgment about her. At that moment
Marty and I were standing in a location with a fine view of
Boulder, and I was inclined to give him credit for being
sufficiently cosmopolitan that he would have at least an inkling
that the rooms behind us were infiltrated by men and women whose
sexual identities were not describable by limiting his choices to
words that began with the prefix “hetero.”
Marty caught my raised eyebrows but misinterpreted the gesture to
be a sign of encouragement. He leaned forward a few inches and
added, “More l than s if you know what I
mean.” He lifted a fist in front of his mouth and
“Excuse me?” I said, hoping I’d heard him wrong.
And hoping that he really wasn’t someone who used snorts and
throat noises as punctuation.
The l was likely “lesbian.” The s
is “straight”? I thought. That must be
I wondered if I should tell Marty that Adrienne did not consider
He said, “That’s what I’m talking about. With
Adrienne? At times, she could have a sweetheart
––– my kids adored her visits
––– but there’re things that, well, you
don’t really want to know about her. My sister had her...
call them blind spots. She didn’t make the wisest choices.
And she wasn’t always a good... judge of what’s best
for the boy.”
I despised that Marty was denigrating Adrienne’s mothering,
something he knew almost nothing about. I despised that he
considered choosing Lauren and me as guardians to be one of
Adrienne’s unwise choices. I despised that he referred to
Jonas as “the boy.” I despised that he used “et
cetera et cetera” in conversation.
I despised that he called me “Al.” That one was petty,
but there it was.
“Because of whom she slept with?” I said. I was going
to say “loved” instead of “slept with” but
feared the nuance would sail over his head like an errant
He exhaled. “Exactly.”
He still thought I was agreeing with him about something.
“Marty, could we talk about this later, after things wind
down here?” I said. “We have many guests. People who
want to talk, need to talk, about Adrienne. This”
––– I turned toward the room full of her friends
and loved ones ––– “is about your
I made my living as a psychotherapist. Had Marty walked into my
office as a prospective patient, within two minutes I would have
recognized him as an annuity.
There was that much work to do. That many rocks to turn. That much
resistance to which to apply the forces of psychotherapeutic
My professional radar had also pegged Marty’s pathology as
being of the personality-disorder variety. Unlike people with
garden-variety neuroses who come in to see people like me because
they are miserable, people with personality disorders often show up
in the office of people like me not because they are miserable, but
because the people around them are miserable.
I could well understand how people around Marty might be
Thank God it’s not my job, I said to myself.
I stopped at the door from the deck to the house and opened my
mouth with fresh determination to defend my dead friend. I managed,
just barely, to control the outburst I was rehearsing in my
Before I was able to close the door behind me, he muttered,
“We’re not done, Al.”
I had taken only two steps inside when an old friend of mine, a
social worker, said hello. Her name was Cassandra Poteet. She was
married to one of my favorite mental health colleagues in Boulder.
I hadn’t been aware that they knew Adrienne.
Cassandra revealed that a couple of her kids had been urology
patients of Adrienne’s. “Is Wallace here?” I
asked, wondering about my professional friend.
She seemed at a loss for words, but finally said, “No, he...
Wallace couldn’t come.” She lowered her voice.
“He had some issues with Adrienne about Mason’s...
care. It’s... awkward.” Mason was one of their
Cassandra had said all that she wanted to say about the topic. We
began to talk about Adrienne. Less than a minute into the
conversation I heard a voice from behind me say, “Hey.
My mind translated the melody as familiar, even if the words
didn’t register as anything special. Intrigued by the
refracted memory fragment, I said, “Would you please excuse
me?” to Cassandra.
I turned to discover that I was looking into the eyes of my first