I was standing at Lee's Ferry, the put in for the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River. It was February 2008, in the middle of a winter storm. Ice was lashing sideways out of the sky and the river was raging and loud. I just stood there staring at it, thinking that I was absolutely going to die. It was my first river trip and I had no idea what I'd gotten myself into.
A boy walked up the beach and introduced himself. His head was bowed against the rain but I saw his eyes, which was all I needed to see. "Hi," he said, extending his hand. He spoke with a heavy Tennessee accent. "I'm Will."
I remember two things from this one moment. One, I was wearing a light blue cotton Patagonia hoody that was completely soaked. Two, as I shook his hand I thought, "Oh Will, it's on."
Will slept outside without a tent and after the second night, I thought I'd better sleep outside without a tent. We spread out a tarp and slept on opposite ends of it. Each night we laid out our sleeping bags an inch or so closer than the night before. One particularly cold night I woke up covered in half an inch of frost feathers, his arm around, pulling me against him for warmth.
When I got terribly sick for a night he wrapped me in his sleeping bag and held me between his legs, his arms around me as I shivered uncontrollably. He washed my face for me, looked after me all night long.
Less than a year later I moved back to the East coast. I drove down to Boone North Carolina where Will was living. We took a trip to Kentucky to run the Russel Fork. It was late October. There was a party that night for all the boaters, with a huge bonfire and fireworks and real moonshine that tasted like maple syrup. Will hugged me and told me he was in awe of my creativity and that he loved me. I've never had a boy speak to me like that, before or since. We stared at eachother like two people with no idea what to do next.
About two months later, I took a job in Chile at the kayaking high school. I dated somebody else. Then one day I was sucked into an underwater cave and nearly drowned. I was very shaken up about the whole concept of kayaking and living and dying. I wrote Will about it the next day, fingers still shaking as they hovered over the keyboard, covered in bruises and abrasions. From what I understand, he realized when he read that story that he really did like me a lot. But I had the job at the school, and even after a summer where I dreamt about Will three times a week, I went back back to Chile to teach for another semester.
That January I quit my job and moved to North Carolina. Two years after meeting in the ice storm we were finally together. At first it was heaven, which is the way these things go. We were essentially snowed in for the entire winter. Even the grocery stores would close for days at a time. We had a wood stove and played endless rounds of backgammon. We listened to radio shows. I got into cooking. I lost a little of my identity, maybe a lot, but not in a terrible way. Just in a normal way.
The only time we could get outside was to take long walks on the blue ridge parkway which was shut down due to snow. For my birthday, he collected river glass in a mason jar and turned it into lantern. I thought this was the most clever and romantic thing to do.
Spring cames and the rivers ran, and Will disappeared with them. But by now all his friends were my friends, and we had a good time. The spring was really pretty dreamy. There were days of swimming, cliff jumping, paddling trips around the Southeast, a trip to Georgia. Evenings around the campfire in the front yards, Friday nights sleeping on flat rocks down in the gorge and necklaces he made me from pale green river glass. I wrote all day at a coffee shop which was also a book store, and I was very very happy. Besides boating, I got very little exercise. I had horrific migraines which knocked me out for days at a time. He wasn't sure what to do with me during those times. He kayaked more and more, but it didn't necessarily make him any happier.
I wanted more. He wanted less. He wanted to travel and kayak. I wanted just about everything but.
And so it was over and I left. I drove back to Vermont, and eventually to Seattle. We saw each other once in Idaho, where we went camping at a very blue and secluded lake on the other side of a mountain of unstable rock. In the middle of the night I heard rock falling and in his sleep he reached out and comforted me. Other than that, he was gone.
And he really was gone for another two years. I'm not sure we spoke at all. He kept his word and traveled all over the earth running enormously dangerous rivers. I moved on with my life, got a job, and passed my glass heart out to a couple of men who either ignored it or crushed or juggled it with a few others. That's not the complete story though. There were some boys who became very close, very important, the boy at the end of the rope, the boy kissing me in triumph at the top of a cliff. But those, too, ended eventually.
Certainly Will and I both moved on, probably a dozen times over. But I kept collecting sea glass. Then he shows up in Seattle, and we're just like those kids at the bonfire in Kentucky, just looking at each other, with no idea what to do.