Thursday, March 23, 2006


A reader reminded me of the altitude in La Paz, so I decided to test out the refurbished ticker before Sunday's flight. I hiked the state park this evening, and I handled the first hill okay, but the second incline hit me hard. I was chugging like a raspy steam engine by the time I crested the bluff. When I reached a favorite overlook I scared seven turkey vultures off of a dead elm. Jesus and Mohammed, they're massive birds when you come right up on them. Big, black shadows lifting into the gloaming, eyeing me sideways from their bald, prehistoric heads. I staggered backward and turned my ankle. My heart about leapt from my chest, and the scars from my quad bypass literally burned on my flesh. I thought of Hester Prynn.

I wound up on my ass in the mud, stunned, and for no reason in particular I began weeping. A trail runner happened by and she paused, staring down at me, bouncing from one foot to the other. Embarrassed, I made up some nonsense about my pet Pomeranian dying. I gathered myself and picked my way back down the trail.

When I returned home I found a message on my machine from my second ex-wife. She was livid that I hadn't told her about the surgery, and after a string of expletives she burst into tears and then insisted we meet in neutral territory (DC) sometime next week. We'd visit with Billie, share a meal or two at Etrusco, maybe take in a movie. She said that we needed to rethink our non-relationship. She said that I had been the best friend she ever had until I ruined her life, still the thought of my near death had crushed her. In short, she missed me. New tears formed behind the bridge of my nose. This reunion sounded lovely, but I'm leaving for Bolivia on Sunday so what can I do? I sat with my hand on the phone for the better part of an hour, feeling ridiculous for chasing my ex-girlfriend, a former student no less, halfway round the world on a whim. Call your wife, dammit, I chided myself, but to no avail.

I've already decided to cancel tomorrow's class. I'm two-thirds of the way through a bottle of my favorite Primitivo, and I already know the dream I'll have: the vultures will return and wait patiently while I lie in the mud. Every woman I've ever loved, including the first, will come by to collect interest on the happiness I've stolen from them, to be paid in vials of heart blood. The buzzards will then enjoy my desiccated remains.

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