In spite of this, there was love between us, and passion, and a hint of shared future. We hitch-hiked through Patagonia to Tierra del Fuego, down to the Beagle Channel, where we camped out and lived off brown rice I always carried with me and mussels we pried off the rocks. When rain kept us confined to our pup tent, we read aloud a Spanish translation of Walden I had picked up at a Buenos Aires bookstore.
When we left Tierra del Fuego, hitch-hiking north, we made it, slowly, to the Andean glacier region where, a week later, near the town of Calafate, with a mountain-sized slab of blue-tinted ice opposite, we climbed up a precipice that looked more dangerous than it really was.
Beti was not an outdoorsy person, but she climbed up with me until, quite suddenly, she refused to go on.
What was the problem? I inched up to where she was and saw she was looking down at a crevice. It was just a small step to get past it, not much more difficult or dangerous than stepping over broken concrete on a city street, but she was spooked, unable to take that small step over the narrow, but deep, fissure.
Whatever it was that caused her paralysis – whether it was fear of falling, or whether the abyss touched a deeper concern about her own life – she simply couldn’t move. So, there we stayed for what seemed a long time, in the middle of a rocky escarpment. In the background, we heard large chunks of ice breaking off and splashing into the lake. Little by little, I lost patience.
“This is what it will always be like with me,” I said. “No hay vida sin riesgo. There’s no life without risk. With me there’ll always be danger and the possibility of disaster. So come on!”
“You’re being an asshole!” she hissed. “An arrogant macho asshole.”
She was right. I could feel the smugness of what I’d said: that anyone who wanted to share my life would have to put up with constant insecurity or find a different dance partner, and I realized I’d placed an enormous burden on that next step of hers. If she took it, if she got past that fissure, she’d be agreeing to share her future with someone who had no career, no money, who’d leave her periodically to work on ships, and who –like her – despised bourgeois restrictions. I understood how much was at stake for her, and that I’d been too strident.
I held out an arm. “Look, it’s okay, it really is. Come on. Step across. The universe will take care of us. It will. So… come on.”
Beti exploded “La puta que te parió! The universe will not take care of us! You always say that. All that mystical shit. It’s up to us! We have to do it ourselves.”
Ignoring my outstretched arm, her anger carried her across the crevice. Once she was by my side, she simply nodded, not making eye contact. Without defining it or carving it in stone, it felt – to me, at least – as if that small step was as solid and certain as a wedding vow. There was no doubt in my mind we were destined to be life-partners.