10,000 Steps

(Satoru Mikami - Getty Images)
By Ann Hood
Sunday, February 8, 2009

Mark said, "I love you, but I'm not in love with you anymore." Then he cried.

"How can you say that?" Margo asked Mark. "That's how I broke up with boys in high school."

Mark said, "I don't know anything anymore."

This was two years after their daughter, Willa, died backpacking in Thailand. A wedge of grief had lain between them ever since. But as months passed, it had grown. Even so, Margo had imagined the two of them would just live together on their separate sides, perhaps forever. She sighed, letting Mark's sobs wash over her.

Margo hadn't wanted Willa to go on the trip. There was a new boyfriend, someone Willa had known only for a couple of months. Somewhere in Vietnam, they split up, and Willa continued on to Thailand with a group of Australians she met in a bar. The details were fuzzy. The bar was called Saigon Saigon. The Australians had been traveling for almost a year. They went to this particular city in Thailand because of a special temple. Or many special temples. Willa had flulike symptoms. Then she died. That was all Margo knew.

Margo watched her husband crying. They were sitting on a bench that overlooked the bay, where a sailboat struggled to catch wind. Years ago, when the children were young, they'd had a sailboat named Mrs. O'Rourke, after Willa's second-grade teacher. Margo wondered what this sailboat was called. She wondered if there were young happy children on board, or a couple in love.

"It's not you," Mark began.

Margo stood. "Oh, please," she said. "Are you regressing or something?" Unsure of where to go since Mark had driven them here, she sat back down. Margo watched the sails luffing on the sailboat.

"It's me," Mark finished, as if Margo hadn't said anything.

"Got it," Margo said, shaking her head. This wasn't about either of them. It was about their grief.

Mark had stopped crying, and he, too, watched the sailboat struggling. "Remember Mrs. O'Rourke?"

"Of course I remember it," Margo said. Her hands flew up in exasperation, and Mark ducked, as if she intended to hit him. "It was my life, you know. Our life. I ran below for the sail bags. I made the sandwiches. I held onto those kids so they wouldn't fall overboard when they were babies."

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