By now we'd each settled into our roles, which of course were not roles at all but who we really were, so there was harmony. I was the navigator, plotting our course over the earth and through the mountains on 1:500,000 declassified military maps, reading between the brown lines. Brigitte was the bubbly, fluid linguist who got us invited into every Tibetan home or tent we came near for boiled potatoes and yak-butter tea. And Maury was the incorrigible optimist, the blast of fresh air, the man who could not not smile no matter how deep the snow or how hungry we were, even when it got so cold we all had to cram into one tent and sleep in a pile to keep from freezing to death.
One evening we followed a mule cart stacked high with hay into the village of Woka Taktse. There was a dirt road trickling out of this village and a jeep for hire, and so our journey would end. The Tibetan women in their bright blue tunics and heavy wool aprons were on the flat roofs of their mud homes, beating stalks of barley and singing softly in the twilight.
Maury and I were talking, and I was telling him how lucky I was to have been raised in a big family where everyone was loved.
"No such thing."
Maury hooted. "Luck, mate. Luck!"
"What about you, Maury? What was your family like?"
"It was a learning experience."
"What's that mean?"
Ahead, Brigitte was being led by the hand by a bowlegged old woman. It was almost dark, but the air was still warm. Maury doffed his fedora and ran a hand through his scarecrow hair and told me that he had lived in terror as a boy because his father was a drunk. A mean-spirited drunk who all through Maury's childhood viciously beat him and his mother.