Although I only met him once, eight years ago, I recognized him right away.
Derek Engebretsen is a math and science teacher in Telluride and before I came to town I zipped him an email.
Here we are at the Steaming Phoenix, coffee cups in hand. Eight years ago I was in the middle of divorce unpleasantness. He was an unemployed math teacher doing a cross-country bike ride. Our paths merged in Telluride on 2011 this month on my birthday. I was standing across from the post office looking for Bluegrass festival tickets. He and his biking companion were looking for a spot to camp.
I invited them to stay overnight at my house. In addition to giving Gabe and Derek a bed, a meal, and a shower I thought to look up job openings for the Telluride school district. Derek got the job. And four years ago, again on my birthday, though he didn’t know it, Derek sent me an update. He was engaged to be married, to Katie–together they comprised two-thirds of the science department at Telluride High School–and they were buying a home. Both outdoorsy, they had gotten engaged while working as assistants on an OARS trip going down the Grand Canyon.
I love every single thing about this story, the fact that all three of us were out of our comfort zones, that it evolved organically, and of course I love the happy ending, complete with wedding! Over time the story has gotten developed an aura, a halo even, in my consciousness. I’ve written about it and I told it at a live storytelling event.
But, until now, I haven’t had a chance to see Derek again. Although it’s been nine years, Derek is only 32. He’s still young and tall and blond, and easy to see why I was comfortable enough to invite him to stay at the house. I still feel a bit motherly toward him…and perhaps unreasonably proud. I’m a touch disappointed that he didn’t bring Katie, though I’m charmed at how he talks about her, “I’m awfully fond of her.” They are heading west to skin up and ski down mountains in California and Oregon the minute school is out. He’ll also be visiting Gabe, his biking companion from eight years ago.
Derek mostly teaches physics, a subject that encourages sticking to the syllabus. “But toward the end of the year with the seniors,” he said, “I share a bit about how I got to be here.” He wants them to see how one small thing can change everything.