To live in another country would be a dream. To be able to move to France and somehow “become French” would be ideal. It’s a fantasy. It’s an allowance that I give myself, to let my mind follow to inspire hope for success and direction in life. It’s easy motivation.
We all have these dreams, particularly ones tied to a place. Most likely there is someone who has the opposite of your dream and imagines their dream life to be what you currently have. This of course means that some gay twentysomething in France is definitely being pulled by a Western dream, to move to Los Angeles and be a Californian. It’s romantic to think about these dreams we all have. We’re not so different, are we?
That was the feeling I kept having in reading about a French couple captivated by the American West, a couple who tragically died in pursuit of this dream. All death is painful, yes, but this one felt particularly crushing. The couple—David and Ornella Steiner of Reims, France—had visited the West coast a year ago and, almost immediately after returning home, started to plan a five week getaway back to the part of the world they became obsessed with. When the trip came, everything was going swimmingly until they embarked on a hiking trip in New Mexico on a too hot day in an unforgiving desert. The water ran out. Exhaustion set in. The heat was too crushing for anyone or anything to continue—and the Steiners could not. It was a sad end. (And fortunately their nine year old son Enzo did survive, thanks to the Steiner’s likely giving him their water to continue on, to get help.)
I am aware that this is an awful story and it breaks my heart over and over and over again. Yet, there is something bewitching here: this couple became so entranced with their dream, lived the dream, and died in the dream. It should also be noted that this all happened in the White Sands National Monument of New Mexico, a captivating and alien environment that is almost impossible to believe is real. You can see how the couple were drawn to this place. The timing all around was poor, though.
I do not wish these happenings on anyone but their love for this place resonates off the page—and I feel truly devastated. I have so much love and respect for this couple too as they feel like my opposites: they did it. They lived their dream. They saw a rainbow from where they were to where they wanted to be. They put in the work to be able to climb over the arch and make it their destination. Unfortunately—and unbeknownst to them—it was their final one. I would love to know more about these people and memorialize them in any way that I can. For some reason I cannot figure out (Perhaps the French-American West love connection?), I am drawn to this story. I want to know more.
Rest in peace, Steiners.