Thanks to Dowyd & DuffieDawg
and several advance readers that prefer to maintain deniability
Ever feel sometimes that you've climbed so high that the only direction left to go is just down? That's kind of the way I felt lately ... stuck up on top of some mountain with only a rough downhill path left to travel. The view wasn't even particularly nice anymore ... nothing but fog or dark clouds in every direction I'd look.
It just makes made feel lost and sad.
It didn't used to be that way or at least it wasn't while I had Maryanne. I thought she was the best thing to ever enter into my life, and maybe she was for awhile. Now that she's gone, just when I thought I finally made it, I found myself back where I started from, alone. Losing her wouldn't be so bad at all, but I'm always back on these damn mountains when I fall!
I first met Maryanne (she didn't like to be called Mary) at a wildlife preservation fund raiser in Seattle, early one spring. I was a young, fairly good looking biologist pretty much fresh out of graduate school and working for the National Park system at Northern Cascades in northern Washington State. My specialty was bears and I presented a brief five minute dog and pony show at the fund raiser explaining the new Recovery Area project for encouraging the repopulation of the highly threatened grizzly bear back into the southern 48 states. They're doing fine up in Alaska, but they're quite rare south of Canada.
Now not everyone loves the idea of having an eight foot tall alpha predator living next to your back yard and potentially stalking your campsite if you're hiking, fishing or skiing. This group of ecologically minded potential benefactors was a pretty good (and well heeled) audience and my boss raised a lot of money. I got a nice 'Atta-boy' and earned a few brownie points along with a little gold star in my personnel folder that said "plays well with others". When it comes to budget time, they'll keep the good scientist that actually owns a suit and doesn't mind wearing it once in awhile over a more brilliant, but surly one that objects the loudest to occasionally having to sing for ones supper. The fun work might be studying the animals in the field, but the real important work is always behind the scenes getting the public support (and the cold hard cash) needed to keep us there.
The evening was successful on other fronts as well. I was also given the phone number for an especially attractive young blonde, pretty much straight from college herself, majoring in Art History, and was already quite bored with the local social scene. She apparently found a rugged young field biologist, complete with a scruffy beard, to be an exotic and romantic figure. She was everything that I wasn't; confident to the point of being aggressive, filthy rich, and extremely bored with everything and everyone around her ... largely due to the fact she had the attention span of a gnat.
In short, we had absolutely nothing in common, but that didn't mean we couldn't have a bit of fun for awhile ... especially in bed.
It ought to have been an amusingly short and mostly harmless romance. A few evenings out at odd and very irregular intervals, a bit of fun and then the inevitable breakup as she found someone else to help her occupy her time a bit more full time, but it didn't work out that way. I was only able to drive down to Seattle about once a month to visit her, but that seemed to perfectly fit her schedule. Somehow, in spite of everything, our relationship blossomed.
Maryanne even came up to visit me at the National Park a few times that summer. She got to see the public side of things, with the campers and their boating, fishing and hiking activities. I took her around the areas that I worked for a long hike to give her a fairly explicit idea of what I did for a living ... collecting bear shit to be analyzed, tracking the whereabouts of GPS tagged bears to see what they were up to, and (hopefully) finding an untagged bear or two to add to our database, and studying their behavior.
It was apparent right from the start that Maryanne was not a 'nature girl'. The hardest she had ever roughed it before in her life was at a merely three-star hotel without room service, or a hairdryer. She didn't like the hiking, the strong mountain sun and wind, or the numerous denizens of the insect kingdom very much, and I hoped that showing her the true nature of my rather unglamorous job would knock off a bit of the romantic view she had of my work, but it was all pretty much for naught. She tended to still think of me as just a smarter Park Ranger and assumed that, like the bears, that I'd have nothing to do when the Park closed for the long winter, thus could be freer to amuse her.
I still don't think she ever understood that winter would always in fact be one of my busiest parts of the year. After all, I'd have about six months worth of collected bear shit to process, nutritional charts to graph, film to catalog, and behavioral notes to type up. Not to mention weeks of hiking out in the worst winter weather possible crawling up and down icy mountains, cataloging every winter sleeping den for every GPS tagged bear in the entire park.
Ok, I had my blinders on a bit too. I like what I do for a living, but it excited me to know that she really liked what I did for a living. You don't get a whole lot of pats on the back in my profession, and I really appreciated her support and semi-understanding. Apparently none of her other trust fund friends and acquaintances did anything meaningful with their lives. Sure they donated to all of the hip and trendy eco causes, like the Recovery project, but I actually walked the walk, instead of merely just talking the talk.
I was never going to get rich, however, and I was sure in the end that this was the final sum total of how her little section of society rated one's success or failure in life. Despite her romantic notions, someday she was going to wake up and decided that I was a near big fat zero failure in life. I was going to go into her book eventually someday as a 'loser', and that losing would just remain a permanent way of life for me that she would no longer want to take in and be a part of.
Despite all odds, and everyone's better judgment, Maryanne and I were married that August. She got the big church society wedding that probably cost more than I made in a year, but wouldn't have put much of dent in daddy's 'walk-around' pocket money. We then had another more private reception later at the park for the Rangers and park staff to attend, after which we spent two weeks in the Caribbean where we both got horribly sunburned, had a bout of food poisoning, lost my best Nikon digital camera to a motorized snatch & grab thief, but it was still had the most fun I'd ever had in my life.
I didn't realize at the time that Maryanne was under a lot of pressure to marry someone – anyone – from her family. Much of her large family Trust Fund came from the estate of an extremely old-fashioned and conservative Aunt that didn't think very highly of unmarried "independent" young women in general. The 'earlier the better' was her attitude regarding marriage. If Maryanne did not marry by age twenty-five she could lose about two-thirds of her Trust Fund. She was also apparently 'on the rebound' from an old lover, Dennis, who had left her and gone to New York to work at an uncle's commodities trading firm. It wasn't until later that I learned that Dennis, not me, was really Maryanne's one true love of her life. I just made an interesting diversion (and safeguarded her inheritance) until the day that he could return.
The honeymoon was the pinnacle of our marriage, and like the glaciers on the east side of the mountains in the park, the snow fell hard and the sun rarely shined, so the ice become a glacier that just flowed slowly downhill.
I suppose Maryanne assumed that she would have the bored wives of the Park Rangers and other seasonal staff to help amuse her while I was off at work, often for several days at a time away from home. I don't think she quite realized that Rangers tend to marry rather incestuously other Rangers or scientists, if they even ever marry at all. We tend to be rather odd folks and live lives that are more than a bit unusual and different, and our type of work often attracts the more independent and even rather unsocial sorts of employees. The remaining spouses tended to work full time park staff jobs, or volunteered at the various Visitor Centers. Folks out here in the wilderness find meaningful things to do to occupy their time ... the alternative is to probably slowly go nuts with cabin fever.
She tried for awhile doing some of the volunteer work, but she was by no means dedicated enough about it to show up every day. Merely showing up to help once in awhile, when she was especially bored, accomplished nothing particularly useful for anyone. She tried accompanying me out in the field for awhile but it was frankly annoying to both of us. She couldn't stop talking and chattering away incessantly out on the trail, which meant that I wasn't ever going to find any bears to study. Bears have extremely keen ears and black bears are especially people shy. She hated camping and roughing it, and never could learn even the most basic camping skills, like how to set a proper camp, and cooking over a small fire. Actually, she had basically no domestic or housekeeping skills at all worth mentioning, even at home in our cabin.
Then she had a close call with Grumpy Gertie that soured any minor remaining appreciation she might have ever had for life in the great outdoors. Late autumn is one of the most dangerous times to be close to bears, especially older ones. They're all desperately doing last minute foraging for food before they hibernate for the winter, and the older bears always seem to be a bit slower and less well fed, and are accordingly more desperate to find a good last minute meal. This is one of the few times that the normally timid and temperamentally placid black bear can become aggressive to humans, and brown bears (Grizzlies) – like the always ill-tempered old sow Gertie, can become man-killers.
Gertie had just given birth this year to her last set of cubs, and one of the very first things the greenest camper needs to learn is that a mother bear (sow) with cubs is just about the meanest thing on four legs. Maryanne and I were just in the process of starting to cross a small stream, when from out of the trees and heavy brush on the other side came a bounding pair of young cubs, eager for a drink and to investigate what our scent was. I curtly ordered Maryanne to back away, now and quickly, and look for a tree to climb on our side of the stream, but she froze. She thought the cubs were 'cute', and probably would have tried petted them if I had not roughly stopped her from moving forward. Any remaining thoughts she might have had about Grizzly bears being cute was permanently dispelled when Grumpy Gertie came out of the trees to join her cubs and she immediately locked her malevolent eyes upon us.
I had a rifle, and I would have been within my rights to have shot Gertie ... she was pretty much a known menace with a long history of trouble, but her cubs were still too young to survive in the wild yet, especially without a mother to dig a winter den for them. I had a few other options, but they weren't especially good. Maryanne screaming at the top of her lungs really didn't help the situation much either, especially when Gertie started to charge right at her.
Bears are fast. Faster than you are. Running doesn't help much, especially if you start to run too late, like Maryanne now decided to do. Now I really only had one option: move into Gertie's path and spray her face down good with a can of bear repellant, aka pepper spray with a few extra added goodies guaranteed to get a bear's full and undivided attention. I never leave my cabin without it.
It worked. Gertie didn't like the spray one little bit and she swung a paw at me that would have knocked my head right off if I had still been standing, but I was already lying face down on the ground laying dead. That's really the only other thing to do when a bear decides to get up close and personal with you. Play dead. They usually won't want to play with you (they don't usually care much for carrion unless they're starving) and will quickly get bored and wander off. In this case, Gertie, with a face full of bear spray and now unable to see, hear or smell me ... and in a great deal of pain with her eyes virtually on fire, ran off howling and fled in the opposite direction in a righteous fury.
Maryanne never forgave me, and rarely ever left the grounds of the park living quarters again. It was a very long and cold winter ... and not just outside the cabin.
By springtime our relationship was still pretty icy and Maryanne had spent a long winter doing nothing much but drinking and sulking from the time she got out of bed. We don't get very good basic TV reception up here, but even the new satellite dish only provided her with some very minimal distraction. Beginning that early summer, she started to spend more and more time back in Seattle, resuming her regular attendance of the cocktail circuit. By autumn, I was lucky to see her three or four days a month and our sex life was down to almost nothing.
Shortly before nearly all of the major roads closed for the winter, Maryanne announced that she would not be overwintering at the park this year and would stay firmly planted 'home' in Seattle. This was when I should have just bit the bullet and called it quits, and started to file for a divorce. It was really quite obvious that our relationship was done. She was going to leave me ... probably for good. I had become that 'Loser' in her eyes that I known someday would happen. It appeared that my luck wasn't going to be changing for the better anytime soon.
During that long winter, I amused myself by seeing how many times my wife's photo appeared in the society section of the Seattle Times. I stopped counting after the fifth appearance, because in each of the last three pictures she was standing next to the same man, a certain Dennis Henry. Never trust a man with two first names, my father would say ... and he was probably right.
At least my wife wasn't spending much, if any, of my money. There's not much to buy up in the Cascades, and my government salary is just pocket money compared with her Trust Fund income. That left me plenty of money to hire a private investigator in Seattle to check up on my wife while she was away.
I didn't want any of her money in any divorce settlement ... I just wanted to know if she was now being unfaithful to me so that I could demand and force a divorce so that I could forget her and start to get on with my life again. The sitting and waiting in the dark and snow not knowing was the worst feeling I had ever felt, and by springtime my spirits were more than a bit low. I was feeling a good deal like a loser myself by now.
I would have welcomed my wife's phone call in early April saying that she was on her way back to stay with me, except that I had already received a full report from my PI detailing all of her innumerable infidelities with Dennis, who now appeared to be living full time with her at her Seattle luxury condo.
She had said over the phone that "she loved and missed me", so why then had she been overheard in a fancy bar drunkenly telling Dennis a little too loudly that she "needed me dead ... and fast! But it has to be an accident"?
Supposedly she now wanted to find a way to make our relationship work, so why had she been researching bears heavily at the library and having meetings with the bear keepers at the Seattle Zoo? Not to ward off future bear attacks apparently; she had been asking, not terribly subtly, how to 'encourage a bear to attack' instead.
I didn't like the puzzle my brain was putting together from these separate and disturbing pieces of information. My PI had come to a similar conclusion, but the various law enforcement offices we contacted basically told us that they couldn't do anything, until she actually attempted to harm me first. Why did Maryanne now want and need to have me killed, preferably by an accidental bear attack? Why? What was the motive? I was more than willing – happy even – to grant her a divorce under nearly any terms that I could think of. This was the first thing I asked Maryanne when she walked back into my life.
"Do you want a divorce? I'm willing to grant it ... no problems or hassles. I won't take a dime of your money. You're not happy here in this life and we're just making each other both miserable. We're both lost in the fog on top of some mountain where all of the roads lead down and some of the paths are more steep than others. A few paths are so bad that it's just a matter of time before it's a dead fall straight off of some cliff. There's one path here that's fairly safe and easy and it's called divorce. Sure it's not a happy path to walk but it's a smooth and secure one that will take us both safely home, to walk that slow path upwards again some other day. That's the path where we stand in front of today, so why don't we just take it?"
It was a bit convoluted, but I'd been playing the local country music station all morning and was feeling a bit lyrical and sentimental. I was giving her chance to have a nice clean break without animosity, dueling lawyers, and hopefully bloodshed. I begged her with my eyes to accept this settlement and abandon whatever other plans she might have made to obtain her freedom.
For a few minutes I thought I had convinced her. She hemmed and hawed for awhile but in the end she kept to her script and tried to convince me of her love for me, mostly without ever making eye contact with me. She was really a terrible liar, but I kept up the appearance of accepting the idea of a reconciliation. We even had sex together for the first time in many months ... it was even pretty damn good sex, but it was still all just a lie.
I kept my guard up and maintained a close watch upon my gear, but it still wasn't quite nearly good enough. Her extremely subtle plot to kill me very nearly succeeded.