“No. That can’t be real.”
“No, yeah, I’m totally serious. It’s totally a thing. We’re going.”
“Yeah, no. I’m not going.”
Mark sighs melodramatically from the bathroom, his reflection in the mirror reaching up to pinch its sinuses between its forefingers like Wiley Wiggins’ character in Dazed and Confused, the universal gesture for both frustration with one’s wife and also the existential weight of the universe being just…too…much…to bear.
“I can’t believe you would deny me this,” he says. “You know how excited I must have been when I found out about this,” he says. “I think the cat is throwing up in the hallway again – would you check?” he says.
It is my turn to sigh. I push back the down comforter and throw myself out of bed, shivering slightly as the night air hits my skin, padding into the hallway to see that the cat is, indeed, retching up some regurgitated chimera of fur and food onto the hardwood floor.
I regard the scene for a second, then turn and calmly climb back into bed.
Mark is brushing his teeth and does not hear, but turns at the sound of my voice to look at me questioningly.
“I hate Oregon,” I announce.
There is silence from the bathroom; even the sound of brushing has stopped.
I wait, cringing inwardly, sorry to have blurted out this secret with no warning, ashamed to feel this way, mildly curious why it was cat vomit – of all the things! – that broke the camel’s back, that catalyzed this sudden emotional eruption, the simmering magma that is my hatred for the Pacific Northwest finally breaking through the surface of my subconscious. But I am also relieved to have it out in the open, after all these months, this festering unhappiness in my brain and my skin and my house and my home, ever since we moved to Tillamook.
Despite the continued silence from the bathroom, revealing my hatred for Oregon has been cathartic, I decide, and, feeling slightly guilty, I return to the hallway to clean up what the cat has left behind.
Mark is already in bed by the time I get back, very obviously pretending to read a book he is very obviously not reading.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “I didn’t mean to blurt that out,” I say. “I know you didn’t have a choice,” I say.
He bristles slightly, a knee-jerk reaction to any reminder that he did not get his first choice slot for residency after medical school. Hence our move to Tillamook, and his current angsty role as just another intern at just another teaching hospital, and hence the resulting problems in our marriage, and on, and on, and probably all the way on to the cat vomiting on the floor, for some reason I’ve yet to work out.
“I didn’t have a choice, in fact. I’d much rather still be in Manhattan.”
Me, too, my inner monologue comments, and I shush it before that sentiment reflects on my face.
“It’s just, I feel like I have no purpose here,” I respond. “I’m all alone the whole time you’re at the hospital, which is all the time, and I don’t have any friends yet, and I have nothing to do, and it’s always raining, and I just don’t feel like this is my home.”
I am welling up by the end of this speech, months of loneliness and isolation and rain and the culture shock of leaving New York City finally manifesting as the kind of tears that just keep coming, even when you’d rather be back in control of yourself.
“I don’t have a purpose, either!” Mark says loudly, starting to get angry. “I became a doctor to help people, dammit, and all I’m doing is grunt work and cleaning up other people’s mistakes.”
Here we go, says my inner monologue, and I shush it again, absentmindedly, as Mark begins his own rant about the weather, the hospital, Oregon’s sports teams, our distance from family, the hospital, the cost of living and the hospital.
“The only good thing about the Pacific Northwest is Bigfoot,” he states definitively, a rather absurd selection for a last word during an argument in which only he was participating.
I nod, having heard his appreciation for all things sasquatch and Cryptozoological before, and hope the cat won’t throw up any more.
Mark has brightened slightly at my apparent agreement, then reconsiders, and frowns.
“That’s why I was so excited about the clip tonight!” he states, as if it should have been obvious, as if I’m supposed to understand the connection between his ennui and yet another Bigfoot sighting being blown up on the local news channel.
The clip, unless I’m misunderstanding, looked exactly like a bear, could logically be a bear, follows other bear sightings, and was of such terrible quality that everything around it also looked like a bear.
“Yes, I get that it’s exciting,” I say patiently. “But I absolutely will not be joining you to go traipsin’ through the forest, or whatever the hell this is being billed as.”
Mark rolls his eyes, and I reflect on the idiocy of the Executive at the television station who put out this toxic-ly-masculine call to arms, the call for a bunch of (drunk) Oregonians to head off on an “expedition” (sponsored by a cheap local beer company) in an attempt to find (read: probably shoot) a sasquatch; the same Executive who gave the whole debacle a clever name like “Roamin’ the Countryside;” the same Executive who built an entire marketing campaign around this fully-overblown extravaganza.
“Well, I don’t care if you don’t come,” he finally says decisively. “This is the first thing I’ve been excited about since we moved, and even though you don’t want to share the experience with me for some unknown reason, I’m not going to let you rain on my parade.”
It already rains the rest of the time, my inner monologue reminds me, so at least nothing is changing.
I shake off the thought and take a moment for empathy. I know Mark has been lonely, too; I know he feels unfulfilled. Why on Earth any of that will be assuaged by searching for Bigfoot is beyond me, but if there’s one thing I know about my husband, it’s that Bigfoot is his weakness. For a highly educated individual, he remains particularly stubborn on the point of this alleged missing link that haunts the Pacific Northwest, giant feet, fur on its body, a bipedal humanoid that is just really good at Hide and Seek. Mark really believes, fanatically believes, and it was the one thing he held onto during the hellish 24 hours of Match Day, through his disappointment and the others’ celebrations and the realization that we would be leaving Manhattan for the other coast and bidding goodbye to the sunshine.
“At least I can look for Bigfoot,” he had said sullenly, and that is what I am forcing myself to remember as I struggle to exude compassion in the face of an idea that is – to be clear – a massive waste of time and even more hours I will sit by myself alone in our house, only the nauseous cat for company.
“I definitely don’t want to go,” I say. “But I support you, and you should totally go, and I hope you have a great time,” I say. “I hope you find Bigfoot,” I say.
Mark looks at me carefully, searching for sarcasm or a hidden motive, but I am sincere. I do hope he finds Bigfoot. I also hope that he can make it through residency, that I make some friends, that the cat stops vomiting on the newly refinished floors. Bigfoot is pretty far down on my priority list, then, given all that, but Mark’s happiness is not; and I can abide a lonely evening of worry about him out in the woods, in the viscous liquid of night, literally searching by flashlight for something that doesn’t exist.
“Seriously,” I repeat. “Knock yourself out. I’ll be here waiting for you when you get famous.”
He grins, and I feel a warm glow. We might be miserable in our current living situation, this shoebox of University-provided housing, little boxes on the hillside, little boxes made of ticky-tacky, but we do not lack for love.
Bet he catches a cold out there in the rain and spends the next week in bed complaining about how poorly he feels, interjects my inner monologue.
“Get a good picture,” I say. “I’m going to miss you,” I say.
“I’ll be back by morning. Don’t be too worried, I know what I’m doing out there.”
Yes, my inner monologue agrees, growing up in Missouri and spending the past several years in a city will certainly come in handy when you encounter a mountain lion.
Rather than voicing this aloud, I squeeze my husband into a hug, feeling his arms circle around me and press me to his chest, and I am happy, in this moment.
Then Mark ruins it by saying, loudly, and in my ear, “BIGFOOT, HERE WE COME!”
How he has managed to rope any of the other residents into this is beyond me, but rope them he has, and there’s a fair-sized group of new doctors preparing for the thrill of the hunt and their 15 minutes of fame.
These are doctors, to be clear. Men and women of science.
The mind reels.
“Have a good time,” I sigh, already anticipating the isolation I will endure this evening, here in a world surrounded by trees and clouds and the power of nature i – and, allegedly, Bigfoot – where I essentially know no one else, where I’m just a woman who left graduate school to follow her doctor husband to the other side of the country when it was not what either one of us wanted.
He kisses me, his eyes already somewhat crazed with whatever it is wannabe Cryptozoologists think about during experiences such as these, and then he is gone.
I stand by the window, cracked for air only slightly to avoid letting in the rain, as Mark pulls out of the driveway. Even from my perch above the porch, I can hear Eye of the Tiger spilling from his car speakers, and I watch him pounding the bass line against the steering wheel with his palm as he drives away.
It is the last time I will ever see my husband alive.
My cell phone is ringing, and I can’t find it. I search between the couch cushions frantically, removing the cat unceremoniously from my lap and jumping to my feet to check behind the arm.
Finally, finally, I see it has fallen to the floor, and I pick it up even as I’m certain I’m too late, it will stop ringing, this is the news I’ve been waiting for and I’m going to miss it, just because I let my guard down for a second.
Mark has been missing for four days, by this point, and I don’t think I’ve slept since the night he left. None of the group is back, and the story has captured international attention, a half dozen doctors, individuals whom society was proud to educate and employ, lost in the woods on a foolhardy mission contrived by a television station to find something that could never be located in the first place.
The journalists and news anchors are still outside, but they seem to have accepted that I will not participate in the media circus spawning around this travesty.
I was against this! I want to cry out to them. I thought it was stupid! I don’t even believe in Bigfoot!
All I want is my husband.
I am struck by a wave of grief and fear as this desire rears its head, and I almost drop the phone I have so recently answered.
“Hello?” I gasp into the mouthpiece.
I hear static, or wind, or the sound packing peanuts make when you stomp on them; no voices, but there is definitely something happening on the other end.
“Hello? Detective Linehan?” I try again.
Still nothing; just muffled noise and the undulating connection of two cell phones struggling to embrace across the vastness.
“Hello? Hello? Is someone there?”
It’s pretty obviously a wrong number, or a fax machine, or a million other things that are not the lead detective calling me back with an update, so I know I should hang up. I know I should keep the line free for actual news. I know this fragile call, a thread of hope, can in no way impact the likelihood of my husband’s death or survival, probably doesn’t even have anything to do with him, but I have nothing else upon which to cling, so I keep the phone to my ear, listening to the white noise, pacing in small circles, unable to sever the connection.
Here, in this state of uncertainty, potentially widowed without any concrete information, this dark void, mortality hanging over us all like the Sword of Damocles, I desperately need to feel close to someone, a link to some kindred human energy to share my present terror.
So I still keep trying.
“Detective Linehan? Hello? Is anyone there?”
Finally, I hear something, the whisper of something, the hint of words in a voice so familiar I recognized it before the sounds even finish processing.
“Mark?” I say dubiously; incredulously; tentatively, like I feel like I am being pranked, because I feel like I am being pranked.
Through the white noise, I strain to hear the voice again, the Darwinian instinct for my mate in my lizard brain awakening and clamoring for my husband, the future father of my children.
“…so much…rain, and I fell…I don’t know…hear me, but…love…so much.”
“Mark!” I scream, relief bubbling up in my core, overwhelming relief, relief better than any drug I might have tried in college. “Mark, I hear you, I hear you! I’m here, where are you?!?!”
He is speaking, but the phone connection is awful, and fading, and I furiously curse the Pacific Northwest for its lack of cell phone reception, and for its topography, and for whatever the hell it did to my husband that is keeping him from me.
“…believe it. We…night…flashlights, so…”
“Mark, I can’t hear you!” I say frantically, desperate to learn where he is, what is wrong, how I can help.
“What?” I say helplessly, barely hearing him now, already feeling the agony of loss, feeling him being pulled from me, bodily separated, bone severed and flesh torn, and I am impotent to do anything about it. I shut my eyes, trying to focus, eardrums with laser precision, an attempt to hear what is just beyond the veil of perception. For a moment, the connection crisps, and I can hear Mark clearly, and I will hold onto these words until the day I die, because it is the last thing I will ever hear my husband say.
“…not the photographer’s fault…”
And that’s what happened.
I’m doing better these days. I’m not crying as much. Sometimes I can even feel joy again. It’s just the cat and I, but I’m starting to feel like I may be able to love again someday. And I hardly dream about him anymore.
They never found any of the bodies. The rescuers found some evidence of their packs, and a single shoe, but nothing to indicate what had happened to a ragtag group of M.D.s bent on discovering the undiscoverable in the woods late one night.
I try not to think about what it must have been like for Mark, at the end. I heard his voice over the phone, though, and I could tell what he was feeling: It was mortal terror, just pure fear incarnate, and I couldn’t do anything to help; and then he probably died alone. And that is a hard thing to reckon with.
Mark knew something in that moment, I think; knew something, or had found something, or had something incredibly significant to share. Something had happened, something unimaginable out in the dark, and Mark by himself, and that’s extra scary to me, you know?
And now? Well, what else is there to do? Slowly, his family and friends and I move forward; slowly, we heal; slowly, we continue to live. We grieve, we support one another, and we remember him, every day.
But what eats at me at night is that I will never know what Mark meant by “blurry.”
Some things, I guess, we’ll never know.
Shannon Frost Greenstein is a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee, a Contributing Editor for Barren Magazine, and a former Ph.D. candidate in Continental Philosophy. Her work has appeared in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, X-R-A-Y Lit Mag, trampset and elsewhere. Follow her at shannonfrostgreenstein.com or on Twitter at @mrsgreenstein.