One year ago today my wife died. There is some dispute as to how. And when. And where. Twelve months of dispute. Twelve months of speculation. Twelve months of not knowing anything.
Curiosity is a problem. It eats at me like a rat gobbling nuts in the street. But the inquisitiveness of others is even worse. I don’t know what it is about tragedy that makes people so insatiably nosy. Curiosity is tyrannical. We know theres no real reason why we should be involved in somebody else’s mess, but we have to know. We have to. And that desire to know is mercenary.
Gossip. Friendship. Counseling. Even prayer. These are the investigative tools of the (in)human(e) trade. And when everyone is curious, they call in the pros. The press chews up every bit of privacy and mourning, excreting what’s left of my wife for tabloid bylines. I’d pay good money for a little privacy, if I had any.
This morning I visited Institut Oceanographique, the French underwater NASA. They recruit private donors and grant-writing agencies to fund their exploratory missions beneath the sea. Theyre supposed to be emissaries for scientific discovery, ecological sustainability, and the betterment of mankind. I’m not sure how well they perform with regards to discovery and sustainability, but the only thing “better” because of Institut is my ability to argue in French. Which is ironic, since most of their business is conducted in English. They only speak French when they’re mad at Americans.
Institut stonewalled me again, refusing my request for La Dignite’s records. I’ve tried everything. The logical explanation for their silence is that something must have gone wrong. Or maybe they found something. Or maybe someone doesn’t want certain information to come to light. Or maybe all of the above.
The truth is I have no idea why they refuse to talk to me. It’s frustrating, and I can’t seem to move past it. My spider-sense is tingling on this one. There’s something going on and I’m not going to let up until I find out what it is.
Of course, I’m not the only one with a conspiracy theory. Every day I ignore yet another appeal from yet another journalist. Glen Levant from The Times is a parasite, and that clown from Scientific American Frontier isn’t any better. For example, this is how my most recent call went from Levant:
“David?” As soon as I heard that Midwestern accent I knew who it was. “It’s Glen.”
“Not interested.” I said, already moving to hang up the phone. “Don’t call again.”
“Don’t you care about her, David?” He said before I could get the old-school receiver all the way back into the cradle. Against my better judgment I lifted the phone back to my ear, ready to bite his head off.
“Don’t start, Glen. I’m not in the mood.”
“Just hear me out…”
“…a kid came into my office yesterday with about eight seconds of video footage on his cell.” He paused, briefly, waiting to hear if I would react. “Says its part of a black box recording from Liz’s submarine, La Dignite.”
“There was no black box, Glen. Everybody knows that. This isn’t funny.”
“Oh it’s hilarious.” He said. “The footage shows Elisabeth arguing with the crew. They weren’t listening. It looked important. I thought you might like to see it.”
“If you’re lying…”
“Easy, tiger.” He said, backing up with his words. “I just thought I’d give you the heads-up before it hit the internet. What do you think got her so worked up, anyway?”
“Are you sure it was Liz?”
“The kid swears it’s her voice.”
Her voice? I felt like such a tool. “Don’t call again, Levant.” I said, slamming down the phone. I can’t believe I got dragged into that. He almost had me comment. He calls just about every week. So do all the other major players. Hilariously, even my college paper the Koine emailed me today to see if I would break radio silence for them.
But I won’t. I won’t talk about Liz. I want Institut to talk about Liz. They’re the only ones who actually know something. However, judging by the gendarmes who escorted me off the premises today, they never will.
France is nice, except for the people. The people who killed my wife.
“Be calm, David.” Sebastian said to me last week over breakfast. “You must reclaim that fabulous lucidity of yours. It’s quite charming.” Sebastian is smooth. Handsome, warm, and with a mind like a razor. He’s a peach. A razor-sharp peach. He and I have become close since Liz died. You might call us Beauty and the Beast. He’s definitely the Beauty gracing magazine covers, attending galas and donating to charity while I, like any other religious professional, will always be identified as a Beast by the secular world. In the eyes of the press, the only good religious person is one embroiled in scandal. They’d like me more if I gave a couple of interviews sharing my side of the story. Fat chance. Beasts only survive in hiding.
“This isn’t about bureaucracy,” I said, pressing the issue. “It’s about Liz.”
“She was a singular woman.” Sebastian is the one person who never shies away from talking about Liz. Like I said, I don’t talk about her, but I love listening to him. There was something between them nothing untoward, just a kind of special respect. That’s rare between a man and a woman. Worth mentioning anyway. She never slept away from home, and I’m not sure where Sebastian’s tendencies lie regardless. Not with Liz. Not like that. He had a fathers’ love, or maybe a mentor’s love, or maybe he just shared something with her. He’s sincere. His sincerity is a big part of why I’m still in France. I like being around the people who loved Liz best.
I called him Sea Bass once, as a joke. We were at a fancy dinner party before Liz went under. Secretly I think he liked having a crass American nickname, but Liz kicked me so hard under the table I never bothered to repeat it. It didn’t really fit anyway. I don’t know much about fish, but if Sebastian is any kind of animal it’s not something cold and slimy.
“I think you miss her much as I do.” I said.
“No.” He replied “You forget that I was meant to be on board.”
“I remember.” I said. Sebastian had a medical emergency, something about his stomach that necessitated a last-minute change of plans. “I spent a long time wondering if the rumors were true.”
“Guilt can cripple you, David. I was meant to be there. Alas, I could not. If only the roles were reversed I would not be longing for an overdue death, but praying instead for resurrection. Eagerly, I might add.”
Sebastian and I meet every week at Le Petite Dejeuner. He’s on his way now. We’re getting together later than normal, on account of my visit to Institut, but neither one of us are quite ready to skip our favorite breakfast haunt this side of the Atlantic. Besides, French cafés are the perfect spot for talking about lost love, personal hardship, and bureaucratic ineptitude.
Everything is easier to bear with crepes.