I spent the afternoon watching YouTube while making paper airplanes out of my collection notices. Elisabeth’s funeral covered by every major media outlet in the world: he Times, he Post, The Globe and Mail. Al Jazeera was on location. There was a global unease. Every conspiracy theorist, crackpot, and troll on the internet loudly voiced their opinions that something had happened other than what Institut had revealed. Dedicated websites boasted tens of thousands of members, each postulating new conspiracies daily. People loved to talk about it, even a year later.
The phone rang and I paused the video, flopping my arm across the couch to pick up the receiver. “David Mann speaking.” I said, forcing myself to be courteous.
“Is this the David Mann?” Asked the Voice on the end of the phone. It was altered to sound lower and mechanical. I should have hung up right away. Instead I answered.
“The David Mann whose wife died in Okhotsk?” Asked the Voice.
“Who is this?”
“What do you know about nanobots, Dr. Mann?”
“You’ve got to be kidding me…”
“I have information the French government wants to keep private. Do you know what I’m talking about, doctor?”
“No. I’m hanging up…”
“Are you aware the Sea of Okhotsk is still technically disputed territory? That the Russians and French have never signed a peace treaty after the Russo-Japanese ceasefire in 1905?”
As a matter of fact I was aware. Liz told me that, technically, the two countries were still at war. The last remaining point of contention between the two superpowers was the area surrounding the Kamchatka Peninsula and the Kuril Islands–the Sea of Okhotsk. “Look, pal. I don’t have time for this.”
“It was the Russians,” said the Voice.
“They killed your wife, doctor.”
“No. They recruited my wife.”
“I knew it!” exclaimed the Voice, its disguise breaking momentarily to reveal that of a young man. “They instigated the whole charade to incite the Japanese to war. Your wife was merely the first casualty Dr. Mann….”
I hung up, tired and aggravated and sad, and surfed around Youtube some more.
I watched Liz’s funeral ten times, since Id received a notice that my DSL was about to be discontinued. Sure I could watch it at a café, or at a friend’s house. But, for me, this was something sacred. Something holy. And this was my last afternoon to be alone with Liz. I wanted to make it count. I wanted to grieve.
It’s funny how similar grief and television can be. Grief re-runs. I’ve seen Liz’s funeral a thousand times. I’ve watched it in slow motion, paused at certain bits, and even captured screen-grabs. I’ve memorized all the headers and footers superimposed over the footage by the local stations ( in Paris…he President is planning a holiday). I know the commercials and the correspondents ( new soap is cheaper and more scrubby…a new anchorwoman wears blue eyeliner).
rief re-runs are exhilarating, but you reach a point where you’re just too tired to turn them off. You watch forever. And you zone into numbness. Sometimes I’d lip-sync to the reporters online, but I swear it mostly came out as moans.
How could you leave, Liz? You were always so keen for adventure, always so eager to go running around the world. Why wasn’t it enough to just be together? I know I shouldn’t blame you; but, if I’m honest, I do. Part-way, at least. You might be dead, but I’m still here living a life that’s quantifiably less than it used to be. Youve robbed me of something. Of life. Of certainty. Of what we used to share. You took it all when you left.
One of the links on the side of the YouTube page was about Schrodinger’s Cat. It reminded me of our cat, Joy. She left with Elisabeth. Everywhere Liz went, Joy was sure to follow. At first we thought Joy might have trouble adapting to the high-pressure environment undersea. Liz’s Mission Commander, Raskolnikov, told her he had a karel bobtail down there with him earlier. He spoke exceptional English, but Liz always loved his accent.
“The karel died, but not from pressure,” Raskolnikov had told Liz.
“But is it safe for me to bring Joy to Daedelus?” She asked.
“I think is fine. Just keep cat away from engine room,” he’d replied. I always loved that line. But not the cat. It hated me, and the feeling wasn’t entirely one-sided. Still, there’s something telling in the absence of Joy.
I could have used a little joy-injection right about then, especially after watching the video on Schrodinger’s Cat.
It’s a thought experiment, a favorite among black beret-wearing coffee-shop philosophers. The basic idea is that a cat gets placed in a box with some sort of contraption tied to it. It’s supposed to kill the cat. However, because the cat is in the box you don’t know whether or not the cat is alive or dead until you open the box. ntil you can see with your own two eyes, whether or not the cat is actually dead. The weird thing about Schroedinger’s Cat, the part that makes every philosopher and quantum physicist scratch their head, is that the observer actually plays a role in the experiment. If the observer opens the box and looks to see if the cat is alive, it will be. But if the observer opens the box to see if the cat is dead, it will be. The intentions of the curious determine the survivability of the imprisoned. How weird is that?
Of course, when I see that, all I can think of is getting beneath the Sea of Okhotsk. If I look for Liz to live, she will. Or at least she might. Or even if she won’t, I might. I hope.
My wife is two miles deep in an undersea box. She’s dead. But I still want to see what’s in the box. I need to know what happened. I imagine myself opening the box and Liz jumping out of it yelling “April Fools!”
My friend Ben once traveled over six hundred miles, on foot and hitchhiking, to meet his biological mother. His real grandfather beat him up when he surprised the family at dinner. Ben said it was worth it, though, just to know who his mother was and to see her one time.
Shortly after we were first married Liz traveled to Indonesia looking for her brother’s ex-wife, just so she could tell her he died. I went too, though stayed mostly at the beach.
But it stuck with me. Closure. Knowing.
Theres a reason a man and a woman “know” each other in the biblical sense. There are two kinds of knowing gnosis, which means to know something intellectually; and noetics, which means the sharing of experience. Everyone else knew Liz intellectually they thought they knew her. But only I knew her, really, experientially.
Everyone understands this, I think. We share life with our spouses. We live with them. We argue with them. We laugh with them. In turn, they know us back.
Only Liz knew that I have a phobia of public restrooms.
Only Liz knew that I hate cats because of my college roommate’s ill-tempered Siamese saboteur.
Only Liz knew I brushed my teeth in the shower because I liked having an excuse to stand in blisteringly warm water for an extra few minutes.
But now she’s gone.
What happens when the person you know, who knows you back, goes away? You don’t know anything anymore. You don’t even know who you are.
I don’t know what to do with myself.
There’s not much I wouldn’t do to get a little closure, something to help me pull the wedding photos off the mantle or dismantle the shrine in front of the bed. I just want to move on. I want to let go of the last twelve months without forgetting everything about life and love and Liz in the process.
I keep falling back on the Bible, hoping for comfort, but I hear the crinkling of those onionskin pages.
They make poor cushions.
I find some relief in the stories, though. The prophet Ezekiel lost his wife. God didn’t even tell him why it happened. He wasn’t even permitted to mourn because God had something else in mind. Right after she died, God made the prophet perform an oth to get the people’s attention. This was a kind of prophetic performance, meant to stimulate devotion. It didn’t work. The people asked Ezekiel why he was performing, and he told them his wife had died.
God made him perform his pain.
I feel like that’s what I’m doing right now, performing. For myself. For the press. For Sebastian and for Liz’s family. For complete strangers. I am surrounded by an audiencewatching me be brave so they can clap away their sadness.
Sebastian gets it. He called earlier today. Hes performing too. “It is maddening.” He said, spittle rattling against the mouthpiece. “I spend my time spending my money so the world will know I have it and therefore have confidence that I can be trusted with their money also. Yet I cannot garner a single committed investor for a recovery expedition to Okhotsk.”
“Don’t say that,” I said.
“C’est la vérité!”
“Don’t say recovery,” I clarified. “It means you’re going to clean up the trash.”
“Forgive me, my friend. I did not mean…”
“It’s fine, Sebastian.” His investors lost confidence following the Dignite disaster. Everything he has is tied up. His trust won’t release any additional funds until the next calend year. He needs money. “I guess even the rich are poor when they don’t have what they want.”
“I have everything I want, David. Just not when I want it.”
“It doesn’t matter,” I said. “By the time either your trust releases the funds or you finally gather your investors, it will be too late. The sea will have swept Liz’s remains into the Pacific like fish pellets.”
“Don’t say such things,” he warned. “Despair is ill-becoming.”
“I just want to know what happened down there. We all saw it on television, but that didn’t really help. We saw the look on her face as the camera began to shake. We saw her expression change from kid-in-the-candy-store to suddenly serious. And then we saw the faces of the station crew taking over the broadcast. La Dignite was never found. 11,000 feet under the Sea of Okhotsk is a tough place to go looking for clues, especially in Russian winter, but Institut has to know something. They do. There has to have been the equivalent of a black box recorder, or an emergency beacon, or a buoy. Or something.”
This is the one thing that chafes me about Sebastian. Sure, he doesn’t control Institut, but his money has to count for something. Influence. Answers.
“I’m sorry. I know less than you do, I’m afraid.” I’m wary of pushing too much harder. I can’t jeopardize the only relationship in which Liz is still, in some way, alive.
Sebastian hung up the phone and I began to contend with God.
It would be nice for you to do something, Lord. Half the time I feel like you’re disinterested in the players on your stage, the other half of the time I’m convinced you’re just feeding us lines. Couldn’t you give Sebastian a cue? A prompt? Anything?
Can’t you work someone into the story that actually helps people when they’re in need?