part two of Carl and Juli
"The high wire is a dangerous game,
But a hard act to follow.
If I fly (to you),
Like a moth to a flame,
Would your eyes be the size of sorrow?"
Size of Sorrow
-Tears for Fears-
Carl knew falling in love would ruin his life. He had the mathematical existence proof in his house, most of which he renovated with his own hands, three quarters of which she wanted in kind. Sold and divided. Cold cash made from the black mark on the wall where the Christmas tree sparked. The crazy purple dots Madge made him paint on her ceiling when she turned five. The mirror that reflected his image before he left for the ice. The one that must have seen them those days he was in Greenland. Those days he was digging snow trenches at Onset D. Siple Dome.
What the hell did she expect marrying a glaciologist? What the hell did he expect beyond being as happy as he was coming home to them. Living with them.
It was love, he thought.
So now broken, he realized he understood love as little as he understood Antarctic weather or the celestial dynamics of the satellite experiment they were putting up. He'd bring the kids to see the launch when he got home.
Juli would come with them. She'd be like Laura was before whatever exploded inside her made her hate what they were together. And the children would grow to like her, and she them. There'd be road trips to Florida. School plays and soccer games.
He knew it would wreck him. But he was already wrecked.
When the weather cleared and Carl's party was evacuated off the plateau, they prowled the halls of 155 and the Chalet, stalking victims, screaming at whomever would listen. Their faces were wind burned, the color of clotted blood. Their noses were blistered in frostnip. Mary would lose a toenail to the bite. They'd exhausted their emergency rations and had lived for three days with no food or water, lying in snow trenches they'd dug. Someone's stupidity had brought them to hell. It wasn't the hardship that made them angry--they were polar scientists and expected it. It wasn't the lack of food. They all felt they could stand to lose a little weight.
It was the feeling, for the first time in their lives, that they would die. And their deaths would be the province of a haphazard oversight made by an inattentive clerk who in a streak of pettiness decided to overrule their deployment decisions.
Now there was someone they would kill as soon as they could get someone to give them a name. And they'd be justified in the act. If it was done right, the community might even forget it happened. The individual would simply disappear like a political journalist in Peru, or Chile during Pinochet.
The NSF chief happened to be on station just then. He heard the four PhDs from NOAA and The National Snow and Ice Center were on a blood hunt. He intercepted them, and paid a physically painful toll in the process. Their safety officer put him in a full nelson and he blacked out, mostly out of terror, but slightly due to a restricted airway and a pinched carotid artery. He was expecting to have breathed his last, but woke up with a massive headache, unable and unwilling to press charges.
His only command was to give the team whatever it wanted. He presumed they wanted off the ice.
Carl was on a helo to Lake Hoare within the hour and when he landed he found Juli lying on a rack with her nose bandaged and eyes blackened from the frost damage. There was no one else in the Hoare house. Everyone was in the field collecting samples or taking measurements.
When she saw him for the first time, the look on her face was something between surprise and terror. When she saw his eyes she softened.
"It hurts to smile," she said.
He stood over her for a while, trying to figure out what to say. Something like, "I'm back from the dead," spun in his head, but he wouldn't say it. Instead, he went over to the camp's aged boom box, put on a CD with a song he knew, and went back to her and offered her his hand.
She mustn't have known what he wanted. She was stiff when he slid an arm around her waist. She resisted at first when he wrapped his fingers through hers and brought his hand up to her shoulder.
And then he moved a step. He had to tug at her to get her to follow, but she did. And then another step, another direction.
"What are we doing?" she asked him, but he hadn't said a word since he got off the helo, and now he didn't intend to.
Finally, she recognized the box step his mother had taught him in grammar school.
They danced alone in the building for a few minutes. And then she cried. And then he cried. And outside the helos landed and took off. The glacier calved and the sun spun in its eternal circle. The song ended and started again. There was no reason to speak, and neither of them did.
They were still dancing when Ray came in to start dinner. And they were still dancing when all the scientists came in from their frosty days.
Nobody said a word. The scientists watched them for a while, because it was simple and beautiful and warm.
After that, Juli's performance improved. She managed to keep coherent lists in her head. She took safety precautions. Her scheduling became crisp. She was no more than fifteen minutes late to any meeting, and she apologized when she got there.
Antarcticans are not quick to forgive, and it was not likely they would ever absolve her from her prior transgressions. It was not likely anyone would trust her to be alone in the field. But she could make the rest of her season profitable, and she became a solid member of the community.
Carl retro'ed home the following week. He made a pact with her to call when she got back north. He sent her e-mail several times per day, and she answered as often as she could. She IM'ed him occasionally. And once before her redeployment she called him and told him she missed him.
When she finally retro'ed back to North America the NSF station chief called Cary Eastman and requested Juli undergo some form of field training before being sent back to the ice, which was political jargon for--don't ever send her back here again.
She hadn't heard any of this had happened. Carl picked up on it while he was making tweaks to his grant proposal for the next season. Real information is conducted through the grapevine on the ice. You can better trust what you learn through rumor than through official communication. The message to Carl was that his girlfriend was "banned" from the ice. He should see she knew that.
Carl and his two beautiful daughters stopped by my house on the way down to Edwards Air Force Base where they had put his ice measurement satellite on a missile and were going to launch it into space. They slept over, and his kids melded into a crowd with mine. While they hunched over Nintendo controls Carl and I talked about the ice and the future.
His plan was to swing east after the launch. Drive to Iowa and pick up Juli. Bring her back home with him. It was going to happen, as far as he was concerned. And in the two days our families were together, he spoke hardly a sentence about his ordeal on the plateau except to say that the stress had been too much for the team, and that they'd likely never work together again.
After he left I got an e-mail from Juli asking for my help. She had heard Carl was staying with me and would I relay a message for her? I gave her his cell number. She didn't want to call.
It was too much for her, she told me. He was looking for a replacement mother for his children. Like any good technologist, he was trying to reconstruct the family his wife had torn apart. That was impossible. Didn't he see she could never be what he wanted?
I had to tell her it was too late. He and the kids had left for Edwards. She would have to tell him herself when he got to Iowa. There was no place for me in that relationship, or the process they needed to go through.
We weren't on the ice anymore.
The next season I met Don and Chris at a grocery store in CHCH. We were all buying citrus fruit to bring with us to the ice. Limes, mostly, for the gin and tonics.
Chris told me Juli had fallen back into her old patterns after she saw Carl that last time. He'd been on campus, and there was an altercation. He took off with his kids and Juli stayed--and hadn't the cops gotten in touch with me? Apparently he and the kids had fallen off the face of the earth. His ex-wife had hired private investigators to find them. If I saw them I was supposed to tell the authorities.
When I got to the ice I deployed to Lake Hoare for my field work. Ray assigned me a tent that someone else had vacated recently. Inside one of the tent-wall pockets was an envelope addressed to me. I ignored it the first day. My mind instantly rusted in cognitive dissonance set up by my having traveled ten-thousand miles to the most remote spot on earth and finding a letter with my name on it.
Nobody mentioned anything to me about it the next day. And the following night, when I crawled into my sleeping bag with my hot water bottle I succumbed to temptation and opened it.
Inside were a couple of his pictures. Carl and his kids on a tropical beach somewhere. Carl and Juli dancing in the utility area of Hoare House. A note with a name--someone in USAP cargo who needed to know her actions nearly killed four innocent people, and that someday they'd return the favor unless she performed her apology directly upon me--and I was to acknowledge I'd received the apology with photos (video preferred) if I went through with it.
There was a tiny pin commemorating the team's survival on the plateau and the successful launch of their satellite. There was a little green card signed by Carl. Signature card for a safe deposit box in a bank up north in CONUS. Would I see Juli got it?
What makes a man want to fall in love when everything he knows tells him it's wrong? What makes lovers tear each other apart? Is it always our failure to meet the unrealistic expectation love brings? The knowledge there are no unicorns? That shining armor gets tarnished as soon as you throw a leg over a horse? That sex isn't love, or even close to it? That in reality we are all flawed--every last one of us.
I got out of my sleeping bag with the envelope. Ray had fired up the rocket toilets. The blue propane flame was visible behind the flash door.
There was probably a tiny puff of white smoke, but as we were very far in the field, and as most of the scientists were already bundled in their sleeping bags for the evening, there was nobody around to notice.
I'm still wearing the pin.