he’s not breathing,” holding him out in front of me like a ticking bomb.
Me, who had delivered hundreds of baby creatures.
The nurse who took him from me laughed. “Of course he’s breathing, Dr. Prayer.” Prayer, that’s our last name, if you’re looking for irony.
Although Susie’s name is hyphenated, Corble-Prayer. If you’ve spent any
time in Santa Fe you’ve seen her paintings. Work she says keeps her from
disappearing into the desert or killing herself. She has left me, never
more than half a day, over a dozen times. Check out her series Wreckage
on the Moon. Done a year before we retired.
I won’t bore you with the play-by-play of Mike’s life story up to his arrest.
After a childhood and teenagehood of spirited resistance to all things
conventional, of brilliance and cynicism and reckless behavior, after
opting for a GED, he lucked into a forward-looking college on the West
Coast that allowed only one course at a time, without grades, just long
narrative assessments. He found purpose. Birds. Ornithology. Graduate
degrees. An ornithologist wife. His dissertation identified a shift in the
breeding patterns of black guillemots as temperatures rose.
Asperger’s, a doctor told us when he was nine. A mild version. ASD.
Which meant that under all his excess was an inability to . . . to feel. He
processed inputs and made of them what he could. I never bought that
diagnosis. Mike was supercoordinated. He could walk fifty yards on his
hands. He could make eye contact. He could talk, with a little shyness,
sure, to strangers. But there were times, I admit, when he responded in
emotional situations as though dealing with a scientific problem: “Don’t
cry. That’s stupid,” he once told his mother after he was caught drinking
cough syrup and downing Dramamine in his room. Except for their
wedding, I never saw him kiss his wife. Or touch her. After five years she
left him, taking their daughter.
Anyway, cut to the daughter, postmarriage. Drinking. Gambling.
Probably his fair share of weed. Still holding his professor’s job at a research university in a Midwestern town I won’t name, although, hell,
Google has all our secrets. Mike and a postdoc named Leonard Foster
were on a small, otherwise uninhabited island off Utqiagvik, Alaska—the
town that used to be Barrow until the citizenry voted to change it to its
original Inupiaq name the December before what happened. Deposited
on a rocky shore with all their gear in July just over a year ago, Mike and
Leonard planned to stay two months. Most of their waking hours they