Cold and alone, in triumphant prose, these words were writ in an alcove: “My dear, I fear, unfortunate here, I’ve come to the end of my rope. Where once we were sane, we are now twain, your loveliness scraped hence like soap. The bubbles of us, memories and such, are floating away day by day. And here, lo, dear, I fear next what’s near: the frigid, the frozen next slope. Here up in this cave, I’ve tried to be brave, hammering my last request just to cope – you took the tent, the kevlar rope and bent my carabiners all out of wack; you took the rations, the flashlights, compass and map, thermal underwear, goggles and canes; you left me a chisel and a hammer and whistle. That was cruel, somewhat elegant, Cathy.
“But if you reach the peak within the next week, remember me, darling, I pray. I may, we can say, have never loved ‘fore today, the wind howling, my beard iced, eyelids frozen. For before today I fought futile fears: my wife, my life or my mountain. Thank you for stranding me thus. My heart breaks in my mountain, my life ends as a wanton, my mountain returns me to dust. Cracked and insensate, I’ll a fine statue make, preserved as a wretch and a guide: This way the infidel, this way to the top, this way to the no place to hide. Come hither, mountaineer, though the ice is but sheer, and lay your hand on the band ’bout my finger. My love like a dove has trekked up above, leaving me all my earthly delights. And that angel in white sends me death tonight. In Hell I wish icicles up her rear.”
The epitaph went on with a litany of wrong, punishments imaginary and base. It cut off just as the name of that poor mountain man was half spelled in the granite and snow. That abscisscion is intentional, I believe, as warning to the rest of us Johns. In sickness and health, poverty or wealth, some marriages end, some live on. And some weird folks do like to torture, it’s true, and some folks ride out the storm. But for better or worse, a hearse is a hearse, and evidently Cathy was no woman to scorn.