Cambridge Bay II
Life went on at about the same pace for the next few months. Alternately hectic and lazy, mostly depending on the kids and how they were and what they needed. W. continued to go on trips and never be around. I depended on myself and my friends to look after my babies and keep myself sane. My mom and dad decided to make plans for a trip all the way to Cambridge Bay from Ontario to visit us for a week in June. At least I had that to plan for and look forward to. I went to the drop-in for moms and tots, talked on the phone, visited, took the baby for his check ups, washed, cleaned, wiped runny noses. I lived through teething and toilet training and roseola infantum. I often felt overwhelmed dealing with all these things mostly on my own, with my mom so far away and trying to tell W. about it by phone. I still had a few bouts of feeling not in control and incredibly sad, but I always made myself snap out of it. I had two beautiful children who needed a mother who wasn’t depressed and crazy.
When the snow finally melted we were stranded once again, not being able to use the snowmobile. Someone gave me an old stroller and I was so grateful I nearly cried. I used it to pack the kids into and walk to the Bay for groceries. I nursed D. through colds and sore throats, and sat up all night with K. after his first immunization needle. W. went off to some course in Lethbridge for 2 weeks and I impressed myself no end with how well I could cope on my own. Finally it was June and he arrived home on the same day as my parents flew in, so we all were at the airport to meet them. I was insanely happy to see them. They spent a lot of time with their grandchildren, and we talked and talked and talked. The visit was over much too fast. The day after they left W. started talking again about taking some 2 or 3 day trips and maybe going away for a month in the summer when the ice went out. He told me he really didn’t appreciate me giving him static about leaving. I wanted to strangle him. I told him he might as well just leave and never come back because I was not EVER going to get used to this. I told him he would not last two days if the roles were reversed. That prompted him once again to try to spend more time with D. and K. but he always got frustrated and would invariably think of other things he had to do.
That summer we had some strange visitors – a couple of photographers from England and some kind of duck egg collector from Scotland. W. invited them to stay with us. He was also always inviting people over for meals and evenings whenever he was home. Those were really the only times I ever learned about anything he was doing, when he talked to other people and I got to listen in. We really didn’t tell each other much of anything anymore. Then he went off doing some flying musk ox surveys or something wildlife related like that. After that he flew off to Yellowknife to either attend meetings or have a vasectomy. Maybe it was both, I don’t remember. It’s all a blur. Because around that time a letter came in the mail from some girl in Lethbridge. It was addressed to W., although there was no box number, and there was her name and return address in the corner. I had no idea who she was, but just the envelope made me sick. So I opened it and read what she had to say. She called him some silly nickname, talked about her family and her tan, and how everyone said hi. Then she blathered on about hickies and presents and her sex life. It was truly bizarre. And it made me temporarily lose my mind.
I tried to reach W. in Yellowknife about six times, and finally left a message for him to call home. Then I packed my suitcase with everything I could cram into it, and searched the house for my credit cards and my cheque book so that I could make flight reservations back to Ontario for myself and my kids. I honestly could not find them anywhere, although I turned the whole house upside down and finally in frustration I called Trudy and told her the whole sordid story. She sat down and had three drinks in a row listening to my tale of woe. How funny was that. I’m the one who needed a drink. Then she came and picked us up and we went to the library. She kept telling me to calm down and think this through and not do anything rash. I was at the fucking library – how rash was that? We laughed until we cried. She said she had a hard time believing that W. would do something like that – he loved me and his kids and just didn’t seem like the type. Deep down I thought she was right, but really, what did I know anymore? When I got home I resumed my search for my wallet, but it was half-hearted at best. Finally W. called, a bit frantic sounding, sure that something had happened to one of us. I assured him that we were all just perfectly fine, as usual, no thanks to him, and could he please tell me all about his escapades in Lethbridge?
I have to give him credit if he really was guilty of anything for being completely believable in his bafflement and anxiety. I had never known him to lie about anything before. In fact he has always been quite brutally honest even when the truth could use some softening. He was desperate to come up with some kind of explanation for this girl he had never heard of sending him a letter. There were some guys from the Yukon who did a lot of bar hopping and joked that when you picked up chicks you should use somebody else’s name. Maybe somebody used his name. He begged me to not do anything crazy and to wait for him to get home. Well. Wasn’t that just becoming the story of my life. What choice did I have, really? When I hung up the phone I read the letter again, looking for any little clue or reference to anything that could be linked to W., but it was just such generic stupid little-girl babble that I gave up. W. came home bearing gifts and was the most attentive and loving I’d ever seen him, begging me to believe he would never do anything to risk losing me. I guess I could have worried about it and analyzed it all to death forever, but there was really no point. So I accepted his explanation and we threw the letter away and never talked about it again.
So, did things get better after that? Well, sort of. I found my credit cards and cheque book and wallet in the bottom of D.’s toy box. We celebrated her second birthday. I got offered a job teaching grade six at the school right across the road from our house. A teacher they had hired backed out at the last possible second, and they were desperate to fill her position. I said yes without hardly thinking about it. W. made plans to go by boat to Bay Chimo. I can’t remember why, but I didn’t have time to worry about it. The school year started in mid August. I had a babysitter who didn’t show up two days out of three, so I had to get Trudy to look after my kids. Thank God she decided she liked doing it, and was nothing if not reliable. Even when both of them got sick, which they did during my second week. And then one day the RCMP showed up at my door to tell me that W. and his “guide” and a federal fisheries officer had never showed up in Bay Chimo and no one could find them. I don’t know why I didn’t just shoot myself and be done with it all. It took them two days of flying to finally find them, out of gas, with no drinking water, almost out of food and totally lost. Turns out their “guide” was a kid who had never even been to Bay Chimo and just wanted to go for a boat ride. You would think that one would have been the trip that finally cured W. of his need to travel by land and water to desolate places, and that he would start taking planes instead. Not even close. He went everywhere he could think of, for the most obscure reasons. All work related. But he did learn to use a radio and stay in contact with people daily. I constantly got phone calls from people telling me they’d talked to him and where he was and what he was doing. I know that was at least a step in the right direction. Two more times he got stranded and had to be picked up by the RCMP. Once was on a denning survey, and once on a polar bear hunt. How boring it would have been to have a husband with a desk job.
We finally got home to Ontario for two weeks that Christmas. Hectic but very therapeutic. Both kids were sick with colds, but otherwise little angels. I’m their mother, and I would know that. When I went back teaching in January, I handed in my resignation as of May that year, and felt like a thousand pound weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I won’t say I hated it, I loved the kids in my class and we had a lot of fun, but I spent so much time worrying about them and torn between them and my own babies, that I knew I had to give it up. D. and K. were becoming little people with little personalities, and I didn’t want to miss any more of it. The principal at the school practically begged me to reconsider, and gave me such a glowing letter of recommendation that I was stunned. I thought about it seriously while I finished out the school year, but I didn’t change my mind.
That summer we packed up our kids and went home for my sister’s wedding, and then spent three weeks at our camp. After that we flew back to Cambridge Bay and packed up everything, and five days later moved to Inuvik. I can’t say I was sorry to see the last of that place. There were lots of good times, but I think all the missing husband scares probably took a few years off my life.
One of my very favourite memories of our time there is of a morning when a bunch of us got together for breakfast; ladies only – no husbands, no boyfriends, no kids. If I had to put names to faces and vice versa I would not be able to do it now. All I remember is the fun we had making the best crepes I have ever tasted in my life, the decadent fillings, the real whipped cream, the delicious coffee. But mostly it’s the laughter that has stayed with me all these years, and how we all felt practically normal in this so very NOT normal place.