“Anniversaries”

It’s the big anniversaries that are the worst.  Five years.  Ten years.  The in-between years aren’t so bad.  They pass by without too much attention.  Maybe a small article in the paper or on some online news site or blog mentioning the anniversary, but never anything more than a passing mention.   The big years, fifteen, twenty, those are the ones that bring out the money-seekers.  That’s when the new books are put on the shelves and the old books flogged about like it just happened yesterday.  That’s when every news station and newspaper and news site carries interviews.  That’s when every single detail of that night is rehashed.

People think I’m guilty.  It doesn’t matter that the police ruled it an accident and the case has been closed for decades.  People think I murdered my husband.

We were sight-seeing in the canyon with some friends.  David loved the outdoors, particularly the canyons, and had been going there since he was a teenager.  I only started going after I met him, wanting to share David’s passion, be part of it, but I never liked it as much as he did.  I went because I wanted to be with him more than I wanted to see the views, which I admit, gave me vertigo more often than not.  I never got close to the edge, but David would walk right to the lip of the cliff to get the best views.  I told him not to.  It never failed to make my stomach drop, to make me want to reach out and grab him, jerk him away from there.  David always laughed at my anxiety and concerned, told me there was nothing to worry about, he wasn’t going to fall.

But that day, David fell.

We were with Megan and Edgar Meeks, old friends of ours, ones of similar social status, faces seen in the society pages as often as ours.  We’d hiked up a well-traveled canyon trail to the top.  Edgar and Megan had taken all of the photos they wanted to take and were ready to go back down for dinner and drinks.  I was ready, too, having felt like I was going to swoon from the height the entire hour we were up there.  David, on the other hand, was in no hurry to go.  He would have stayed up there until well after sunset and made us all hike down in the dark if he had his way.  Megan and Edgar had turned away from the cliff.  They were walking back to the trail, a not-so-subtle hint to David that they were ready to go and probably would have hiked down without us.

As David stepped closer to the edge for one last, breath-taking view, I stepped closer to David.  But I was still several feet away from him.  I couldn’t get close to him there.  I couldn’t get that close to the edge.

I was just about to tell him to step back, to come on, there was a great dinner to be had.

And David fell.

I don’t know how.  I don’t know if he lost his balance or if he slipped or, God forbid, he actually stepped thinking he had more room, wasn’t so close.  I can’t remember.  I just remember him disappearing over the edge of the cliff.  It didn’t happen in slow motion; it happened in a split second.  David was there and then he was gone.

It was my scream that brought Megan and Edgar running back.

Edgar ran past me, to the edge of the cliff, which brought a wave of hysteria over me.  I actually didn’t feel Megan grab me or spin me around to face away from the cliff or hold me tightly.  I didn’t see Edgar run past us both again to begin the hike down the canyon trail.  I couldn’t see anything, hear anything, feel anything.  I just stood there and screamed for what felt like an eternity, until my voice gave out and the sobs overtook my body and I fell to my knees, utterly crumbled and devastated.

It took a few hours to summon the police.  We were in such a remote area and it was nearly dark by the time the first police car arrived.  It wasn’t until I heard the siren that I allowed Megan to guide me down the canyon trail.  I didn’t want to hurry.  I was in no hurry to see my husband’s broken body at the bottom of that cliff.  A police officer met me at the head of the canyon trail and confirmed what Edgar had told them.  David was dead from the fall.  He never had a chance.  The three of us were ushered back to civilization to give our statements at the police station while officers investigated the scene.  We gave our statements and then we were allowed to leave.  I never saw David again.

I didn’t sleep.

The preliminary police report became available the next afternoon.  The police believed that David’s fall was an accident.  He was too close to the edge and either slipped or stumbled.  It was a tragic and unfortunate accident.

And the public believed that at first.

David was well-thought of and respected, just as popular as he was rich.  Hundreds turned out for his funeral even though it was a private affair (a closed-coffin affair, too; I couldn’t bear to see my husband’s broken body in that casket).  They stood along the route to the cemetery and watched him go to his final resting place.  I was touched by the gesture and I’m sure David would have been, too, though he would have been embarrassed that so many people fussed over him like that.

However, the warm feelings from the city diminished in the days after the funeral.  The full police report was release and the papers printed it and examined it and picked it apart until there was nothing left but innuendo.  That’s when the whispers started.

How did someone as experienced a hiker and outdoorsman as David Beckett fall off a cliff?

Why did it take so long for them to get the police?

Why didn’t Anita come down from the cliff until the police got there?

Questions, questions, questions.  Followed by rumors, rumors, rumors.

David and Anita had been having marital troubles, you know.  All of that money was his.  He had a million dollar life insurance policy, too.  She was a nobody before she married David.  Didn’t she always seem to spend his money like it would never run out?  Anita and Edgar were always very close, unreasonably so, wouldn’t you say?  Anita wouldn’t get a dime from David if she left him for Edgar.  And you know Edgar has money, but he doesn’t have as much as David did.  It would be nothing for Anita to push David off of that cliff.  Oh, she says she’s terrified of heights, but that’s so easy to pretend.  Anita said herself that David had his back to her.  He never would have seen it coming…

Somewhere, those rumors became fact.  I don’t know where exactly.  Five years later.  Maybe ten.  Maybe after the first book about the whole tragedy came out.  I can’t remember when that was, but I read it.  Oh, yes, I read every, single painful page.  David and I were used to press.  Wealthy man, wealthy couple, their philanthropy and generosity made the papers with their glamorous pictures and nice little write-ups.  We were hardly scandalous, though.  The only problem we ever had in our marriage was being too agreeable.  I used to joke with David that despite our seemingly adventurous lifestyle, we were really quite dull.  He’d laugh when I’d say that and tell me how much he preferred it that way.

That first book was nothing but scandal.  Inferences and insinuations and reading between the lines by someone who cared nothing for the truth and everything about making money off of my tragedy.  That’s when the whispers became full-volume conversations.  No one was shy about what they thought after that book came out.  If anything, it emboldened more speculation, more talk, more solidifying of rumor into fact.  More books came out after that first one, putting all of that speculation, all of that talk in print.  It didn’t take long for everyone to think that I murdered my husband.

And they still do.

So here it is, fifty years later and with the big anniversary, bigger than the rest of them, the wave of disgust comes back my way.  Another book is coming out, this one claiming to have the TRUE story of what happened up on that cliff.  Megan and Edgar’s daughter wrote it.  Megan, Edgar, and I remained friends after David’s death and I always regarded Elizabeth as something of a niece, but there is nothing about the way this book is being publicized to suggest that it will do anything but condemn me.  It breaks my heart for Elizabeth to do this.  Her parents wouldn’t have stood for it.  But Edgar died two years ago and poor Megan has been suffering from Alzheimer’s for years.  There’s nothing they could say that would change anyone’s mind anyway.  If it didn’t matter then, it wouldn’t matter now.

For the record, and that’s what this is, I never had an affair with Edgar Meeks.  I loved him as a brother and Megan as a sister, but that was all.  There was no man in my life other than David.  He was truly the love of my life and I’ve missed him every day that he’s been gone.  No other man could take his place and though I’ve had other casual relationships, I’ve never tried to replace him, much to the dismay of the public at large, I’m sure.  I’m sure they waited for me to marry Edgar (or anyone, really) to validate everything they’ve said about me.  Even Edgar’s death hasn’t stopped that salivating, I’m sure.  There’s probably a whole chapter in that child’s dreaded book about how I visited Edgar’s grave every week for two months after his death and how I still visit it occasionally to this day.  I do it to make sure my dear friend’s resting place is kept up, not because I’m pining for my secret lover.  I do it as a favor to his beloved wife who can’t do it herself.  I do it because their child wouldn’t think to do it.

I do pine, though, and the pining I do happens in private.  If I did any pining in public, it’d be at a mausoleum a hundred yards north of where Edgar lies today.

I loved, and still love, my husband, no matter what anyone says.

And I didn’t kill him, no matter what any book says.

This?  This is just another anniversary.

***

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