David Page writes about his friend, the late Andrew Bourne (Photo: Page)
A preliminary grappling with aspects of the demise of Andy Bourne
Late in the morning of January 24, 2012, a month and a day before his 47th birthday, Dr. Andrew Bourne—Andy, as he was generally known among friends and family and throughout the community he’d served without fail since 2006—shifted his old forest service Suburban into four wheel drive and boated up the unplowed section of Hot Creek Road to the closure. The sky was brilliant blue. Across the caldera, as far as he could see in every direction, the landscape was dressed in bright, new-fallen snow. He parked beside the gate, reached for his backpack of medical supplies, and stepped out into boot-deep snow. He left the keys in the vehicle.
Under other circumstances Andy would’ve been cutting a steep skin track up the Crest on his AT skis, with his dog, Oreo, and maybe a friend or two scrambling along behind him, or else queued up at Chair 9, as in fact many of us were at that very moment, caught up in the gleeful frenzy of the season’s first bluebird powder day, biding time for the rope-drop and a second shot at the Dragon’s Tail. As it was, such options were not available to him. He had a GPS tracking device strapped to his ankle that precluded fitting his leg into an alpine ski boot. And in any case was not the least bit prepared to venture out in public, nor even to run the risk that he might, even in the woods up in the Lakes Basin, run into someone—anyone—who might recognize him. The shame was too great. Not over what he’d actually done (or not done, as it happens), not even what he’d officially been charged with (see below), but what he’d been accused of. In the interrogation room. In the press. In the online hate-comment threads. And in the preliminary statement made by Santa Barbara Deputy District Attorney Mary Barron, who, based on a variety of misconstructions and with only faint allusion to actual hard evidence, threatened that weightier charges were forthcoming and as such argued for setting bail at well over ten times the relevant scheduled amount. While he—the defendant—sat shackled in prison orange. Unable to speak for himself.
And there was also, more fundamentally, the simple, incontrovertible, deeply embarrassing fact of a life lost-control-of. Which state of affairs, in any man, no matter what his responsibility in it (or lack thereof), no matter how much love and support he may have from those around him, will generate an overwhelming urge to cast his eyes downward, if not just to crawl off into the woods and die—most especially in a man like Andy, whose sense of self had for a lifetime been predicated on an ability to fix problems of even the messiest, most life-threatening variety.
In fact, earlier that morning, despite his impulse to keep to the house, he’d been persuaded by his friend and colleague Mike Karch to risk a quick pre-dawn skate ski above Tamarack. It had proved a welcome, if fleeting, respite from the general feeling of walls inexorably closing in upon him—a feeling amply salted by the daily parade of glances upward from the school parking lot toward his kitchen window bearing what from his deepening isolation he could only see as pity or hatred (though we who were down there know it was much more complicated than that). The air was clear and crisp. He had again that feeling of flying over the surface of the snow. Once again he reassured his friend Mike that there was no need for concern; that he would make it through. And then suddenly, out of the gloom, there emerged another colleague from the hospital who, with only the best intentions, put one arm around Andy, still attached to a ski pole, and said something along the lines of “I want you to know no one really believes the things they’re saying about you.”
“Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows,” wrote virtuoso novelist David Foster Wallace of those who find themselves compelled to take their own lives. “Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant.” In other words, it’s not that they want to fall. It’s that the fear of being burned alive is suddenly a greater fear—if only slightly greater—than that of hitting the pavement below. “And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’ can understand
the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.” Eventually, more than a decade later and also at the age of 46, Wallace himself would leap from the metaphorical burning window, hanging himself from a patio roof rafter behind his house in Southern California.
You will likely remember what you first heard or read about the arrests of Andy Bourne and Joe Walker. It came the night of January 4—or perhaps, if you were lucky enough to have been granted one last night’s decent rest, the following morning. The news, such as it was, was apparently based on inside dope leaked to Santa Barbara’s Channel 3 by the local police department. It ran under the provocative title, Two Part Time SB Men Accused Of Raping 14-year-old Girl. It began like this: “KEY news has learned two men who split their time between Santa Barbara and Mammoth are under arrest for allegedly raping a 14-year-old Santa Barbara area girl repeatedly for more than a year.” From there it spread to various local and regional news outlets. And thence from ear to ear until everyone knew what there was to be known—the “allegedly” part notwithstanding—and could thus begin to judge or question accordingly. The title of the original KEYT bit would thereafter be “updated” to Two Men Accused of Sex Crimes in Connection With 14-year-old Girl. The lead, with no official retraction, would quietly become: “Santa Barbara Police have arrested two Mammoth area men for allegedly soliciting a 14-year-old girl who lives in the Santa Barbara area.” The only evidence of the original libel remains embedded in the URL: http://www.keyt.com/news/local/Two-Part-Time-SB-Men-Accused-Of-Raping-14-year-old-Girl-136699218.html.
In fact, though you can be assured he put a good deal of time and intellectual effort into explaining the concept of rape to his two boys, ages 14 and 11, Andy was never charged with such a thing. Nor was he so accused by the girl in question, the one the court calls Jane Doe. What he was charged with was eight counts of violating California penal code 288.3(a), which section was with some unresolved controversy over its constitutionality added to the code in 2006 by voter initiative, making it thereafter a felony offense to by any means “contact or communicate with a minor, or attempt to contact or communicate with a minor” with intent to commit any number of lewd acts. On this vague charge, and long before any actual communications had been presented, or intent demonstrated (if indeed it ever could have been, or if there ever was any—and now, it seems, there may not have been), a man was jailed, cuffed like an animal, stripped of his livelihood, threatened with financial ruin, reviled and humiliated. In short order the fear of falling began to seem the lesser of all terrors.
Everything he had experienced in his life—all the lives saved, the peaks climbed and skied down, the places visited, the smell of sage, the wisdom gained and sound advice given, the depth of knowledge, the talent and grace, the conversation, the good food and cold beer, the beautiful boys, the unstinting love of a good wife—all of this was ultimately eclipsed in his mind by the flames lapping at the windowsill. Perhaps he took one last look back toward the town of Mammoth, where he’d left his dog at home, his wife at work, and his two boys at school. Perhaps he could see the flames running across the valley, leaping the creek, climbing the rise toward the old Suburban. Or perhaps he could not bring his eyes up to the west. But the flames were there, licking at his boots, roaring over the silence of the morning, over the cackle of magpies and the trickling of meltwater on the rocks.
He crossed the road along the gate and made a track through the snow to the south. On the far side of a volcanic outcropping he set down his pack. He hung a dual IV drip from the branch of an ancient juniper and inserted a line into his own arm. He sat back against a boulder, looked out at the snow-caked scarp of his beloved Eastern Sierra—Morrison, McGee, Red Mountain, the Wheeler Crest. To his left, through a cleft in the rock, he could see the north and south summits of Glass Mountain, beyond which lay the cabin he had built once upon a time with his brother Jonathan. But the mountains could not save him. With characteristic precision he administered a perfect dosage of Ambien, succinylcholine, and potassium chloride, and within minutes he was gone.
No flames. No pavement.
There is nothing to say, we say to each other. And yet there is so much that needs to be said. The tragedies proliferate. It will take time before it truly sinks in that he is not coming back, that we cannot send him a message to tell him how sorry we are, that in time we all—or most of us anyway—could have come to understand the complexity of things. That in fact we had already started to understand. If only he could have hung on.
In the meantime we must turn back to ourselves, to our children, and to the survivors—to Gilann and Rand and Finley, to Joe Walker and Lorenza, to Sean and Carrie, to the extended families, to Jane Doe. It’s up to us now that it not go with them, or with any of us, as it did with Andy. It’s up to us now to turn this story the other way round, to put the weight in the proper places.