I hadn't known Jurgen for very long -- a little over a year, maybe -- when the change occurred. And if others swear they had seen it coming from months back, I suppose I must take them at their word. But I had not, and was patently unprepared for the metamorphosis that took place just after the Christmas season, when Jurgen called me from the Ogden city lockup and asked me to post the five hundred-dollar bond because no one in his family would.
"Jesus Christ, what happened?"
I assumed that he had gone to the City Club after an argument with Patrice, and that he had knocked back five too many and couldn't survive the Breathalyzer. But I was wrong.
"It's awful," he said. And I could tell that he was crying real, anguished tears. Suddenly and with unnerving clarity, he whispered, "I feel so awful. I thought about tying off a bed sheet...", but then his voice trailed away.
"I'll be there in forty minutes. Are you good for that long?"
He said he thought so. By the exhausted resignation in his voice I felt reasonably certain that the suicidal impulses had passed and that he was now rounding the bend into that stage of dread that accompanies savage transgressions against a loved one. I knew before I'd even hung up the phone that Jurgen had beaten his wife, though I don't know precisely how I knew: I had no reason to convict my good friend of such an offense.
As fellow English instructors at a local college, Jurgen had become one of my closest allies. I had met him at a critical juncture in his life, weighing heavily, as he was, the costs of separating from Patrice. In the ensuing weeks we talked frequently about his feelings of guilt and inadequacy, both as a lover to his wife and an apostatized member of the Mormon church. "I'm glad I went on that mission before I left the church," he would say. "I learned Dutch and got the hell out of Ogden. I'd be managing the spark plug counter at some auto parts store if I hadn't gone. I swear to God I would."
But he was just as proud of the trip he made to Europe two summers later to study world literature, and he talked about that journey even more so, and particularly of the time he'd run stone out of money, his parents having no more to lend. He'd stowed away on a Greek freighter bound for France, lived in a park and swept out shops for food and wine. And he saw those six months as the highlight and real turning point of his terribly naive and sheltered life.
I've never considered myself a particularly religious man, but I have felt the transcendent ecstasy that comes with packing five or six big bags and flying over the polar cap, toward a year of the glorious unknown. While Jurgen foraged for his supper across the Channel, I was tucked away daily in a private pub inside London's Senate Library, steeped in warm Guinness. And if my sojourn had changed me at all -- which it had, in more ways than I care to go into now -- his must have crumbled the low timbers of his convictions.
He came back to the States with the hunger of a defrocked monk, moved out of his parents' home, painting houses to settle his tuition; after work, he'd scatter most of his paycheck at one of the few drinking holes in Ogden, Utah. That is when he met Patrice.
As he told it, she was the first woman he had ever picked up from a bar. And she was still a virgin, which made him happy. "It would have been a quick date if she'd had anyone to compare me with," he had said, on more than one occasion. She carried heavy baggage, but he accepted the troubled package with a Stoic's resolve.