I unclip the radio and call for pretty much anyone to at least notify others of my location, and perhaps what I’ve uncovered. As I do, it only takes about four steps and the man closest to me closes the distance between us.
“Who you calling there?”
“Just checking in with the Sheridan office to let them know I’m not going to make it to today’s staff meeting because I’m going to be here a bit longer.”
Of course, today isn’t our meeting day, and at the moment, I’m not entirely sure what day it even is, but it is obvious that I need to check in with someone – anyone within radio contact. I know it will be up to me to diffuse this situation, so I start by holding down the transmitter as soon as his question left his mouth. Hopefully someone will have heard what I said in response.
“You’re going to be damn unlucky if you don’t put that radio down and shut your mouth, bitch.”
I’m terrified of what might happen in the next few minutes, but I know for certain that his words definitely got picked up by anyone who might be listening.
Please let someone be listening. Deep breath, I tell myself, even if I only half listen to my own thoughts.
“I will take that under advisement, sir. But here on the Bighorn National Forest, we’re pretty proud of our facilities, whether here at Prune Creek or at any of our other campgrounds.”
I admit, this sounds a bit patronizing, and even a touch like bad marketing copy, but by giving the location, hopefully others will know it’s me and that there is an urgency in the situation. Based on where Jensen was when he first placed the call, I know there’s no way he can get to my location, but it doesn’t hurt to make the effort.
He knocks the radio out of my hand, and so rather than force his, I take a step back and pick up the radio, again pressing the key.
“You know, the taxpayers frown on people who damage government equipment.”
“Fuck you,” he spouts and pushes me all the way to the ground and the radio again falls out of my hand. Suddenly the men all rush towards me. Instinctively, I face them, stretching my hand toward them, yelling out to protect myself.
I’m shocked to see that two of them do halt, and the third reaches the fourth and pulls him back before he can punch me. His arm certainly is in the right position to swing at me and make contact.
I back up on my hands and feet, crab walking backwards, kicking the radio alongside me so I can scoop it up when I finally get far enough away that I can stand.
“Base, this is McClure!” I’m winded and panicking, but manage to call directly this time. A response comes immediately.
“McClure, this is Stafford. You okay?”
“Copy that. Send back up to Prune Creek.”
“I’m coming up the trail now.”
I’ve never been more relieved to hear my boss’ voice, but within three minutes, he arrives at the site and although still outnumbered, I think the men know he’s not the only one of my coworkers heading my way.
Within ten minutes, I hear a third vehicle arrive with a couple of the cooks from the nearby Buffalo Lodge, followed by a rumbling truckload carrying four members of the fire crew who I see jogging up the trail within twenty minutes.
All these people have my back.
I am proud of myself for managing what could have been a horrible situation. I am elated that I have coworkers who come through for me in an instant, driving at quite possibly illegal speeds to cover my ass. A lodge packed with diners (granted it’s not peak meal time, so probably not packed) walk away from their patrons to be certain that good outweighs evil. A support crew listened and responded and sent whatever aid they could. This is my life, now surrounded and supported by men I can count on and trust.
As I watch the foursome grab a seat on the ground, recognizing the stand they made didn’t work out to their advantage, I think about how many months I limped through my life when Jason was not just threatening me, but inflicting physical abuse against me. There were no cooks, or bosses, or seasonal fire crews, or radio operators willing to help rescue me from him, but here in this forest, my forest, their forest, our forest, are people who give a damn.
An hour and a half later, back in my truck, I cry not just because the adrenaline subsides, but because I realize the compassionate souls that surround me are my extended family. How phenomenally beautiful the surroundings of my life have become – and I don’t just mean the mountains and the moose and the trees and the creek – bestowing on me a far better, stronger, richer life.
Even if Daniel must go away, I won’t be alone.