One Piece of Paper

We have a bulletin board at work. It’s outside, and people use it to post their notices. In a non-covid year, it generally hosts far more notices than there is space on the board, and the arts center never helps this by generating multiple oversize posters all looking for homes at the same time.

College students use it to promote their sports events; Mountain Roots, a local group endorsing food sustainability, advertises classes and programs; there’s usually a flyer for some young children’s movement/dance classes. Lots of concert promotion; occasionally a business or two serves notice of its services; sometimes someone is looking for a place to rent. For years I snagged the little ticket for a local piano tuner before I moved and really needed his handiwork (probably I should be giving him another call).

One thing all these posters have in common is that eventually they go away. Sometimes I will go out and clear off the events and sports seasons that have already happened, but lots of times the wind gusts do it for me. No matter how securely anything gets tacked to the board, the wind is always stronger. If I am not pulling down posters, I am picking up thumbtacks from where they are strewn across the sidewalk.

Interestingly, the heaviest and biggest posters are the first to fall victim to the wind. Also interestingly, I almost never find these posters anywhere on the ground. I don’t know where the wind takes them, but somewhere there’s probably a large pile of bulletin board litter that I feel quasi-responsible for.

This past year my (and the wind’s) maintenance duties have been far less. In fact, that’s one of the things last spring that made me realize the world had profoundly changed, when I noticed how bereft of notices our bulletin board was.

After awhile we all started figuring this pandemic out, and the board, while never as overpopulated as a typical year, started to show messages about virtual concerts (with the arts center still tending toward large posters that take up more than their share of the board) and classes. People were still looking for places to rent, and cleaning companies continued to advertise their services.

Just about a year ago, a different sort of poster appeared. Printed on regular 8.5 x 11″ white paper, it was a picture of a woman and it offered a $200,000 reward for information on her whereabouts.

We get these posters, too, from time to time. A couple years back a hiker went missing, and her picture was on our board until she was found, dead of apparent natural causes, not terribly far from her campsite. More recently folks were on the lookout for a young man. I think he may have turned up dead as well.

The poster that showed up about a year ago was for a Salida woman named Suzanne Morphew, who left her home one morning on a bicycle ride and never returned. From the outset there were suspicions of foul play and oddities such as that while she was married, it was her friends who reported her missing. Various members of her family seemed more or less sincere, and concerned, while talking to the media.

The Chaffee County sheriff’s department was not particularly forthcoming, even after it closed down Highway 50 on Monarch Pass and recovered her riderless bicycle from somewhere near Maysville.

Yesterday, the sheriff’s department finally came forth. After spending thousands of hours, executing 135 search warrants, interviewing more than 400 people in multiple states, and following up 1,400 tips, the department announced yesterday that it had arrested Ms. Morphew’s husband Barry on charges of first-degree murder, tampering with physical evidence and attempting to influence a public servant.

[A moment here: for a year I had believed Ms. Morphew to be from Salida. While trying to find my way back to the sheriff’s statistics, I ran across a story saying her home in Maysville was recently sold, and another saying her bicycle was found less than half a mile from her house. The sheriff’s office lists her husband’s place of residence as Poncha Springs. All of these locations are in Chaffee County.]

The news today is splashed all over national media, but yesterday Gilly brought it in to work after her husband heard it as “breaking news.” Gilly brought it, along with an “I knew it was him all along.”

For most of a year Gilly, whose work station puts her in frequent proximity to the bulletin board, even though it’s outside and she’s in, has indeed speculated along with me that Ms. Morphew was never going to return from that bike ride and that her husband seemed a likely suspect.

Gilly has also remarked, often these last several months, about how Ms. Morphew’s poster has remained when everything else disappears. I left it alone when I cleared the board because there was no pressing need for the space; but more interestingly, the wind never took it either.

Gilly did not know Ms. Morphew in life, but they could be kindred spirits. Gilly loves to go bike riding too, and she’s the mother of two grown children, same as Ms. Morphew. They shared similar coloring and athletic builds. For a year Gilly has been keeping a vigil, watching over Ms. Morphew’s poster and hoping for a positive outcome while never really expecting it to turn out that way.

Actual friends of Ms. Morphew, interviewed yesterday by the media, said to a person how relieved they are to receive some closure to an open-ended mystery that many didn’t find so mysterious from the outset. It doesn’t bring her back, of course, and the Chaffee County district attorney still considers this an open case until her remains are recovered, but all those thousands of investigative points later the sheriff’s office feels confident in declaring her dead.

I don’t know if it would bring any comfort to these friends, but I would like to hope it would, to learn that a woman on the other side of Monarch Pass has been keeping their friend’s spirit alive, communing through a tenacious piece of regular white paper that has outlasted everything around it.

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