By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
"I didn't know the demons he was really facing," Carmichael says. "If [a bipolar person] starts going into an episode of that major depression, the thing to do is to take their credit cards from them and get them to the hospital." But Bear readjusted.
While the two would receive the occasional obscene phone call, Bear learned to push it aside. He concentrated on his schoolwork, carrying a 3.9 GPA. They also worked together with other local business owners to form the Winnsboro Area Merchants Association. They wanted to demonstrate that they could improve tourism themselves. It was Bear's way of getting back at Pendergast.
Bear helped produce radio and television commercials and took out ads for the association in surrounding newspapers. Best of all, Carmichael says, their efforts were paying off with new members in the merchants association. But by spring 2005, Bear was stretched thin with all of his commitments. A lot of the time, Carmichael missed him.
Constantly on the road from Tyler to Winnsboro, about a 90-minute drive each way, Bear was rarely home. With just one more semester to go, Bear participated in clinicals, getting hands-on training at area medical facilities. Finals were approaching. The obscene phone calls had started again. One night at home, Carmichael and Bear were cleaning up after a special event at the restaurant. Carmichael told his partner he wished they could spend more time together. "I hate this," Carmichael says he told Bear of their frequent time apart. His voice grows quiet as he recalls their last evening together as a couple. It was April 17, 2005. "Like he could help it," Carmichael says. "I wasn't complaining." But Bear was upset, and he stormed out of the kitchen into his office just a few feet away. Bear scooped up his study papers from his desk, throwing them to the ceiling. Then he walked out.
"It was almost six weeks later before I heard from him," Carmichael says. Following his progress through credit card bills, Carmichael knew he had purchased a laptop and gone as far north as Atlantic City. Bills for clothes and luggage and a rental car came in. Bear contacted some of their mutual friends, but never Carmichael. Charlie Hardy and Michael Herrington, who had become so enamored of Bear's hosting skills at the Hubbell House, got a phone call from Bear.
"I sensed his desperation," says Herrington, who answered the phone. "He needed someone to talk to. We said, 'Call us three times a day if you want. You know and we know that Tim loves you, and we care about you.'" Then, on May 23, Carmichael received an e-mail from Bear.
"He was saying that he'd painted himself into a corner so that he couldn't come back," Carmichael says. "He was making reference to the fact that he was going to end his life." Though Carmichael had been joined in recent days by another man, Billy Ramsey, who was helping him run the Hubbell House, he had never pulled his sponsorship of Bear as an international student. He still held out hope that Bear would come home. They'd work through the additional $100,000 Bear had spent on his most recent spree.
Then, that last day in May, Bear appeared in front of the house in his rented Jeep. Carmichael had no idea that the next day, he'd see Bear for the last time.
Carmichael and Ramsey had been in Tyler when their cell phone rang on June 1. Bear was on the other end, but Carmichael could barely hear him because of his deafness. He told Bear they'd talk when he and Ramsey got back to Winnsboro, intending to speak to Bear on the land line where he could hear more clearly. When the phone never rang, Carmichael became worried.
"I said to Billy, 'Maybe he meant he would be here,'" says Carmichael, who walked outside toward the carriage house. It was about 9:30 p.m., and Carmichael saw Bear standing there in the darkness, looking toward the mansion.
"He'd been looking in the windows, watching us," says Carmichael, his voice faltering, "watching Billy and I get the dining room all set up." Bear told Carmichael that he had to see him to "say good-bye."
"He just held me and kissed me all over my head," says Carmichael, taking a moment to compose himself. "He said, 'Don't worry, I'm not going to do anything stupid.' He told me he'd always be my dingo. That was my pet name for him, Dingo." Then, Bear rushed to his car and took off.
The next morning, just before 11 a.m., a truck driver was barreling down Highway 80 outside Mineola when he saw a white Jeep pulled over near a rest stop. A note, written in bold black marker, was taped to the back window.
"Do not walk down by the railroad track, for I am hanging from a tree," it said, according to a Wood County police report. The truck driver called 911. A barbed wire fence separated the rest stop from the tracks. Behind the wire, the land dropped off to form the track bed, lined with trees. Bear had leapt into the drop-off sometime in the night, hanging himself from a thin rope. The autopsy report said he had a couple hundred dollars in his jeans pocket and a fresh tattoo of a heart and the letters "TLC" on his chest. Carmichael's initials.