Over the Edge
The sun hung in the sky behind the 400-year-old oak trees that surround Thee Hubbell House. Tim Carmichael, round and bearded, paced the front lawn of the historic bed and breakfast in Winnsboro, mowing the grass. It had been six weeks since he'd seen Paul, and his hope hadn't run out yet. Paul had done this before, hadn't he? Run away from a high-stress situation, taking the credit cards with him. Stopped calling. Disappeared.
Carmichael looked up and down the street. It was the last day in May. The early summer heat settled in around the aging homes on West Elm Street, some fully restored and majestic, like the Restoration-era Hubbell House, and some empty, looking forlorn with sagging windows and flaking paint. "For Rent" signs called out in vain from front lawns.
Carmichael was thinking of selling the two-story mansion. Business wasn't great, and, more important, the house held too many memories of his three-and-a-half-year love affair with Paul Bear. The handsome Australian had wooed Carmichael within a matter of days after their first meeting, and his charm and vibrant personality made Bear the perfect host at the B&B. The couple had once looked forward to Bear's graduation from nursing school and the opportunity to run the business together.
The story of Paul Bear, resident of Winnsboro, Texas
With dozens of churches serving its 3,500 residents, Winnsboro is a religious, strongly conservative town, like many of its East Texas neighbors. But the handful of gays who'd established homes and families there had been peacefully assimilated into the community, with several becoming prominent businesspeople, like Bear and Carmichael, and even city government officials. If some disapproved of the bed and breakfast owners' relationship, they kept it to themselves.
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Except for one man. Tom Pendergast, the editor and publisher of the local newspaper with a penchant for picking public fights. On August 21, 2003, Pendergast published a scathing editorial in the Winnsboro News titled "About Fully Informing the Citizens." The 500-word article condemned the couple's homosexual lifestyle as "despicable" and "disgusting." It would change everything for Bear and Carmichael, even Winnsboro itself; the days of peaceful coexistence were past.
Bear fell into deep depression soon after the editorial ran, a result of the bipolar disorder he kept hidden from his partner. Obscene phone calls, almost always from men, came in at all hours of the day at the Hubbell House, and the two began finding dead animals in various states of decay tossed in their yard or stuffed in their mailbox. Bear, seriously troubled beneath his charming exterior, took it especially hard, while Carmichael, older and more familiar with the complications of small-town life, was better able to cope.
When he got depressed, Bear's entire demeanor could change from bubbly to moody and reclusive, with loud, angry outbursts. Three weeks after Pendergast's screed ran in the weekly paper, Bear cut out of town one day without warning and went on a cross-country gambling spree, racking up more than $60,000 in debt. That was the first time--but he'd come back after only two weeks, and he and Carmichael tried to get things back to normal. The obscene phone calls continued, though less frequently, and the debt loomed over their relationship, making the ordeal hard to forget.
But now, in 2005, more than a year after the editorial, he'd done it again. Bear had been gone for six weeks.
A white Jeep appeared at the end of the street, barely disrupting the quiet of the neighborhood, and crept along Elm. Carmichael stopped mowing and followed its progress to the front of the house, and he couldn't believe his eyes. The windows were tinted, but Carmichael was sure he could make out Bear in the driver's seat. The car rounded the corner and turned back. This time, there wasn't any doubt.
Carmichael was overcome. After weeks of begging Bear to come home, of heart-breaking phone calls and e-mails and assurances that everything would be fine if Bear would just return, here was his lover, yards away.
Bear raised his hand in a wave. He was close enough that Carmichael could see tears streaming down his face.
Carmichael called out to him. "Bear!" he shouted, using the name that doubled as both Paul's adopted surname and Carmichael's pet name for him. But he drove on.
"Bear!" Carmichael repeated, his voice breaking as he watched the Jeep round the corner and disappear. Gone again. Just like that.
If his daughter hadn't also seen Bear, driving past him on her way to the mansion, Carmichael says he would never have believed it was him.
Tim Carmichael had heard Bear threaten suicide before, but he'd always thought it was just Bear being dramatic, another part of his fiery personality. Anyone who talked about it so much, Carmichael thought, wouldn't really do it. And as far as he knew, Bear had never attempted to follow through in any serious way.
The news came in a phone call on June 2, 2005. That afternoon, Sergeant Kyle Henson of the Wood County Sheriff's department knocked on the door of the Hubbell House and delivered the proof. Bear had hanged himself, and here was his final letter, sealed in an envelope, addressed to Carmichael. Two pages torn from a lined legal pad, written in ballpoint pen.
Earlier that morning, a truck driver found Bear, 36, hanging from a tree off of Highway 80, his rented Jeep pulled over to the side of the road near a rest stop. It was an abrupt end to a week that had been filled with emotional upheaval for Carmichael.
He recalls that day in May when Bear drove by. "I was in shock," says the 49-year-old former engineer, a beer that used to be cold sweating in front of him on the picnic table behind the Hubbell House. Tears are forming, and Carmichael, big and thick and tough-looking, struggles to hold them back. "It was almost like, is this really happening? Is this really him?"
But his daughter, Rebekah, confirmed the sighting. She'd been living at the Hubbell House off and on with her father, leaving briefly after the newspaper editorial caused her to be fearful about her toddler's well-being. Carmichael's daughter was one of the connections to his old life, complete with a wife and two kids. Married straight out of high school in West Virginia, Carmichael was a Pentecostal preacher for 20 years, keeping his sexuality a painful secret. Finally, with his son and daughter grown, he came out of the closet. Both kids were supportive, he says, but the rest of his family was an entirely different story. No one else recognized his relationship with Bear, even after the suicide.
Stranded in Winnsboro with more than $60,000 in debt to his name, Carmichael is anxious to leave yet another life behind. "I need to get away from here," he says. "The memories are overwhelming."
Carmichael first came to the Hubbell House from Ohio in 2001 with another man, but their eight-year relationship ended when drug addiction took over his partner's life. Then, from an Internet personal ad, came Bear, the well-spoken, enthusiastic man who, with Carmichael, would work tirelessly to improve the small town. Winnsboro's Main Street is dotted with curio stores, old-fashioned soda shops and a bakery known for its sour cream pound cake. But other streets feature empty storefronts, struggling auto repair shops and chain restaurants. It was this darker, sadder side of Winnsboro that would eventually cause so much pain for Carmichael and his partner.
Many people in Winnsboro admired Bear for his perpetual enthusiasm and dedication to drumming up more business for the town, and they were shocked by what to them was an unexpected death. To others who knew Bear, however, his suicide merely seemed inevitable.
It had been a long, complicated road for Bear, one that stretched all the way from his home in Australia to Seattle to Greece and then back to the United States. Passionate, charismatic and tragically flawed, Bear was plagued by the mental illness he refused to treat. Bear would latch on to lovers wherever he could find them, frequently seeking them through Internet ads. Then, he would leave them--usually in financial ruin, and usually with threats of suicide.
When Bear arrived in Winnsboro, about 90 miles northeast of Dallas, he'd already racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. But Tim Carmichael had no idea. All he knew was that he loved him. Less than two years later, Bear would be dead, and Carmichael would be struggling to regain normalcy. Then again, what had become normal for Paul Bear was thoroughly abnormal for most people. In fact, disappearances had become something of his specialty.
"Every time he made a life for himself, he'd set off," said Steve Cross, Bear's former partner in Australia, in a phone interview. Cross said the first time Bear disappeared, he was barely a teenager, living in Sydney with his family. His parents, Greek immigrants, spoke almost no English. They'd given him a heavy, hard-to-pronounce name: Thrassivoulos Paulos Koutsourais. Though an excellent student, Bear dropped out of school in Sydney. At 14, he left his mother, father and older brother for Melbourne and a life pouring drinks in a gay bar, taking advantage of the fact that he looked much older than his actual age. Later on, he'd tell many people, including Carmichael, that his family members were dead, even describing their funerals. Cross believes the family had no reason to quarrel with Bear. The disappearance, he says, was merely the first incident in a pattern that would repeat until his death.
"His parents are wonderful people," Cross said. "His brother is a model citizen. Paul just eventually got on bad terms and fought with everyone in his life."
Even the name change, which he made legal in his early twenties, had nothing to do with any real family resentment, Cross said.
"He couldn't go around the gay scene calling himself Thrassivoulos Koutsourais," said Cross, who met Bear when he was just 18 and already calling himself by the more accessible name. It also reflected his personal preference for "bears," a slang term for gay men with body hair and round or "cuddly" figures. Masculine guys, who preferred leather and rejected the stereotype of gay men as effeminate.
The reason for his disappearance, then, remained a mystery, though it would later be linked to his bipolar disorder. Those who knew him would attribute his behavior to drug abuse or just a tendency toward the dramatic. After all, when Bear was in one of his "high" stages, Cross said, he seemed able to conquer the world. "When he had the manic episodes, he did unbelievable things." The two met at one of the many massive parties the Sydney gay scene throws every year. Bear was just 18, and Cross initially rejected his advances because of their extreme age difference.
"I didn't think having a boyfriend 25 years younger than me was a good thing," said Cross, who finally gave in to Bear's pursuit in 1990. The interior decorator came home from the gym one day to find Bear's belongings strewn throughout his home. For the first few months, things were "just wonderful," said Cross, who enjoyed the thrill of having a younger boyfriend on his arm.
"He was good-looking," said Cross. "He was intelligent. He was very affectionate." He said Bear excelled at everything he tried, from baseball to line dancing. Then Bear fell in with some old friends from his drug-heavy partying days, and the tantrums began. Substance abuse, Cross knew, was always a temptation for Bear, who would try almost anything, be it cocaine or ecstasy or crystal meth.
"He'd go into fits and rages and threaten to kill himself," said Cross. "I thought his problem was interfering with drugs. I didn't know he had a mental problem."
Anything might set him off, Cross said. "He'd go storming off and phone me on his mobile, saying 'I've taken all my jewelry off, and it'll be under the car seat when you find my body.'"
The episodes would end as suddenly as they'd begun. "It was almost Jekyll and Hyde," Cross said, and Bear would be back to his old, confident self. During one high period, Cross secured his partner a job at City Gym, the largest workout facility in Sydney. Within a year, Bear had been promoted to manager while doubling the gym's membership.
"Paul had that place running like a military ship," said Cross, who now believes Bear embezzled a large amount of money from the gym. As in his personal life, Cross said, the pinnacle of his success was often the point when Bear would intentionally sabotage everything. "Most of the jobs he got, he'd made raving successes of. Then he'd start embezzling money and spending it and doing stupid things."
Greed, Cross said, was never Bear's motivation. "It was like a compulsion. He wasn't a mean person inasmuch as he was greedy or money-grasping. When he had money, he threw it around and spent it all on his friends."
For the five years they were together, Cross said he saw Bear pick up and drop groups of friends, lavishing gifts on them and then avoiding them during his depressive stages.
Then, he'd borrow money or run up the credit cards, buying tailor-made suits or first-class plane tickets and five-star hotel rooms for jaunts across the globe. "He'd leave his friends and burn his bridges," Cross said. "Once he's drawn you in, then you see the other side of him."
Bear's dual personality, his compulsive spending, his disappearances and suicide threats were all warning signs of bipolar disorder, but nobody in Australia managed to put them all together. He was too good at projecting perfection and covering his tracks. With friends, he'd patch things together with lies. At work, he'd make sure he was the only one with a computer password or technical know-how.
"Paul was very clever at getting totally in control of things," Cross said. Eventually, however, the stress wore down Cross' patience. "I tried to put up with it because I was very much in love with him. He was a wonderful, wonderful human being when he was straight."
Bear's mental illness compelled him to blame others for his problems and leave his home behind once more. "Being the way he was," Cross said, "was everyone else's fault, and not his own."
By the time Bear left--or one might say fled--Australia in 1995, Cross said he owed more than $300,000 to friends and creditors. "I've had the Criminal Investigation Department knocking on my door," Cross said. "I've had American Express phoning me and harassing me. Paul has been gone from Australia for 10 years, and he's still in my life."
When Bear chose to leave Australia, it was the last time he had the luxury of making that kind of decision. After that, he'd find himself pushed out of the homes of angry friends and lovers or forced to run from the law to avoid criminal charges. His first destination was Seattle and a man named Bill.
The two met at the circus that is Sydney's annual gay and lesbian Mardi Gras celebration. Bill came at just the right time: He could help Bear leave Australia--and the growing tension between Bear and the people in his life. Bear crossed the Pacific and joined Bill at his communications company in Washington, Cross said.
Later, Bear would tell Carmichael that Bill had stolen from him. "He said Bill had conned him out of $350,000 that Paul had invested in his business," Carmichael says.
After Bear's death, Cross and Carmichael finally spoke, and Carmichael learned the truth about what had happened in Seattle. For starters, the con worked the other way--Bear had stolen from Bill. And Cross would end up telling Carmichael much, much more about Bear, revealing an intricate web of lies Bear had maintained throughout their relationship.
Bill couldn't be located for an interview, but Cross said it wasn't long before Bear fell into his usual pattern of destructive behavior, stealing an unknown amount of money from Bill's business over a couple of years. Furious, Bill told Bear to leave, Cross said. Bear's solution, as it had been so many times before in Australia, was to threaten to commit suicide. This time, he actually slit his wrists. Bill was able to find Bear before he'd lost much blood and checked his partner into a hospital in Seattle. Finally, after sessions with a psychiatrist, Bear was diagnosed as bipolar.
"He was told to go on lithium and never come off it," Cross said. Bill, however, had had enough, treatment or not. "Bill said, 'Leave America now, or I'll bring charges against you,'" said Cross, who spoke with Bill about his time with Bear.
Bear had told Carmichael the truth about one thing, though: His next destination was the Mediterranean.
When Bill kicked him out, Bear called Cross, asking for even more money to help him out of the jam. He consented, giving Bear enough to get established in a small village in Greece. He hoped that with the new information about his mental illness, Bear would finally work out his problems and begin paying back everyone he'd borrowed or stolen from over the years. Cross even traveled to Greece for a few months, rekindling their romance.
"He was working," Cross said. "He seemed relatively on the level." Cross tried to convince Bear to pay back one friend in particular, a single mother who'd given Bear $180,000 years earlier to buy her an apartment when Bear was working in real estate in Sydney. He used about $30,000 to make a down payment. "He put the apartment down in his name," Cross said, "and then went berserk. He spent every cent of it."
According to Carmichael, Bear secluded himself in Greece. "He said he lived as a hermit on the top of a mountain for months," Carmichael says. Bear told him it was Cross who eventually convinced him to return to Australia, incognito, in 1998. Again, Cross would have to tell Carmichael a different story, that Bear was hardly on his own, receiving visits from friends and eventually embezzling yet again from his Greek employer. This time, he escaped to Melbourne only to have a foolish mistake send him packing once again.
He couldn't travel to Sydney because of the angry creditors and friends he'd left behind, Cross said. Bear fell back into the gay scene, making and dropping friends whenever he got in trouble. Lithium was still not an option as far as Bear was concerned, and he let the manic periods rule his life. During one of them, Bear decided to enter a Mr. Leather contest, one of the most popular in the Australian gay community. Handsome as ever in an outfit of leather straps and complete with a motorcycle cap, Bear was a shoo-in for the top prize. He should have known better.
"He had a full-page photo on the cover of the gay paper," Cross said. "Everybody in Sydney saw him." Bear had no choice but to take off once more, this time to Oklahoma. It was early spring of 1999. He'd met a 61-year-old man from Tulsa on the Internet. "Uncle Joe," as Bear told Carmichael, was a sick relative who needed care. Later, Carmichael would learn that Joe wasn't related to Bear at all but was a native of South Dakota with no connection at all to Australia or Greece. Whatever their actual relationship, Joe died in December 1999, leaving a substantial amount of money to Bear. While caring for Joe, Bear had become a certified nurse's assistant, and he decided to continue in that field at St. Xavier University in Chicago. He knew a man there named Bob, who declined to be interviewed for this article.
Bear and Bob had first met in Melbourne. "Bob had paid for Paul's service as a male escort for a week while he was vacationing," Carmichael says. Once again Bear turned on the charm, and Bob, said Carmichael, was "smitten." Their relationship lasted until November 2001, when Bear and Carmichael exchanged their first e-mails through an online dating site.
"We started talking on November 5," says Carmichael, reflecting on the relationship from the oversized wooden gazebo behind the Hubbell House. "He came down for a visit on November 17, and he moved down here the day after Thanksgiving."
The courtship was quick for two reasons. First, Carmichael suffers from a condition called Meniere's Disease, which has left him with 97 percent hearing loss. As a result, he needs help running the Hubbell House, and he had broken up with his most recent partner, leaving him without a long-term plan to manage the B&B. With 11 rooms, the mansion had space for many more guests than it usually hosted, but it was still a challenge for Carmichael. Second, Bear needed to stay enrolled in school in order to maintain his international student visa, and to do so, he needed an American sponsor. In Chicago, Bob had abruptly pulled his sponsorship after Bear took him "for a really big ride," says Carmichael, who had no idea at the time. The University of Texas at Tyler had a nursing program that Bear could join that spring. The arrangement seemed ideal.
Of all the things Bear was good at, running the Hubbell House appeared to suit him best. At past jobs, he could use his smooth talking to sell expensive real estate or his endless enthusiasm to boost gym memberships. Both of those skills, combined with his passionate nature and dedication to detail, made him the perfect host.
"Our guests absolutely fell in love with him," Carmichael says. Bear would hover in the period-themed dining room of Rebekah's Restaurant at the Hubbell House, attending to every table at dinner time. While Carmichael remained behind the scenes, baking his signature cheesecake and other home-cooked favorites, Bear was the face of the house. He could talk about anything, and his Australian accent and well-traveled sensibility charmed everyone who stayed with them in Winnsboro. "He made everybody feel really special."
The Hubbell House appealed to Bear because it was so different from the nomadic, fast-paced lifestyle he said he'd been living for the past few years. "I represented something [Bear] really wanted," says Carmichael. "I liked to call it home and hearth."
Bear's bipolar condition seemed to be under control. For almost two years after Bear first arrived in Winnsboro, Carmichael says he had no indication that his partner suffered from any kind of mental illness. Guests Michael Herrington and Charlie Hardy described Bear as the ideal host. Vacationing in Winnsboro during Valentine's Day weekend in 2003, they said they took to Bear immediately. "Paul was right there out front," says Herrington, remembering their trip one evening from the Fort Worth home he shares with his partner. "He was so bubbly and enthusiastic. He was constantly making jokes."
The four became instant friends, and Herrington and Hardy would end up inviting Bear and Carmichael to their holy union. As a gift, the Fort Worth couple received a weekend's stay at the Hubbell House, and loved every minute of it, Herrington says. Bear was so wrapped up in the thrill of the business that he immediately set about trying to bring even more commerce to the Winnsboro area. The Hubbell House, while well-known, could still use more business, even though theirs was one of the few B&B's that accepted children, Carmichael says. They'd even tried to appeal to gay travelers, placing expensive ads in the Dallas Voice, but Carmichael says it was never effective. Their clientele was still mostly older people, and they were busiest in the spring and fall. Bear, riding high on one of his manic episodes, had a vision. He would embark on another one of his seemingly impossible ventures--and succeed wildly by coordinating a merchant's association that would dramatically heighten Winnsboro's profile as a quaint weekend destination. Carmichael had no way of associating his efforts with a manic high, because Bear continued to keep his condition to himself.
"It was something he chose to hide from me," says Carmichael, shaking his head in frustration. If he had known, things would have been different. To him, Bear's enthusiasm was just part of the man he loved. In August 2003, Bear said he wanted to create a tourism Web site for Winnsboro that would feature local businesses. Bear hoped they could use $5,000 of the city's hotel and motel taxes to build it, so he approached the city council to make the suggestion.
At the same time, Bear saw something in the weekly Winnsboro News he didn't like. Tom Pendergast, editor and publisher of the local paper, had failed to mention another local B&B's feature article in Texas Highways. Carmichael says the owner of the Oaklea Mansion had gotten on Pendergast's bad side by asking for a tax reduction, something Pendergast felt was out of line for a proper businesswoman. In a letter to the editor, Bear made the dire mistake of calling Pendergast's reporting "selective and biased" for declining to mention the other B&B. What followed would send Bear over the edge for the first time since he'd met Carmichael.
Bear's criticisms were more than familiar to Pendergast. At 73, the retired Associated Press writer considered the Winnsboro News his own personal soapbox. A graduate of the University of West Virginia's journalism school, he'd served as an AP bureau chief in cities such as New Orleans, Los Angeles and St. Louis for more than 30 years, then grew frustrated with the news agency where "it was a cardinal sin to be anything but objective." In 1985, when Pendergast and his wife retired to Winnsboro, her hometown, he bought the News. "We have a very forceful editorial page here," Pendergast said in a phone interview. Others in town saw it a bit differently, calling the page "hateful," "malicious" or "bullying," depending on who'd been on the receiving end of one of his tirades. Most asked not to be identified or even have their professions listed, because they're still afraid of provoking Pendergast.
A local teacher said she was targeted after Pendergast published letters to the editor containing trumped-up accusations of grade bribery that he never bothered to investigate. Becky Poe, the wife of Winnsboro's former city manager, said her husband was eventually forced to resign after Pendergast took up an editorial page crusade against him. The goal, she believes, was simple: The man needed to sell papers. "He just maliciously bashes people because it sells news," she said.
His allies, however, are powerful. State Representative Brian Hughes personally sponsored a resolution commending the Winnsboro News for its dedication to community service. Some prominent city officials would receive no criticism at all from Pendergast, while others, like Poe's husband, couldn't escape him. Local pastors from several denominations would write in to the paper, frequently commending the editor for his conservative moral stances.
So when Bear's letter set off Pendergast, it wasn't exactly unusual. The editor's response, however, was unusually vicious. On the same day he printed Bear's letter chastising the editor for not "fully informing" the citizens of "what really matters to us," Pendergast dedicated his own editorial column to a very personal response. It all hinged on the existence of an Internet personal ad of dubious origin.
"We have received several communications...relating to a highly controversial website on which this local B&B and its owners are featured," wrote Pendergast in the August 21, 2003, signed editorial, referring specifically to Bear by directing readers to the adjacent letters page. Pendergast quoted "one correspondent" who informed him about the existence of an ad on Glimpse.com that was "promoting the gay lifestyle in Winnsboro, Texas." According to Pendergast, who says he saw the "almost bestial" ad with his own eyes, it featured Carmichael and Bear inviting gay men to participate in sexual activity with the couple there at the Hubbell House. Pendergast went on to cite "another reader" who contacted him, expressing his or her concern that "these 2 [sic] proprietors of a local bed & breakfast certainly make a public statement of a despicable lifestyle that is antithetical to the values of most Winnsboro residents."
The editorial, which published Glimpse.com's Web address but warned against actually visiting it, said that the site contained photos of Bear and Carmichael in front of the Hubbell House's historical marker and "contained such vivid descriptions of homosexual acts that they cannot be printed in a family newspaper." Because the ad has since been removed, it's unclear whether Pendergast was talking about the site as a whole or the supposed Hubbell House ad itself. The Web site, wrote Pendergast, was "simply repulsive."
Trouble was, Carmichael says he and Bear had never placed a personal ad or even a photo on Glimpse, and that they only found out about its existence from a friend who'd been in the local gossip loop. When Pendergast published the editorial, Carmichael says he and Bear were trying to contact Glimpse to have the ad removed.
In a remarkable leap of logic, Pendergast connected Bear's appeal for a city tourism Web site with the Glimpse.com ad, saying "anything like this disgusting Internet display" would never be sponsored with city tax money. "Paul called [Glimpse] and said, 'Hey, we're businesspeople in this real small town,'" Carmichael says. "'You've got to get that off there.'" Mortified, Carmichael says it was weeks before he could bring himself to leave the B&B to go to the grocery store. "It was that embarrassing. I had been a fine, upstanding citizen for over 40 years."
The photograph on the gay dating site was the same one featured on the Hubbell House's independent Web site that guests would use to make reservations. Because of that, Carmichael suspects that the ad may have been posted as a cruel joke. Whatever its origin, Carmichael vehemently denies he or Bear had anything to do with it. Pendergast remains unapologetic to this day, even acknowledging that he never made any attempt to contact Bear or Carmichael at the time he published his editorial. How could a career journalist do such a sloppy job of vetting the facts? Pendergast, who claims the editorial had "nothing to do personally with Mr. Bear," said it all hinges on his belief that Bear might use the city's money to invite "people to our town to engage in [homosexual acts]."
"If he's trying to get taxpayer money to support this kind of trash," Pendergast said, "then everybody in town ought to know about it."
With the unwelcome publicity came a wave of harassment.
"We were having people drive by and yelling obscenities while we had guests here," says Carmichael. "We had people putting dead chickens in our mailbox and throwing dead animals up in our yard," such as a skunk.
The news traveled all the way to UT Tyler, where Bear was now unintentionally out of the closet. "There was a couple of times somebody would shout 'Faggot!' down the hallway," says Carmichael, who watched Bear shut down emotionally. "It was really devastating to him." Bear's delicate psyche fell apart under the pressure. He made a trip to the Winnsboro News office and went on a tirade, calling Pendergast an "evil man," according to the news editor at the time, Lou Antonelli.
Not everyone in town knew about the editorial, but it seemed that way to Bear. Though many residents had stopped reading the News because of Pendergast's attitude, Bear was inconsolable. "Paul actually snapped," Carmichael says. Less than a month after Pendergast's editorial was published, "Paul got in the car and just left." For two weeks, Bear used Carmichael's credit cards to gamble his way to Ohio and back. When he was finally able to contact Bear, Carmichael begged him to come home, even though Bear's absence from school had gotten him kicked out of the nursing program. Carmichael told him they could work to repay the $60,000 in credit card charges and lost tuition. On October 5, 2003, Bear returned to Winnsboro and his life at the Hubbell House.
The couple worked with the Tyler nursing program and got Bear re-enrolled on a probationary basis. "We tried to get our life back as best we could," says Carmichael, who asked Bear to promise to pay back his debt when he graduated from school. Carmichael believed the disappearance was a one-time thing, the product of the incredible stress Bear felt from the editorial coupled with his intense schoolwork. If only he'd known about Bear's mental illness, he might have been prepared.
"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.
Later that day, Sergeant Henson delivered Bear's final letter to the Hubbell House. Henson said the note contained apologies from Bear for his behavior and was "very personal" to Carmichael, who would later break the news to Steve Cross in Australia. Cross would then tell Bear's family, who hadn't heard from him in more than 10 years, since he'd left for Seattle. He said they were "absolutely hysterical."
The Central Christian Church was packed during Bear's memorial service. Whitewashed, with tones of green in its stained-glass windows, the sanctuary could hold about 100 people. Friends Michael Herrington and Charlie Hardy drove in from Fort Worth and said "little old ladies" had made food. The pastor read a poem Carmichael had written for Bear. Another friend sang the old hymn, "Farther Along."
Sitting at the picnic table, the beer bottle now empty in front of him, Carmichael dwells on the song's lyrics. Suicide always leaves behind so many unanswered questions and unknown possibilities, but for Carmichael, Paul Bear's death left behind more than most. Why didn't Bear tell him about his bipolar disorder? Why did Bear always feel compelled to run? What, if anything, could anyone have done in Seattle or Greece or Sydney or Chicago? How was it possible for Bear to be such a "monster," as Cross described him during his depressive stages, and then turn into such a loving, caring man in a matter of moments? And, finally, what if he'd never encountered the town bully in Winnsboro?
"Farther along," Carmichael muses, "farther along we'll understand why."
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