I fully expected to find Pete on the sofa, at the tv, either asleep or just sitting there, as usual, as if nothing had happened. But when I got home a little before ten that night, the place was – or seemed – empty; I couldn’t tell. The television was on, and that was fairly normal. Pete always left the tv on, but the thing was blaring loud. I turned it down, but not off. Pete’s little blue car was parked directly outside in the lot, his keys on the coffee table, his leather jacket draped over the back of a wooden chair. His bedroom door was closed. That struck me as strange. Was he in his room? Pete was never in his room. Unless his ex had come over to care for his emotional wounds, he was always on the couch, day or night. My bedroom door was left open, and that was unusual: I habitually shut it whenever I went out. But then I remembered the police had been called and they’d been through the place – Pete’s wife had told me as much in her frantic voicemail – and no doubt they would’ve checked my room. That didn’t bother me; I saw that nothing had been disturbed.
I was already pretty sure by then he wasn’t coming back, though I didn’t quite believe it. In fact, Pete was dead – as I found out later, he’d walked off into a nearby field and shot himself in the brain that afternoon, while I was at the movies. He’d sent a suicide text to his wife and to a friend, and this was why the police had been called. But I’d not heard any of this yet, and I wouldn’t until I came into work that next morning. And because I’d been through some version of this drama often enough over the past weeks, if only in my own mind – only to find him on the sofa later, as if nothing were going on – I still at the time thought that he might just be sulking in his room, and that I was likely overdramatizing the whole thing.
On the kitchen counter I found an open tub of salsa. He’d come in with bags and bags of tortilla chips bought at Wal-Mart that morning, which had struck me for some vague reason as disturbing. But then everything about him had seemed disturbing over these past few days. I threw the plastic tub and its contents away, aware of some dim sense of insult in doing so. Asshole, I thought, you asshole. You have to go and do this, and it’s the only way I can finally get a night’s peace. It occurred me then that I might never find out what happened. I would leave Utah in a couple of days, and I still might not know if he were dead or not, or just what had happened. With the place for the moment apparently to myself, I tried to wind down as best I could and get ready for bed. There was still work the next day. But, despite the much-needed quiet, I slept little.
In the morning, everyone in the resort’s kitchen had heard the news, except for me. Word had travelled fast the night before and spread like wildfire through employee housing. I wondered why people, many of whom I only knew casually, were looking at me with such sympathy and concern, although at the same time I really did understand. It was hardly the mystery it may have seemed. It was from my colleague in the bakery, the same woman who’d first suggested my dreams may be from the faeries, that I heard what was by now so widely known. And I found out soon enough that many of those people regarding me so strangely thought I was probably the one who’d found Pete’s body and called it all in. Small wonder they looked at me like that.
I won’t eulogize Pete because I’m still angry with him. Yes, he was fundamentally a good guy, pulled under by a sickness in his heart. But he took everyone near him prisoner with his unappeasable need, and his death comes – and was meant, at least in part – as a final insult: None of you did enough for me. His suicide note reflects this attitude, I’m told, though I’ve not seen it. “If you care, you’ll find my body…” He required for others to satisfy his core hurt, and of course everyone failed him, no matter how much they tried. The Hungry Ghost cannot, by its nature, be fed. To fail in this regard was not something anyone could ever help but do, and his was a deeply parasitic orientation. And though I do have compassion, of a sort, for how trapped he felt by his pain, I’m also quite sure he could have found his way out of it, eventually, with a small shift of this attitude. I say this, I hope, not with curt flippancy, nor with the arrogant oversimplification that comes all too easily, but from experience: I once felt exactly the way that he did. That was why I could see it. When no one else would or could step forward to make me feel solid enough, when my own terrible neediness drove everyone else off, and after a lot of hard disappointments, I eventually stopped believing that anyone should take care of me; that it was, by default, up to me alone. Resignation, and ultimately, acceptance changed my attitude. I don’t know why I got this and Pete didn’t, but this is why I’m alive now and he is not.
After everything that led up to this, I may’ve easily felt myself reeling, knocked a bit too hard by the Fates and traumatized for it – but instead I felt only deep, deep calm, and I continued for some weeks to feel that calm. I started out for home late the next day with steady hands on the wheel, and I drove and drove and drove. The wreckage of my ransacked Washington home has since been cleaned up, the things that were stolen are things I can do without, mostly. Insurance will cover some of it. My car runs well and I’m unharmed. I don’t honestly know if I’m really any stronger, or maybe much colder, than I thought, or if I’m simply not facing the requisite pain yet, but it has taken no effort of will to reach this place of detachment. It seems rather I’ve been set up for it.
I’ve got scars now, of a sort, it’s true: I’m less trusting of the people around me on this formerly safe and peaceful-seeming island where I live; I’m hyperaware of the sudden violence that can happen at any time on the highway; and I carry a residue of that dismal apartment – too much of what I see and think refers back to that place as ground zero, and to Pete also, and the unbearable pressure that was there. But at the same time I find – and this mystifies me – that the long-ingrained tendency to feel sorry for myself, to be anxious for the future, and hurt over this or that disappointment, either current or past, seems for the moment to be gone. I simply do not feel it, as if it has been blown away by the same bullet that blew Pete’s head to pulp. Maybe it’ll be back – maybe it’s coming back now – but for the time being, none of that is in the picture.
If any of this hard, murderous winter was orchestrated by faeries, I can’t say for sure. I don’t really believe that to be the case. Of course it strikes me as kind of stupid to say as much, but that’s because I don’t know what faeries, or elementals, really are. Something sent me warnings in the form of vivid half-dreams, and something seemed to guide me toward a specific place where this would happen; something sent blow after blow and shocked me awake enough to withstand what was coming, and now that part of it is over. I can’t help but sense an architecture to this, one drawn up somewhere, one that must seem sinister, or at least very hard. But it is, I think, ultimately beneficial. I only hope I can pick up what I need to, and survive whatever comes next. It might even kind of fun now, or at any rate easier. In any event, I’m still here.