There was one person Howard hadn’t seen in some time and wanted to see before he died: Pete. For many years, Howard had considered Pete his best friend. They were both former Marines, they’d been cops together during the early Lakewood days, they’d been to Kosovo and Iraq at the same time—but the friendship wasn’t just about those shared “tough guy” experiences.
Long before I knew Howard, he and Pete had gone to the Santa Fe Opera together. They’d donned tuxedos and were, no doubt, on the prowl . . . and I’m sure they made quite an impression on the ladies. Howard had stood up for Pete when he married the second time around and Pete was Howard’s confidant to the extent that Howard allowed himself to have one (apart from me) at all. Pete could hold his own in almost any conversation with Howard and they were both dedicated to a code of integrity and service. In other words, they were close. And Pete was one of the first people Howard introduced me to when we slid down that slope from friends to lovers. My acceptance of Pete and his acceptance of me were that important to Howard.
Howard and I had spent some lovely times with Pete and his wife Kim, but for the most part, the men got together without their wives—usually for a beer and a chat. But that changed somewhat when Pete began working outside the metro area, up in Chaffee County. It changed even more when Pete switched political party affiliations and decided to run for sheriff. The political shift was inexplicable to Howard, a committed Republican (juxtaposed against my own committed position as an Independent). The decision to run for sheriff was, in his mind, ill advised. He saw his friend as too innocent to last in politics and too upright and honest to be able to stomach it for long. He couldn’t support his friend’s political ambitions and his friend was immersed in them.
As with everyone else, Howard had done his best to hide his declining health from Pete. The two hadn’t seen one another for months. Howard was hurt to the core, but too stubborn to do anything about it. I suspected Pete was the same. I doubted Pete understood just how close Howard was to death and I knew, in my own core, that if they didn’t see one another before he died, Howard would die unsettled about it and Pete would regret it.
After an aborted attempt to reach him Thanksgiving weekend, I let the matter sit for a while, hoping that word would get to Pete about Howard’s condition and he would come by. When we didn’t hear from him, I took matters into my own hands and called Kim at work. I might have begun the conversation calmly, but if so, it lasted for no longer than a few seconds. I was desperate to get them together and had to choke back sobs just to talk. I explained how little time Howard had and how much I knew he wanted to see Pete. I admitted that I knew Howard was hurt by Pete’s lack of contact and said that I suspected Pete was hurt by Howard’s lack of support. And, as usual, unable to do anything but tell the truth as I saw it, I suggested that they both had more pride than brains. Kim agreed.
Pete called sometime thereafter and made plans to come for a visit. I made him promise not to tell Howard that I had instigated it. Pete came, pulled up a chair next to the bed, and the men chatted as if only days—not months—had gone by since they’d seen one another.
Something lifted in my heart with that visit. I knew that Howard would die easier, thanks to that visit.
Before he left, Pete asked Howard if he could come by again. Howard encouraged him to do so, and as I walked Pete out to his car, I encouraged him to do so, too. But I doubted there was time for another visit before Howard died.
Before the visit, Howard had wondered aloud why Pete had decided to come. He asked if I had a sense of it. I lied as convincingly as I could, knowing that the truth would be known to Howard soon enough, once he’d died and had the broader view from the other side. I believed it would be important to Howard for Pete to come of his own accord, as opposed to coming because I—the wife of the soon-to-be-deceased—had implored him. He needed to know that Pete really did give a damn. So I offered a conjecture or two, but kept the truth to myself.
After the visit, Howard’s musings turned to the reasons for Pete’s asking if he could visit again. “All these years . . . neither of us ever asked a question like that. We knew we didn’t have to ask,” he said. He was perplexed. Why would Pete ask?
Of course, the two hadn’t really addressed the rift between them during the visit. They hadn’t gotten any cards on the table. So Howard was left wondering. Did Pete think Howard was still annoyed with him? Did Pete think Howard would fear he, Pete, was still annoyed? In Howard’s mind, the chat itself should have answered any such concern and should have answered Pete’s question without his ever having to ask it. They were buddies; no need to ask if he could come by again.
He might have been perplexed by Pete’s question, but he was pleased that Pete had come to see him. And maybe I was imagining it, but it seemed to me that something lifted in Howard’s heart, too, because of that visit. There were few things he seemed to need to have resolved before he left, but this was an important one. It was as resolved as it was going to be and he was more at peace. That was enough for me.
Copyright 2011 by Melanie Mulhall