His smile and laugh are still with us, and I’ll never forget the last words I heard from my best friend’s fiance, “We love you, Sara” as I left to catch a plane back to California. 25 days later, he was gone.
Lying in bed at a friend’s house in California, hanging out with a friend whose husband was out of town, I heard the phone ring at 6 am. That’s probably not a good thing. Then my friend was saying, “Yes, Sara’s here. Just a minute.” Now, I was certain this must be an emergency and, like a child, I pretended to be asleep, trying to delay whatever was coming.
On the phone, my best friend said, “Pete’s missing.” My first reaction was relief. Pete couldn’t always be counted on, and it was a definite possibility that he’d gone out partying with friends and hadn’t come home. Stacy said, “No! He went diving in a frozen lake and didn’t come back up.” She said they’d be searching again at daylight and she hoped he would be found on the edge of the lake, lost and unable to find his way. I asked if she needed me to fly back to Washington, and she said we should wait to see if he was found safe.
As soon as we hung up, I called my parents. Only after I dialed, I realized how early it still was, but my mom picked up on the first ring. ” We’ve been waiting for your call.” They already knew Pete was missing. It was all over the news in my hometown. My parents didn’t think Pete was going to be found alive. I told them I was going to fly up and I’d let them know my flight time.
After falling apart and calling airlines to reserve a seat, I went to my apartment to pack. A couple hours later the phone rang. “Sara? This is Mike. We found Pete and I wanted to let you know.” “What? You found Pete?” “Yes, he was about six feet away from his oxygen tank at the bottom of the lake.” “Who is this?” I asked. Turns out it was a friend from high school who was now a sheriff; when they notified Stacy, she’d asked Mike to call me.
The week that followed was one of the hardest and longest of my life. There were so many tears, hugs, and memories. An incredible number of flowers and plants were delivered. Because it was one of the coldest weeks ever at -50 degrees with the windchill, florist delivery drivers had to make sure someone was home before taking the arrangements out of the heated van; if they stood waiting for someone to answer the door and had to return flowers to the van, they would be ruined, frozen.
In my mind, Pete kept smiling and saying, “We love you, Sara.” It was just a few weeks ago, my hand on the doorknob, saying goodbye to Pete. Stacy was at work. Pete’s saying they loved me had really surprised me, but right away I answered, “I love you too, Pete.” I smiled. Although he and I were really good friends, we hadn’t ever said we loved each other. No way I could’ve known this was our last moment together.
This past summer, I heard for the first time from Terry, Pete’s best friend, his recollection of the last time he talked to Pete. I knew Terry had flown to Florida the day before Pete went diving. I asked if he’d known that Pete was going to dive under ice. He assured me he had no idea. Then he recounted Pete coming by his auto shop the day before he was scheduled to fly out. Pete asked him to go to lunch. Terry explained he was slammed and had to take care of things before he went on vacation. Pete responded, ” You don’t have time for lunch with your best friend?” This request was so unusual, Terry had gone to lunch. A couple of days later, as soon as he’d reached his grandma’s house, Terry learned Pete was gone.
The memorial for Pete was standing room only at the church where he and Stacy had planned to wed. Instead of maid of honor, holding Stacy’s bouquet, I was at the lectern reading “Footsteps in the Sand.” The burial couldn’t occur until spring because the ground was too frozen. Stacy and I had Pete’s leather jacket and jeans to take the funeral home. I took them in, and the person who worked there asked if it was vital that the clothes actually go on the body, because hours under water rendered it very difficult. “No,” I replied. “As long as they’re in there with him.” I felt very uncomfortable making this decision but I knew it was the practical choice.
The death of Pete gave rise to an incredibly close friend group including Stacy, Terry, another friend named Rod, myself, and Pete’s siblings, Ryan and Sissy. We grieved together in our early 20’s and that experience has bonded us for life. We’ve married, had children, and stayed very close. After years, Stacy met and married a great guy. She and her husband have two kids, who are grown now. All of our children know our story. Pete’s name comes up; we laugh at the memories and the mischief that he instigated.
We’re coming up now on the 32nd anniversary of Pete’s death. He knew he should never dive alone, especially under ice, which requires a partner and a lead line, neither of which Pete had. There was still oxygen in the tank but it was several feet away from his body. What I do know is that Pete’s love and laughter continue through us, and he left us the gift of our precious friendships. Love you, Pete.