Michael Martin had given me the ultimatum. His smile and his obviously gleeful body language completely devastated me. My life went into a total nosedive.
It was like a doctor telling you you had inoperable cancer and six months to live.
I kept saying “It's not possible.” Then, “What do I do now?” And “It isn't fair.” The rats turn away my years of good work and I'm put by the side of the road like garbage?
My mind went in circles from a black hole with no answers to suicide and back to “Maybe they'll change their mind.”
But I knew the truth... I was finished. My life was over. Might as well be dead.
And that is pretty much where my mind settled.
I couldn't get past the firing, the complete total de-validation of myself as a human being. I was gutted. I had no idea what to do. I knew I couldn't tell Meg or anyone else. I was too lost, too afraid, even more paranoid than I thought possible. There was no future left.
I couldn't make the leap to the chance there could be a future, another job, or another way to look at the situation.
Suddenly the gun looked like my deliverance. All I had to do was walk away and fire one shot, and it would all be over. My mind balked at the creepy finality of it, but my twisted mind was incapable of reason.
Suicide was the only thing left. How would I ever be able to do it, to actually pull the trigger? I had to. My sense of shame was so thorough, so all encompassing, it was the only way of getting through it. It was all I could imagine.
After that meeting with Michael, I eventually came home. My ability to totally compartmentalize my strongest emotions and feelings came into play. I would not let one tiny little bit of what I was feeling out.
I pretended it was just one more Friday night. We made dinner, ate on the porch. I kept thinking, “This is my last night on Earth.” I kept pushing the thoughts away; I just tried to stay in the moment.
I didn't sleep that night, or the next three nights. I'd lie in bed and adjust my breathing to mimic a sleeping person. Somewhere in me there was a reservoir of energy, of adrenaline, that I tapped until I almost ran out of energy completely.
* * *
Saturday, Meg was going to visit her mother in New Hampshire. I kissed her goodbye, assuming I would never see her again. I don't know how I managed not to break down.
I knew nothing about the gun and had to read the manual to see how it all worked at least a half-dozen times. I finally loaded the thing and walked to a field next door.
I kept thinking about Meg. I had not written a note. I dreaded the thought of her finding my body, coming home to an empty house, panicking, calling people.
I was barely conscious of myself and what needed to be done. I test-fired the gun and managed to cut my index finger on the sliding thing that sits on top. The gun kept slipping, there was so much blood. I was too afraid to even put it next to my head, but eventually I did.
But no matter what, I could not pull the trigger. I just couldn't do it. I cried and cried, then tried one last time and kept seeing Meg standing over my dead body, and I just couldn't do that to her. I couldn't. So I went back to the house and cried some more.
I knew I had to die, but I had no idea how I could do it. The image of Meg kept holding me back. Without really knowing it, I was coming to the conclusion that killing myself would not be as easy as I had thought. I was too much of a chicken. But somehow, I had to do it.
Sunday night, Meg came home. We talked at length about her mom. I imagine I was on the point of melting down and blubbering everything, but some part of me refused to totally break down. Another night without sleep.
Monday, I called in sick. I couldn't put two coherent thoughts together, but I decided I wanted a last day together with Meg, an entire day, which we pretty much had.
I sat on the couch, pretending to read, soaking up the feeling of the home we had built from scratch and lived in for 21 years.
That night in bed I stared at the ceiling. The insanity of the whole mess kept rolling through my mind. There was no point to living.
* * *
I got up as if I was going to work. I said goodbye and kissed Meg for the last time. I drove about a mile from the house. I test-fired the gun.
But once more I tried to pull the trigger and couldn't do it. I couldn't make my hand work. I thought being away from the house would make it easier - or at least possible, but I kept seeing Meg alone, trying to figure out what had happened and never being able to get an answer.
I cried and cried and drove off.
So I was in the car, and like all of the thousands of weekdays of the last 22 years, I drove to the co-op. I was like an old horse going back to the barn.
I might have fallen asleep at the wheel, twice, on the way into town. I came close to read-ending two vehicles.
I intended to park and walk away and kill myself.
I parked the car and saw Alex Gyori. Alex, who didn't even have the courage to tell me to my face that I was being fired. A man I worked for for 22 years and at various points considered a friend.
I didn't know what to do. But again, like the old horse, I went into the store, opened my office, dusted some bottles, checked my voice mails. I walked aimlessly toward the produce department.
What broke in me that day? I'll never know.
I went to Michael Martin's office and shot him.
I remember next to nothing of the actual killing. I find this disturbing, and it makes the understanding and healing process all the more difficult. What put me in that room with a gun?
The next thing I know, I'm outside in the back parking lot, leaning against someone's car and thinking I needed to kill myself. I raised the gun and heard a cop yell, “Drop the gun!”
I looked up and saw a cop pointing his gun at me. I knew that I couldn't pull the damned trigger. I was too late. What was the point?
I dropped the gun.
* * *
All through Michael's time at the co-op, as things got worse and worse - the pressure, the harassment, the bullying, the constant backbiting that became an everyday occurrence - it all pushed me to think, “Is it worth it?“
I kept answering yes, even as I realized: they want you out.
Go while the getting's good? I just couldn't. I saw no life for me on the other side of that decision. My sense of self was so wrapped up in my job that any other choice seemed tantamount to death.
At any point along the way, all I had to say was one word to Meg, start a dialogue, and everything would have changed. One conversation, and my life - everyone's life - would have changed forever.
The one time in my life that I should have trusted in our love I blew it - totally. We had managed to get through all kinds of crises, and this last one stunned me to my knees.
All I had to do was say one word - help - and it all would have turned out differently. I was too scared, too stupid to see the simple truth and react to it.
What a waste.
* * *
As I write these words, 19 months have passed since I killed Michael Martin. Nineteen long months full of confusion, sorrow, and the most profound sense of loss I have ever experienced.
It didn't matter that I was driven crazy and had no notion of right or wrong. I am guilty.
The four years during which Michael worked at the co-op were the absolute worst of my life. He took delight in working against me and making my job harder for me. He showed me only the parts of himself that were spiteful and hateful, petty and vindictive. I never saw his soft side, the part of him all his family and friends saw so easily.
But in all the time I was harangued and bullied and harassed by Michael, I always imagined him being fired or being forced to quit, or maybe going on to another job. I never imagined hurting him.
There is no denying the pain I have caused. For the children and friends of Michael Martin, the pain goes on. It doesn't take a vacation and disappear when the lights go out at night. It's constant, as the knowledge of his loss, the hole left in their lives.
I wish I could stop time and take it all back and keep everyone safe and free from harm. I keep saying it, I'm sorry, over and over again, every day, and still he is dead. It doesn't bring him back. It's too late.
There is an emptiness in the lives of two sets of families. A senselessness, a vacuum, pervades all our lives. The sense of loss is profound and threatens to make any understanding futile, forgiveness a distant dream.
I want to understand what I did.
I want to forgive Michael Martin and the others for the gross acts of unkindness they did to me.
I want to earn the forgiveness of all the people I have hurt and who would seek to punish me. I punish myself instead.
What happens after that, I don't know.
I'm sorry, Michael. I'm sorry as a person can be. Please forgive me.