Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Pete 'was', and he 'did'.

"Who was it, Pete? Who went everywhere on the bike?" I asked William over soup on 永康街.

His expression was explained by what followed, "Pete? Pete died." It happened less than a year ago. Pete was on a cruise ship in Japan with his best friend when the ship docked without him.

I first met Pete on Fourth of July, 2002, on the roof-top of an apartment in Taipei known as the Alligator Apartment. It overlook 松山 Airport and is perfect for fireworks, but the police also knew this, so they had forewarned the hosts against such a light show. The hosts - four American expats - kept a pet alligator and we crowded around the pond, making bets on when the 'gator would finally catch the mouse on the styrofoam.

I'd gotten invited by my coworkers from the newspaper, and that was the first time I ever saw them outside the office. I'd just started my internship. Over a can of Taiwan Beer, my editor smiled big and told me my first article "sucked rock hard." I thanked him for the honesty.

It was at Alligator Apartment that I first saw Pete. We were sitting by a wall, or could it have been the edge of the roof? I remembered him because, for awhile, we sat next to each other and we didn't talk. We met again a month and a half later at Jr. Cafe.

(The alligator died the next winter during a bitter cold blast. The roommates allegedly stuffed the reptile in a garbage bag, tossed him out, and along with it, their early dreams of home-made leather belts.)

Pete was playing foosball when I saw that he looked awfully familiar. That was very possibly the first thing I said, "Where have I seen you before?" (I would later learn that this is a popular pick-up line.) That began a conversation that helped us to trace back to the Alligator Apartment. It turned out, Pete had recently left the paper. We knew the same people. That evening, I'd just finished my internship, and the coworkers were giving me a send-off. I was to depart the next morning back to the U.S. to college.

This was mid-August, it was 4am, I was 18, and I didn't want to go home. College seemed so far away.

We went to Pete's instead. It was just around the corner. There were four of us, and we cramped into Pete's small room inside his apartment. We sat on his mattress on the floor as he told us about the flooding in his room earlier that week. The ceiling leaked and he woke up finding he was on a boat, or maybe an island.

He was barefeet. I'd never really seen a grown man's foot before. There was something about them notably different. I then went to the bathroom and puked. I had had too much beer. I made the amateur mistake of depositing into the sink and clogging it up.

There was nothing special about Pete's room really except for the large bookshelf. He was a philosophy major. I left at 7:30 that morning with a reading list from my new friends. I had a 10 o'clock flight. Pete gave me his business card, with no cell phone number. It said Peter. I don't remember his last name. I didn't expect to see him again.

Two years later, I was back in Taipei. I went to 公館 to see Alex, some guy from San Francisco Maria wanted me to meet. I felt nostalgic as I walked from the MRT to Alex's apartment - it was on the same block as where an ex-boyfriend had lived. In the room with Alex was a guy named Pete. I didn't recognize him then.

"Have we met before?" It was he who remembered me this time.

"No, I would have remembered." I was so certain. I didn't know anybody named Pete. I knew a Peter, but I had forgotten about that. Peter had longer hair.

Then I saw his foot.

This Pete had white, large feet, with great distances between each toe. Then it hit me... I'd seen this before! I zoned out of the conversation trying to figure out... where have I seen this before? Where have I seen this? Then I remembered.

I told Pete how glad I was to see him, because for two years, I'd felt terrible about clogging up his sink. (I had been too chicken shit to say anything at the time.) He laughed and said that doesn't ring a bell at all.

Two days later, we caught a Mr. Eyeball 眼球先生 show at 紅樓劇場. We then biked to 東區 and saw School of Rock. By we biked, I mean Pete biked while I stood on the back and enjoyed the scenery. He biked everywhere. That made me nostalgic. The last time I went on a bike acorss the city was in 6th grade when I caught a Robot Show at 世貿館 with a couple of boys. We biked from 民生社區 and back.

After that, Pete and I said bye again. He was leaving Taiwan for China, for good. I didn't expect to see him again.

But of course I saw him again. I always saw Pete again. A year later, I saw a Japanese reggae band at the WALL when I saw Pete again. He'd gone to China and come back. We exchanged very little words then - it was loud. I thought, now he's back, I'll catch up with him next time I see him.

* * *

This is my belated farewell to Pete. I'd like to think he is on an island somewhere, barefeet or maybe cycling through the mountains. I didn't know him too well, but I liked bumping into him from time to time, here and there. It's a strange feeling, knowing he doesn't exist anymore, that he simply was, and that he... did. It's unsettling knowing that I took our coincidental encounters for granted, and that there's no next time. Pete was about 33 years-old.

Pete, may you rest in peace. I'll catch you later.