I was waiting for coffee at the bodega down the street from my office when I saw his eyes blazing back at me from the cover of the New York Post. The cheap metal prongs of the newsstand were blocking the headline, and most of his face, but the eyes alone tipped me off. I hadn't seen my husband in five years, but I would recognize those limpid brown headlights anywhere. Making sure that none of my fellow lawyers were in the shop watching me pick up a tawdry rag, I walked three steps to the newsstand and, breath quickening, took a copy.
Ethan's face had thinned out since I last saw him. There were severe hollows in his cheeks where there was once a downy roundness from one too many weeknight beers. In the photo he had a full beard, and his curly dark hair, which he had always trimmed close to the scalp, now fell in dreadlock-style tendrils across his brow. He had aged considerably in just a short time, but not badly. He had a smattering of sexy crow's-feet ringing his eyes, the kind you get from hours spent outside. His skin had taken on a tan, faintly leathery quality.
It took me a minute to realize he wasn't alone on the cover.
She was there, too. Amaya's clean olive skin still glowed as if it were backlit, the product of a diet based primarily on kelp. Her dark-blond hair was pinned back in a dancer's bun. Both Ethan and Amaya had their hands pressed together as if in prayer.
The photo appeared to be a promotional image from one of their videos. Ethan and Amaya had made instructional videos for married people who want to be "cosmically connected through the ancient practice of yoga." Each video opened with Ethan and Amaya locked in a ball of intertwined arms and legs — some ridiculously complicated pose that made their limbs look like braids of lanyard. After they unfolded, but before the opening titles rolled on-screen, Amaya bowed to the camera and said slowly, in an even, condescending tone often used by preschool teachers, "We want to teach you how to share each other's consciousness. With our help, you can have the closest marriage."
I committed that line to memory after watching and re-watching every video on their YouTube channel — even the one that was just a dog nosing around a pile of sand. In those bitter months after Ethan left, I had a Google Alert for his name, and for Amaya's name, and then for their names together. The videos popped up about six months after they ran off together. At first I tried to figure out where the videos were made. It had to be San Francisco, right? Isn't that where people go when they leave their wives for yoga instructors? But I never could find any trace of Ethan or Amaya in my public records searches. There was no evidence of an apartment, or a new driver's license, or even incorporation data for When Two Become One, the name of their "company," according to the videos. Ethan had shut down his Facebook account right before he left me and never reactivated it. The videos were the only real thing I had.
Ethan's face looking up at me from the cover of the Post brought everything welling back up. I was so wrapped up in searching his new crow's-feet that I had missed the headline splashed in luridly enormous type across the Post's front page: nama-slay: yoga couple found dead in new mexico cave.
nama-slay: yoga couple found dead in new mexico cave.
I managed to slide the Post out of the metal rack without rattling it — no small feat, since my hands were shaking. I passed it across the counter to the clerk along with a dollar, turned, and walked quickly out the door. "Miss, miss! Your coffee!" I heard the clerk shout after me, but I no longer needed the caffeine.
I walked out onto Eighth Avenue and held my hand up over my eyes. The late-May sun — which seemed so cheerful when I left my apartment this morning — now felt oppressive as it bounced off the spotless glass of the office buildings. I briefly considered going back home and telling my boss, Phil, that I had eaten some bad oysters the night before and needed to take a sick day, but of course that wasn't an option. Phil is a forty-eight-year-old man who wakes up at 4:45 every morning to train for triathlons. Phil works eighty-hour weeks. Phil has 4 percent body fat, which he will find some way to work into the conversation within five minutes of meeting you. Phil refers to himself in the third person, and he never, ever gets sick. "Sickness is for the weak!" Phil says. If I were to call in sick, it would have to be from a hospital bed.
Staggering up to Fifty-Eighth Street, I wondered if there was some mistake. Maybe Ethan wasn't really dead. Maybe Amaya left him for some other poor sucker, and that was the body found in the New Mexico cave. She didn't seem like someone who valued a commitment overmuch.
Staggering up to Fifty-Eighth Street, I wondered if there was some mistake.
I held on to this bitter fantasy as I rode the fourteen floors up to my office. I barely nodded at the receptionist, and mumbled a very curt "Morning" to my assistant, Katie, before scurrying into my office and closing the door. Katie is a real go-getter and desperate to please me. She's good at her job but anxiously chatty, and I didn't want to risk being pulled into exchanging pleasantries with her. Not today. I sat down in my desk chair and, holding my breath, opened up the Post.
It took the search team more than a month to locate the bodies of Ethan "Kai" Powell and Ruth "Amaya" Walters in the rangelands of northern New Mexico. The lovebirds were reported missing from a swanky yoga spa called the Zuni Retreat, where they were instructors, on April 24. The owner of the retreat, John "Yoni" Brooks, notified local police a week after Powell and Walters failed to show up to teach their morning Aztec sun salutation class at 6 a.m. on the 17th.
Though the heights of the bodies found a few hours from Taos match the victims' descriptions, Powell and Walters were so badly decomposed after exposure to the elements that their identities had to be verified through dental records.
Details of the couple's deaths are hazy at this point, but a sharpened piece of obsidian was found in between the bodies.
That's as far as I got before my tears started dotting the photos next to the article — one of Amaya and Ethan wrapped in an upside-down yogic embrace, their arms entwined and their legs pointed up to the sky, plus smaller photos of Ethan from his college yearbook and Amaya from her pimply, brunette high school days.
There was no way Ethan was still alive. It's tough to argue with dental records. Though I had wished Ethan and Amaya dead nearly every day for twelve months after they fled New York, their actual demise gave me no joy. What I had really wanted was for Amaya to get a disfiguring facial fungus, or, if I'm really honest, for Ethan to get abandoned the same way I did. I never truly longed for their bodies to be splayed out, alone, in the rural Southwest.
There was no way Ethan was still alive.
But I still felt angry with him. Ethan and I had been together for a decade, since we were sophomores in college. We called each other "partner" in goofy cowboy voices. I thought we were a team, and I suppose we were — until we weren't. That's the thing I could never forgive him for, leaving me all alone to pick through the rubble of the relationship he detonated.
I had spent countless hours on the couch of a very understanding, maternally soft therapist to get myself over Ethan. Entire days went by now when I didn't imagine him standing in the vestibule of our apartment with a duffel bag on his shoulder, about to walk out of my life. He had written me a good-bye note that said he needed to go live with Amaya. "That is where my true self lies," he wrote. He didn't even have the courage to say it to my face.
But now I didn't know how to reconcile any of this. New Mexico? The Zuni Retreat? "Kai"? Dead? This wasn't at all what I had fantasized about Ethan's new life. So I called my sister, Beth. She's a graduate student in twentieth-century American history. She has been working on her dissertation for four years. She always picks up her phone.
"What's up?" Beth said sleepily. It was only nine, so she was probably still in bed, nursing her first coffee of the day.
"Ethan's dead." I tried to say this as calmly as possible, but I couldn't hide the hysterical edge to my voice.
"Wait, what?" Beth said, immediately perking up.
"He's dead. Amaya's dead, too. It's on the cover of the New York Post." I forced the words out between gulps of air.
"Holy shit," Beth said, almost in a whisper. She'd wanted him dead since he left me. She'd said it so many times. I wonder if some kind of vague guilt stunned her into uncharacteristic silence.
"That's all you have to say? My husband is dead."
I could tell Beth wanted to reply that Ethan wasn't really my husband anymore. I know how her mind works. But she took a long pause instead and said, "I'm so, so sorry."
That's when I started to cry. Really cry, not just that first sprinkling of tears that smeared the newsprint. Ethan's dimples from that sweet collegiate portrait started dissolving, which made me cry harder. I covered my mouth and tried to keep quiet.
When my tears had somewhat subsided, Beth cautiously asked, "What happened?"
"Their bodies were found in a cave in fucking New Mexico. Police don't know that many details yet. Some kind of sharp object was found near them, though." The anger I had worked so hard to quell came back up, bilious. This never would have happened if he hadn't left me.
"Oh my god," Beth gasped. "Do you want to come over here? I'll take care of you."
"I think I need to be alone right now," I said, surprising myself. "Besides, there's so much going on at work I can't take a mysterious personal day."
Beth sighed loudly. "I can't believe you give a fuck about work right now. This is important, Dana. You're allowed to deal with a monumental life issue."
"Well, we can't all be perpetual graduate students, Beth." My job had been my ballast for years. It paid me well, and it kept me grounded. Beth could never understand that; to her a job was meant to give pleasure.
Though she'd usually rise to this kind of bait, Beth said only, "Okay, okay. I'm here if you need me. Please call me to check in. I'm worried about you."
I sniffed out a moment of composure. "I'm okay. I'll be okay. I just want to know what really happened."
From SOULMATES by Jessica Grose. Copyright © 2016 by Jessica Grose. To be published on September 27, 2016 by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Reprinted by permission.
Jessica Grose is Lenny's editor in chief.