Then about the meridian of that day we came upon the judge on that rock there in the wilderness by his single self. Aye, and there was no rock, just the one. Irving said he'd brung it with him. I said that it was a merestone for to mark him out of nothing at all. He had with him that selfsame rifle that you see with him now, all mounted in german silver and the name that he'd given it set with silver wire under the checkpiece in latin: Et in Arcadia Ego. A reference to the lethal in it. Common enough for a man to name his gun. I've heard Sweetlips and Hark From the Tombs and every sort of ladys name. His is the first and only ever I seen with an inscription from the classics.
-Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian
The judge's name Et in Arcadia Ego stands not for his gun and not for himself, but rather for murderous humankind on this very real killing planet.
-Gnosticism and mccarthy's blood meridian
So I was at the fiancee's place, sitting on a wooden chair at the kitchen table, digressing about our Catholic marriage prep when I heard a distinct percussion: Two cracks. A pause. And then one more. And then the sound of furious running down the stairwell outside her place.
It's the kind of combination of sounds that makes you shrink deeply into the middle of your apartment. I immediately started to think of the likely construction methods of a modern, three-story apartment complex and what kind of materials (wood, concrete?) would protect us from harm.
Below us, next to us, we could hear a woman crying, softly. The fiancee called 911.
"We got it," they said, having already been notified. Already you could hear the sirens. When enough sirens were in our reach, we ventured outside after a little bit of discussion. We opened our door about the same time as a cute perky blond with her dog. She was in the shower and hadn't heard a thing. But she was ready to find out.
As we rounded the corner, I winced wondering what my car might look like since it sounded like it was right where we heard the shots. It turned out the sirens were at the building right next to us, we could see part of a fire truck and a red siren through one small entranceway. A third neighbor had seen a dark car race off, slamming into the deep drainage grate in the middle of the parking lot that everyone else knows to avoid.
The blond wanted to know. She took her dog and disappeared where the sirens were.
A few minutes later she came running back. Someone had been shot. She also was able to glean from police that they were dead. A stone's throw away. After a few minutes the fire truck came our way and left. A TV truck came and we all disappeared back into the building.
I've covered these things many times and it was weird to be on the other side, the ones standing aimlessly on the sidewalk as the TV trucks roll by. You never want to be the story.
When I read Blood Meridian a few years ago and came across the name of Judge Holden's gun, I had to know what it meant. Commonly, it's a phrase that is the title of a Nicolas Poussin painting from the 17th century
. Residents of the paradise Arcadia come across a gravestone with the phrase etched upon it.
It's a reference to death, a reminder, "Even in Arcadia, I exist."
It's stayed with me as a message to myself to always be careful that you never know what might happen, that things might play out like the Sopranos and "you'll never see it coming." The scary thought is that good chance is sometimes just a matter of timing. We'd been home from being out for about 20 minutes. Who knows if 20 minutes here or there would have flipped our fate that way. This is the news account of what happened
And when I write et in Atlanta ego, it's with a bit of sarcasm, since this place (even as I love it) is hardly paradise.