A year ago today I took my boys on a hike. It was a beautiful day after a long snowy January and I thought it would be good for us all to get out, have some fresh air and get some actual sun. Spontaneously, I began to prepare for the day and told my boys about what we would be doing; Excitement gushed out of my three year old, my nine year old, however, wanted to know what I would give him if he agreed to my terms.
“You’ll get a family bonding moment which in turn will prepare you with the self-esteem you’ll need later in life to face challenges.”
This was not nearly close to an offer he would accept so I did what I normally do, got angry, cursed and said “I’m not listening to you any more…get in the car.”
This would be one of the last times I had a drink…now that I recall.
Before leaving the house I filled up a Thermus with some kind of Sangria concoction, wine and soda, and had packed lunches to eat once we got to the top. It only took us about twenty minutes to get to the canyon by car. So at the base of the canyon was a legend and we chose one of the five hikes, the longest and most scenic. It was going to be a good three miles all the way around. I remember thinking I didn’t bring nearly enough alcohol for this.
My nine year old quickly got into it once he realized the trees and the dirt road were reminiscent of Skyrim, a game he plays on the Xbox. Ooops, WE play I should say. We had fun by making statements to passersby that we had stolen from the game like “Are you a follower of Talos?” and “Which way is Whiterun?”
Somewhere along the hike we began to sing a song by the Chainsmokers called “Paris”. Now I don’t know why this was in our heads, if we had heard it in the car, if it was just our psyche’s fears of steep slopes we were climbing, but this moment in time has been fused into my mind as God’s way of preparing us for the events ahead. The lyric “If we go down then we go down together” was the only line we kept singing over and over, all three of us. We finished out the hike, my son Harry on my shoulders the whole way down. By the time we got home we were all tired and spent the night watching movies in bed.
The next morning I received a call from my mom that my brother-in-law had flown my niece (4) and nephew (9) down to Tempe, AZ from Salt Lake City and never returned. My heart immediately went into a frenzy. He was supposed to have arrived home at 10:00 the previous night and this was very odd for him. The last text my sister received was at 8:40.
At the time my mom called me, search and rescue teams were being sent out to Southern Utah where my Brother-in-law’s phone last ping’d off one of the cell towers. Masses of family members were hopping in cars with gear to pull together a search and rescue. I was at home in Portland feeling helpless and fearful that the worst had happened. It was predicted it was going to snow that night and so it was imperative that the they found them before sundown.
They did not.
Fortunately, clear skies proved the weather forecast wrong and my family kept in touch with each other, reminding one another of Randy (my BIL) great ability to survive in raw conditions. If anyone could figure out CPR, fires, etc. it would be Randy. I did some research on Air Traffic Control to see if the flight path and where the plane went down could be traced. They had vague information so I began to reach out to some hobbiest and websites that could trace a flight path from antenna’s they had on the ground which actually were more accurate then some of the sky patrol because they were on rooftops and randomly placed. No one slept that night with the terrorizing ideas plaguing our minds.
The next morning the teams were out again at the crack of dawn. A couple hours went by and finally they had located the plane. The next half hour was an excruciating wait. I was on the phone with my sister telling her to be strong. I certainly felt like all the words in the world were useless.
There was a lull in communicating and tears were streaming down my face as the silence just seemed to fill in every blank. No phones were being answering, my children were on the bed with me and we were holding each other. Ten minutes went by and no longer able to take it I entered “Plane Accident, Southern Utah” into my search. It came back with a headline “No survivors”.
See, I’m in tears as I write this. The words sank in my soul and shot me into that alternative universe of shock. The words “No Survivors” kept punching my gut over and over and over as a pain grew out of me stronger than labor.
My little nephew Asher who grew up with my son was gone.
My sweet, sweet nephew who struggled his life with allergies, wore glasses and because of it always looked out for the underdog. He was the proud owner of video games and toys that he was always ready to present like a QVC sales man telling you all about their features, attributes and benefits. He could also present them rapid-fire like a true auctioneer. Out of the three boys between my brother, my sister and I he was the one that had to take the brunt of the two older kids dominance and had just a naturally more delicate nature. I couldn’t help but feel an unearthly need to fly into the air and grab onto the tip of the plane with my own hands. The uncontrollable feeling to protect what is innocent and near to your heart. To this very day I still haven’t been able to move from that stage of wanting to insulate him, to try and change the outcome.
My sweet, sweet niece that my sister adored was gone.
My sweet, sweet niece. It was her first time going with her dad and brother on the plane. Sarah was not like Asher, she was tow headed and bull headed. She came into life with an attitude as if she was a reincarnated drag queen. Even more miraculous was the way she changed my sister. My sister being only two years younger than me, I knew her life and struggles which were MANY and could see the Type A, OCD and rigid person she had become, but her daughter in ways that no one else had…had healed her. It almost didn’t even feel like Sarah had been birthed by my sister, but more like Tabitha on Salon Takeover who had come in to her life to run the place and fix things up and then leave when she could see she had done her job. She brought out the hippy love my sister had always wanted to express as she let it flow through Sarah unabashed. My sister adored Sarah and I love that she loved her.
Now Randy was not sweet, sweet…everything about him was a little harsh. He liked to play like the rebel without a cause and was one of the few people in my family that I think supported my alcohol addiction. I think he got a real kick out of it. I can hear his voice as I think about him saying “Now Kristin…”. He was the voice of reason who would bring my sister out of emotional coma’s and present the other side of the story. He’d be one to tell an off color joke and then let everyone know that we should probably take things down a notch. As far as men and fathers go, Randy wasn’t anywhere near perfect, but by today’s average and all the men I’ve had the displeasure of knowing…he was silver standard. I’m sure he was stashing enough gold and guns to get by though.
It was serendipitous, I guess one could say, that I got to see them one last time. Had a random chain of events not happened perfectly I was set to cruise through Utah without a word to my family members. Things had ended poorly last time I saw them, but God had another plan. His plan involved a 31 foot RV and a lot of alcohol.
I was travelling through Utah in a Winnebego the summer before the accident. To make a long (and albeit fucking insane) story short I got into a drunken fight in the 31 foot contraption and to get away from my friend (also in the fight) I started to scream for help. A nearby construction worker answered my call and he asked “Is there somewhere I can take you?” Out of my ten family members in Utah, I said, “You can take me to my sisters, my sister will want to see me.”
I showed up at Kristin’s door 6 am, drunk as a skunk. Randy answered the door and he smiled, “Malia, we thought you might be coming by”. My sister was asleep downstairs and the kids were still in bed so I sat with Randy on the couch and talked about all the stuff I’d experienced in the last year which was a load. I remember him telling me that they both had thought and prayed about me often. Tears came to my eyes and I let him know how much I appreciated them as well. At this point I went downstairs to wake up my sister, jumped in bed with her and rolled around for a minute. We were both in tears as she coughed up some of the pain she knew I had been through and somehow when you embrace after holding in those thoughts and fears it seems to dissipate. Asher wanted to show me some of his new toys and took me to see his room. Sarah jumped around and intermittently hid. Randy offered me some homemade pickle juice to help with the hangover, I obliged and guzzled about half the jar telling him it was unbelievable. We went out to breakfast together and all embraced upon parting with a pretty good new beginning it felt.
After the fact, it feels like a sign. It felt like I was granted one last time.
I told my sister today that it is her job to think and care and worry about her family. It is our job and inclination to think and care and worry about her. More than any other thoughts I have are the ones of what my sister must feel. The thought if maybe I cry more, she’ll feel it less. The thought that if I say the right words it will bring her peace and surety of their well-being and she might go through life with the confidence of knowing her babies are safe.
I feel my own surety after the prayers, moments of clarity and signs from the other side that they are in a place that when she wakes up will feel like no time has passed at all.