Wednesday, September 21, 2016
Tuesday, August 30.
Jim kissed me goodbye at 3:45AM. I woke some but I can’t remember if he kissed my face or just my arm. I was in the middle of the bed, nestled more toward his side than my own.
Wheels up was a little after four. He'd chartered a plane to make it a day trip. On weeks where we have the kids Jim avoids overnighters. He was aiming to be back in time to get Josie from volleyball. John, the pilot who was also Dustin’s first flight instructor, flew Jim and Luke, Victory’s V.P., to Vegas where they picked up another guy before heading to their meeting in Southern California.
I skipped class that evening. I ate ice cream instead. At 6:30 I’d just mowed down my second knockoff Drumstick when Jim’s mom, Gay, called me, “Have you heard from Jim?”
“Yeah,” I told her, “He’s on the ground by now. Well, I mean I haven’t talked to him, but we texted earlier. He’ll have landed. He’s getting the kids. I expect him any minute.”
“Megan, there was a small plane crash in Rock Park. I can’t get him on his phone.”
“Okay . . . Okay. I’ll Find-My-iPhone him and get back to you.”
I logged into his iCloud. All devices on his account were offline. All the iPads and iPhones, the computers. iCloud must be broken. I logged into my own account to make sure that all my devices were offline too. Nope. It located all my stuff. Refresh, refresh, refresh. All Jim’s gadgets were still offline. My calls went unanswered.
From my car seconds later I phoned Gay and told her I couldn’t get him so I would go down to that RV park. Why not? Then I called Dustin. He’s a pilot.
“I hope I’m calling you prematurely,” I said, “but I need you to try to call John.” I told him about Gay’s call, about how I couldn’t get his dad on the phone or find him. He listened to air traffic control. Nothing useful. He called me back after talking to John’s flight school. I had a hard time understanding through the new pitch in his voice. It was John’s tail number that went down. They’d seen black smoke.
I get calm right here. I think I detach.
Jim enjoyed reading aircraft accident reports. Weirdo. When he told me about the accidents, what errors pilots made or conditions that caused a crash, I always asked, “Did they live?” He’d scoff a little and tell me, “Of course not. No one ever lives in these things.”
I thought of that while I drove. “‘No one ever lives in these things.’ My husband is dead. I’m driving to where my husband is dead.”
Emergency people surrounding the park stopped me. Look fraught, say “my husband was in that plane,” and they let you through. I tried to read the cops’ faces. How much pity? How much did they know? I worked through the first layer of responders. Then the second. Once parked, the policemen steered me to the other side of a Suburban away from the media.
It starts to get fuzzy here. I don’t know how much time I spent sitting the back of a police car. Was it 20 minutes? An hour? Who said there were two fatalities? “But there were three people in the plane,” I told someone. Jim, the pilot, and Luke. All anyone knew was that there were two fatalities. How long before I thought to call Mike, Victory’s GM, to ask if he knew if they off-loaded Luke on their Las Vegas-stop coming back?
They did. Luke deplaned and flew back on Southwest later.
Two fatalities and only two on the plane. John. My Jim. But not really. Because he was just coming back from a meeting and he was going to pick up the kids. He was looking forward to seeing me.
The kids. At some point Katelynn called asked what was going on. Someone had told her to call. Gay sent Jim’s brother-in-law, John, and his son Rand to me. When I saw John I chucked myself at him harder than I’d ever done to anyone in my life. I can't imagine how he remained upright, but he held me.
When did I text Traci? Did I call her too? I must have. She came to the RV park.
Mike and Brandan, Victory’s COO, were suddenly there. It only occurs to me now that I don’t know how they got through the barricade. There must have still been a barricade. With them I started what would become my habit for the weeks to come, the consoling and recalling. I looked up at Mike, failed to hold it together, and told him, “I know there will be time for this—I’m sure I’ll say it again later—but Jim was so proud of you. He thought of you like a son.”
When did I call my parents? I know when I did it wasn’t twenty minutes before they were in the car on the nine-hour drive to me. I don’t think I spoke with Katelynn again. Maybe I talked to her husband Nathaniel? I know I talked to Dustin more because we discussed how to tell the little kids. What do I do about the little kids? Their dad was hours late to pick them up.
I took a call from a number I didn’t recognize. It was the kids’ mom. She’d heard rumors. I stopped her. “I’ll tell you what’s true. Your kids’ dad is dead.”
The next call was Josie. It was all the way dark by then. Her sobs triggered mine, and I remember crying with her while I sank back against Traci’s car and slid to the ground.
Rand drove my car and Traci drove me. When I got in her front seat I said, “I’m going to come off as cold as this gets started. I’m good at this. I’m good in crisis.” How did I know that? My husband has never died before. But I was right. I’m irritatingly capable with this shit.
By way of calls and text messages, we, Jim’s closest family—the wife, his kids, his sisters, his mom—we knew. The rest of his close people, his Victory Woodworks family, were next.
Like I threw myself at John the night before, when we got to Victory at six the next morning to meet with the employees I hurled myself into Luke’s arms. Luke was alive. By getting off the plane in Vegas and flying home commercial, Luke lived. I remember saying again and again, “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry you have to live with this.”
I’m so sorry we have to live with this. Here we are though. I’m grateful every day that Luke lived.
I spent a lot of today at Victory and told so many of the team, “We’re missing the most important piece, but we have all the other parts. We will make this work.” I’ll be damned if we don’t crush it, the work, the living. It’s been three weeks today. For however temporarily, I suppose it’s about time I got to this place.