It happened in an out of control slow motion. An explosion shook the plane and it turned upside down and then the oxygen masks came down when they were momentarily right-side-up. The plane was free falling as an announcement was very calmly made that emergency action would be taken because they would be landing into the ocean.
When the plane hit the ocean they must have all been unconscious because the last thing he remembered before waking up in the cold water was holding her hand and feeling Owen’s head in her lap. He said, “Jo” and the next thing he remembered was waking up to his arms flailing and his legs churning submerged in the shockingly pitch black freezing water. Choking in the cold water he felt for Jo or Owen but he couldn’t tell if they were close or not. He unbuckled himself since he was still attached to his seat but then soon realized his seat was tearing away from him, going up, so he grabbed it and rode it to the surface.
It was then in the powerful moonlight and scorching blazing fire that he saw a distance away the middle of the plane bob up and then gurgle and sink. He yelled Jo and Owen’s name until he was completely hoarse but never heard them respond. There were others on the surface yelling, some in English, some in other languages. But the burning wreckage was so spread out that he never actually saw another person. Two explosions blasted the hot surface of the ocean and he was knocked unconscious.
When he woke he was stretched out on large piece of debris and he remained perfectly still for a while not quite sure he was awake or alive. He then began to feel warmth from the sun and the ebb and flow floating sensation of the ocean. It was quiet except for a gentle wind whistling through the floating wreckage around him.
Without moving an inch he moved the eyes in his head to the left and then right as he looked at his raft. It was part of the plane, maybe the wing, he thought. It felt hard on his back and he realized that maybe he was paralyzed. He thought about it as he breathed in and out. That was the only movement of his body, his breathing. He wondered if he could feel his chest move up and down if he was paralyzed. Probably, he thought. He told himself he wasn’t actually paralyzed just traumatized and when he was ready he would move. Right now he felt it wasn’t time.
Joanna had always been the calming force in his life. She was his reason for getting his education and not doing something foolish instead. Although his Aunt and Uncle had done plenty for him it was Joanna who showed him love and guidance. She took up where his mother left off. And it was Jo’s idea, this vacation.
She knew how much he had always wanted to travel the world, see it, and conquer it. And of course she knew that his job would pay for them to come and see a lot of places and even if he never conquered any those places at least they’d be together. At least we’d be together she had said so many times and now she was gone. He saw her and Owen sink with the rest of the airliner.
The hours on the raft felt like weeks and at the same time would add up in what seemed like seconds and minutes. And the ebb and flow of the ocean was peaceful and relentless as he went in and out of consciousness. He drifted and drifted, awake and then sleeping, not always sure which was which. It was hot and bright and then cool and dark, except for the piercing and sometimes blinding moonlight. He saw the moon as it came into view and he knew he was awake and then he fell back to sleep.
When he was eight, maybe nine he had been bedridden for a few days because of a serious case of the flu. He had said weird things, his mom said afterward. He had been delusional. He didn’t remember much of that time except and unusual feeling of heaviness, a heaviness that weighed him down and kept him from moving in his bed. He remembered that time now. He felt frozen and still, like now. There was no ebb and flow from the ocean though, he thought. Then he realized there was no ebb and flow of the ocean, now. Am I awake or dreaming? I can see the charred wing and I’m looking at my arms and legs.
His eyes looked left, beyond his raft, and he saw the blue of the ocean but he felt no movement of the ocean. Taking a deep breath, he turned his eyes far and stretched to his right. It was hot and blinding white. As his eyes focused and adjusted he saw sand.
He was afraid to start counting. He would stop eventually anyway. He had forgotten exactly how many days it had been already. Twenty? Maybe twenty-one? Three weeks?
If it had been three weeks then today would be Saturday. Let’s just say today was Saturday. He couldn’t imagine caring what day it was if he was here for good. Hell, he could rename the days if he wanted. It wouldn’t matter. Every morning was the same. And every night. There was never a difference. It sounded the same, felt the same, all the time, day or night.
He sat on the beach looking off at the piece of airliner that had carried him there and that had come to rest lodged in the rocks on the north side of the island.
The constant sound of the waves pounding the beach of the sandy little island was a soundtrack on an eternal loop. There were birds and their calls were beautiful because it broke up the monotony of the waves but he feared they too would become part of the washed out noise. At night he thought about how the waves sounded like a librarian shhhh and he considered the irony.
It was an island paradise and hell in sand.
On a summer vacation when he was ten years old he had been rescued by his father and mother after being buried in sand. He had made a very deep tunnel on the beach and it collapsed. They had been watching the entire time and when they saw it collapse they were there immediately and dug him out of his early grave. He wondered if they were watching now and if they were able to do anything this time.
The day they dug him out they told him he was saved because there was still too much they needed to do together. But one week after the vacation they were killed in a car accident coming back from bowling night.
From that point on if anyone were to tell him how sorry they were when he told them his story, he would say ‘thank you’ and then tell them he at least felt lucky to know his parents for the ten years he was blessed to be with them.
Now he wondered if his son would have said the same thing, if Owen had survived.
He and his wife had their own son, a ten-year-old soccer player, a center-midfielder/part-time striker. He and Owen had spent hours working on timing starting when Owen was just seven. The ‘give-and-go’ was so important for soccer. Owen would pass the ball to him and Dad would pass it back, then if Owen could get his timing down he would ‘one-time’ it into the back of the net. By his third Spring season he was shooting one-timers into the back of the net every game. He would never see Owen again. He was such a pretty little boy, so much like his mother and calm.
Those one-timers visited him in dreams almost every night. Owen had really mastered it and would have played in high school, maybe college, maybe as a pro somewhere in the world if he wanted. Not now. God damn it. It’s hard to imagine why I’m the one still alive and not my little boy. He would close his eyes again fade off to sleep and dream about Jo.
He had instantly fallen in love with Jo with the first words he heard her say. She was a resident advisor of a girl’s only dorm at the university and he was in the lobby lounge flirting with a fellow freshman and Joanna wanted to know why he was still in the building.
“It’s after ten. I shouldn’t have to walk over here and tell you,” she said condescendingly.
She’s a bitch, he thought. But he liked her attitude. He didn’t realize it at that moment but it reminded him of his mother in a way. His mother took charge of a situation if there wasn’t a man willing to lead confidently and she wasn’t going to wait for any boy to make his mind up about it. And this was Jo.
She was a third-year construction engineer major and he was an undeclared freshman. The next night when he asked her on a date and she said no because she ‘didn’t date freshmen’ he asked her why. She said they were immature. He told her he was surprised to find she was so closed minded and that if she wasn’t careful she’d end up thirty years old and single. After the rest of that fall semester, a Christmas break, several attempts at persuading her with notes containing poems and witty sayings about dating younger men taped to her dorm room door, when she found out he had committed to a major she finally consented to one date.
By that time he had recorded and calculated her monthly cycle and had read somewhere that around nineteen days after a woman starts PMS she can very easily be aroused. So, after she said she would go out with him he planned their first date around that time.
He arrived early in the dorm lobby with flowers and her favorite chocolate covered strawberries he found out about after gathering intel from her roommate, another construction engineer major.
On this lonely deserted island those days were so long ago and only remembered by him. And soon he would be dead, he thought. Then he would be reunited with her. He had never thought for once in his life about suicide but it had been an eternity of isolation on this god damned island, hell, maybe that was what hell would be like, eternity in isolation, with a memory or thought of the ones you love but no way to ever be with them. Yes, this was hell. It was a hell he was now experiencing now as an adult and it was different than when he was a child, losing his parents. When he lost his parents, even though the emptiness he felt tempted his heart to implode, his ten year old mind rationalized that it was just part of life, different from other people’s lives, but just a part of life. As an adult it wasn’t so easily accepted.