Hero

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I wasn’t going to write this. I wasn’t going back there. I have already written in time past of this moment in my life. But memories sometimes write themselves.
I was flush faced and excited to buckle in, red head pointed down for take off. Silent words mouthed. Not a prayer, a good luck charm that begins every flight on the countless wings of aircraft all over the world. Headphones on pass the time, hands restlessly flipping pages… An hour in… I rise to let my seat neighbor use the loo. All of the sudden my given name is spoken. And I turn into a voice I will never forget until my dying day. In the seat behind me and across…There he sits. My american hero.

 

I was a foreign aide worker with a crew of specialist. We started out in one type of aide and eventually morphed to disasters around the world. But before this, in the beginning, when we worked emergency refugees, village rehab, immunizations/healthcare… I fell madly deeply in love with a very small person. His name was Moot. The birth of the world shone through his large clear eyes. Though a small child, he was old spirit. His Mother, whom I will not denigrate, was troubled. My life became so woven with this child and his mother over the next years and when Abu, his brother, was born and his mother first took sick, I began to panic. I knew what happened in the Sudan with no family. I began at Abu’s birth to attempt to adopt these children, with his mother’s full blessing. Her illness was not one you recover from.

Back in this time, I had serious contacts. My rolodex was legendary, my legacy if I am honest.  It turned into one of the biggest fights of my life, I used to think their mother hung on just to see them safe. I failed them, the system failed them, the world failed them.

I remember an early morning. My team in a meeting, pencil in hair, lip biting tension…
Moot appears holding a toddler Abu. “Come Muggie, now come!” And just like that we followed.  Rusty taking Abu from Moot, we wove through brush and rocky terra. Bugs swarmed, the sun beat… Moot turned to us near an outcropping of rocks, near a ledge.
Come! he whispered. He crept next to me as I kneeled to peer over and the ground rumbled. Snorting almost a groaning rose up . Again rumbled the earth. Brush moved.
And as graceful as a one ton ballerina in her dying swan performance strode an elephant… and another and another.
 

Abu reached out for me, so Rusty leaned down and placed him in my arms. The whole crew watched the beasts, stunned to silence. The sun beat upon us. Showering the surreal in a vibrant glow. Moot pulled the pencil from hair and my long hair  fell down and around me. He pet my hair as Abu wound his little fingers in my curls from my lap. He told me the sun had come down from the sky to live in my hair. This was just one moment in time that they touched my life in a way that seared my retinas with their names. Many tragic things happened. Their mother died and in a action meant to save them they lived with found family.

 

In an a event to unspeakable to give words to, that was covered only one 24 hour news cycle in the international news. They were killed along with 3/4 of a village that included men, women and children. Birth to death in age. I will skip the details. We were not near the hotspot when it happened. But when word came, I walked out of my job, my responsibilities and my mind. To my eternal pride, my team followed. The view was the stuff of nightmares. A religious group that ministered near, was running the chaos when we arrived. I had told Moot and Abu countless stories of the seas. Of boats and creatures of  water. Worn picture books of whales and dolphins out. In my madness, I would not leave them to rot in the very earth that stole so much from them, from us. I knew a guy, Rusty knew a guy, Sully knew a guy.  A secret, a bus and then wait. On a bumpy baked earth strip of land a transport cargo plane landed. Body bags were removed and two cloth wrapped small forms were placed inside.  A military man, whose name and team shall go unnamed stepped forward. I cannot repeat what was said. Only that this was our ticket to ride. Lets just call him Hero.

Hard to believe now, but I used to be legend for never losing my shit in front of people. I did what had to be done then dissolved in privacy when the deed was done. There was limited seating so we had to ride strapped into the sideways seats that lined the plane.  I began to shake as I tried to buckle my 3 prong strap belt.  By shake, I mean could hear my teeth. Hero came over and buckled me in. Something even my team dared not do. His unit handled out water to my crew. Few words were said. The plane taxied and the well of strength in me went dry. There we were, all committing a crime. The only crime I have ever committed in almost 43 years. Airborne… my life flashed in front of me. Like a flickering old movie I saw all of the moments I had shared with these orphans. These children of my heart. The failure I felt felled me. A keening rose from my gut as the plane droned. Rusty teared and tried for my hand. I couldn’t stop the noise. The pain felt like an out of body experience. They had touched my soul as few have ever done. The were the magic of the wind singing in the trees. The peaceful solitude of a single boat at sea.
Every eye was on me and still I screamed. WIth a clenched jaw, face red, tears in his eyes. Hero unhooked his belt and made his way to me. Unlocking me he lifted me in his arms and carried me to his seat. I stared at him, the keening having stopped. I stared at him and vomited. Panic and hysterical tears poured from me as action gently began. He leaned me against the back of the seat in front of me as he removed his Uniform top, then his tshirt.  He slowly unbuttoned my shirt, as a gentle lover would, always keeping eye contact.. he removed my retch covered shirt. As I sat there in my bra he pulled his his body warmed tshirt over my head as his neighbor unbuttoned his own Uniform top to pass to Hero. I could hear Kiks cry. LB gently called my name as he passed a flask to another of Hero’s unit.  Hero put water to my mouth first as he wiped the unceasing tears from eyes. Then he put the flask in my hands and softly said …<em> slowly..</em>
I laid my head on Hero’s broad shoulders. He petted my back in motions you might use to comfort a child from a nightmare.  My eyes caught Rusty’s and held. We unraveled silently. In the past year, Moot had begun to withdraw from me as Abu began to cling. The months that I had lost touch with them had been harrowing.  It was E that found them. I was with Mac then and Mac put his wealth behind my case. It was all to late and all too little. I had known so much loss at that moment in time,  I shook from the reality of its cold fingers on my spine. In a off key voice Rusty began…
<em><strong>The screen door slams…. mary’s dress waves….like a vision she dances across the porch… as the radio plays.</strong> </em>
One by one my team begins to sing… Hero’s unit begins to look at them, at each other and a few join in. Bruce Springsteen’s Thunder Road fills the plane in a chorus of hesitant unison. When the song ends, another is begun by Sully. Then one of Hero’s unit starts…. Different artist, different genres, a myriad of well known songs uniting pain and defiance as we winged through the sky. A theft hidden in the belly of this iron beast.  Hero held me the entire journey.  Never releasing me from his arms even once.  We landed into what passes for escape route in our journey… A military unit favor between two men had made us all familiar now. I pinky swore to never reveal the deeds of their good and just by name and we all hugged goodbye.
 

Our babies were cremated and secreted onto another transit. I went home broken. Not even knowing if I had a career anymore. I was listless, ashamed and bereft. Mac knew my promises. So after a night of such quiet sorrow that I though he would leave me, he instead booked us tickets to Santa Barbara… On a breezy sunny day , we dropped rose petals on the ocean so that, what lived beneath might see. And from pouches to small for the lives they contained, we fed their ashes to the whales. And the beautiful children of my heart went to live in the fairytale I so often whispered to them.

On the one year anniversary of their death, I received a card in the mail . It contained a pic of  whales breaching in the sunset and had Hero’s thoughts and signature on it. How did he know&gt; He was Rusty’s brother’s best friend and fellow comrade. Every year until I moved to the UK, I received a card….That’s the thing about Heroes they never forget what they see and become a part of. The men and women you scorn or venerate, hold the stories of others long after the events pass.
So there I am, on a plane to see my son, when an American hero calls out my given name. He asked the lady across the way from me if he could switch into the empty aisle seat..he buckled in, crisp and handsome in his civilian clothing that always bely the solider underneath. He reached across the aisle and clasped my hand as folks watched , smiled and speculated incorrectly….
We passed a good while as time carried us away to a different set of wings. Hugging goodbye in arrivals, information traded… I watched an American hero walk to his connecting flight and mused at the secret stories of all the people that vow to protect, save, nurse, nurture, teach, heal, help and shepherd their fellow beings.
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3 thoughts on “Hero

  1. Sweet jaysus, woman, but as I live and breathe, I am sitting here with tears rolling down my cheeks and into my beard. I knew most of this story and it never fails to move me to tears, but this telling of it is some how special since you and Sully are now together and this story shows how intertwined your lives have been Your story is about your American hero. I know you will demur, but I will say what I have said before. Newt Kai, YOU are MY American hero. Thank you for being the special person that you are and that so many of us love.

    With the greatest love and respect,

    BL

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It was difficult to read, but it shows how much of yourself you gave to them and to the work you did. You gave everything you had, heart and soul. For him to have stepped in to do what he did for you, down to keeping you sane and physically whole during that flight, shows that, yes, he’s a hero, but also that there’s something in you that inspires people to go above and beyond for you. It’s why your crew is all moving up to where you are. You’re their center, like the sun. Seeing your hero again in such an unexpected way brought back the memories strong enough that I could see everything as it happened, but it should also remind you that you have something special inside of you, and that you can use that to make this next chapter of your life something you couldn’t have dreamed of a year ago.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. ~teary eyed~
    So much loss, pain. But so much love & strength too.
    You are an amazing human being – as are the members of your crew & your American Hero’s.

    Liked by 1 person

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