Authors: Holly Peterson
To my four parents in their starring roles as role models: Sally for teaching empathy, Pete for personifying drive, Joan for dispensing wisdom at every turn, and Michael for setting a high intellectual bar for all of us.
The taxi driver took off down Seventh Avenue as if he'd just mainlined a pound of crystal meth. This guy was on a kamikaze mission, reckless even by New York standards where taxi drivers charge down the streets with no regard for their passengers' lives.
“Slow down, sir, please!” I yelled through the opening in the glass partition as I contemplated ditching this driver at the next corner.
He slammed on his brakes. “Okay, lady! I'll slow it down a little. Yeah.” But when the light turned green, he began weaving between cars and playing chicken to blow past the giant city buses. We brushed a bike messenger who retaliated with a fisted punch on the trunk. I again waffled about getting out, but it was that bustling time of early rush hour just before the taxi shift change, when I wouldn't be able to get another, so I stayed put and latched my seat belt. Besides, my kids were waiting for me at home, and I was already half an hour late leaving the office.
I sat strapped in the ratty backseat, tossed back and forth down the length of Manhattan's Seventh Avenue like a Ping-Pong ball.
This car is going to crash
The lethal night of the plane accident came back to me in waves, starting with the instinctual pangs telling me not to step up from the tarmac onto the slippery, rickety staircase of the little six-seater.
This plane is not made for all this stormy snow,
I had said to myself that night. And I was right.
So much of my life had gone according to plan since then, much of it mapped out in a two-decades'-long fit to fix wrongsâthe most evil happening on the eve of my sixteenth birthday that winter night, eighteen years and four months ago.
MY FATHER HAD
been planning the trip all year. He had told Mom it was his chance to spend a few days one-on-one with his only child, teaching me the secrets of ice fishing at his favorite spot on Diamond Lake up north. He'd been talking about this as long as I could remember, and, finally, a week before my sixteenth birthday, Mom said I was old enough to go.
Dad had handed in his boarding pass outside, and he came onto the small commuter plane in Montreal, dusting snow off his beard and shoulders once he managed to jam his huge frame into the seat. I knew Dad saw the fear in my face and tried his best to reassure me. All I could think about was how small and fragile that plane seemed against the howling winds outside. Deep down that voice was telling me this was a bad idea, but I kept my mouth shut at first. I didn't want to look like a frightened little girl.
Dad smelled of metal and cold air, a scent that further unsettled me because it was so far from his usual salty warmth. I rubbed his arm to chase away the odor and he smiled down at me.
On the plane, I thought danger was nearby but I didn't want to scare anybody. Others have certainly had that same feeling before they board a plane with severe weather forecast in the flight path, wondering if they should resist getting on because this could be the one that goes down. A moment's hesitation before they step over that little gap and feel the rush of cold outside air between the boarding ramp and the aircraft front galley.
Is my mind playing tricks or do I somehow
this plane is going down? Am I having some kind of psychic experience? Am I going to be on the local news as the one person who survived only because I didn't get on at the last minute?
The whole body stiffens on the ramp for a moment to stall and consider the possibility.
No. That's ridiculous. Screw it. I'm getting on. Statistics say it was more dangerous to drive to the airport than to get on this plane.
At least most often it goes like that. I guess you don't need to be clairvoyant to know that during a blizzard, when a lumberjack pilot in a plaid shirt working for a low-budget commuter airline in Canada's outback says, “It's just a little snow,” you get out of the twin-engine Cessna and run for your life.
MY PLAN SINCE
been to run for my life. Run away from a boyfriend who kept traveling too far, run into a marriage that I thought would work. Rush to have kids to cement the union. Rush home to them today. This plan means I've tried to solve everything quickly before all hell descended on me again. Trauma is like that. It smashes into your life out of the blue and just lingers, dripping like a broken egg.
The kamikaze taxi lurched me back into the New York present, and the frayed seat belt snapped into place, jerking me hard. “Please slow down, sir,” I yelled again at the driver. “That light was clearly turning red, and you were never going to make it, so you don't need to speed up just to slam the brakes.”
“Okay, lady. Thanks for the driving tip. All I need at the end of my shift.” This time he took off two full seconds before the light even turned green. I clenched my teeth and again started to feel that old tingle I'd felt in my bones as the pilot had swung the plane out of the boarding area some eighteen years earlier.
THE ENGINES HAD
revved up as he made a ninety-degree tight turn at the end of the snowy runway. I gripped my armrests, imagining how my funeral would be. Matching father-daughter coffins. That's what it would look like. I blinked hard against the image.
Dad seemed oblivious to my fears. “You don't actually sit outside and fish all day. You can leave the lines in and then go check them,” Dad went on. “You're gonna love it, Allie Lamb. No trout tastes like this anywhere in the world. This lake is crystal clear in the winter; beneath five feet of ice those damn fish still manage to .Â .Â .”
“Dad,” I rasped. “The snow, it's just .Â .Â .”
He held my hand and kissed my forehead. “It's okay, honey. A dozen guys I know have flown to this paradise in weather like this. All good.”
The plane made a high-pitched whine as we sped down the runway into a cloudy, billowy, late-afternoon haze. The takeoff was absolutely normal, save a few little bumps when we made the initial ascent, and I let out a small breath. Dad patted my thigh. “You see, honey. It's all fine. We'll be above the clouds soon and see the sun.” Our craft coasted up toward the sky.
OUTSIDE THE WINDOW
of the taxi, I could see we were now speeding west across Forty-Second Street, past a seedy commercial section of town, heading toward the flashing lights of Times Square and standstill traffic. I said through the glass, “You might want to loop over to Ninth .Â .Â .”
The guy slammed on the brakes and turned around. “Look, lady, I'm gonna get you there.” Two blocks later, we were parked in traffic. I did the math: it would take me about twenty minutes to walk, but if this traffic jam broke after five minutes, then it would only take fifteen more to reach home. Same difference. Same exploding anxiety over something with the same result that I couldn't change. I sat back against the seat again, frustrated and sweaty, my hands clammy from the plane ride down memory lane.
“YOU'RE NEVER GOING
to forget the first time the fish bite, it's so exciting out there, the nature so delicate,” Dad yelled over the whirl of the propellers, still gaining altitude. He cradled me in the crook of his elbow and kissed the top of my head.
My dad couldn't contain his excitement about introducing me to his greatest joy, and I couldn't spoil everything for him, so intoxicating was his commitment to seek that thrill with his own daughter. I wanted to warn the pilot that I
we were in serious trouble, but I kept silent. I
we shouldn't even take off in this weather. Maybe I was too young to protest, to be taken seriously. And I loved my dad too much to drag him through my worries. Downers were anathema to everything he stood for.
But there was that unmistakable ice on the wing. I'd seen something on TV about ice buildup that doomed a big plane, and I wasn't sure if it was the same thing. Or was it just beads of water pooled out there that would slide off somehow? Or was my mind conjuring up troubles? It sure looked like little bubbles of ice were popping up. Maybe the lights on the wing were just reflecting off beads of water. But would there be water at this altitude and at this temperature? I had reminded myself the takeoff was absolutely normal. Surely my mind was playing tricks.
It was getting dark and the lights on the wings were flashing intermittently so I couldn't tell how bad the storm was. The snow socked us in with zero visibility. We did not see one ray of that sun Dad had promised me.
“Dad. It's, like, pouring snow. Are you sure .Â .Â .”
“Allie. Don't worry, we are doing just fine.”
Ten minutes passed, and the plane dipped into a mini wind pocket and then jerked up again. It felt like we just dropped fifteen feet, hit something hard, and bounced right back up. The metal on the wings rattled. I gasped.
“Hey, pull those belts extra-tight back there; it's getting pretty damn windy,” the pilot yelled to us. “We're beginning our descent, but it's gonna be bumpy.”
The wings now alternated up and down like a seesaw with our passenger capsule in the middle. Dad tried to get my mind off things. “What about the summer? I don't want you selling T-shirts at that ratty shop downtown. Scooping ice cream just off my dock will be easier to get to and .Â .Â .”
He paused and looked out the window; the last bump was so big he had to rest his arm on his head for protection. “Now I know teenagers veer toward doing whatever their friends are doing downtown, but .Â .Â .” Dad's chatter went on, with him talking faster and faster, while the teeny cabin shook so much his words came out all jumpy.
I think he might have been scared too and wanted to distract us both. He kept looking out the window, pausing, then talking again quickly. “I sure don't want you in cars of any teenagers, so I'd have to drive you, and that won't work for my early morning work schedule .Â .Â .” I don't know what was really going on for him. God, the number of times I've wondered. How I wish to have been able to ask him. I'll never know if he
at that point.
My father grabbed my hand. The plane seemed to fall twenty feet and then lunge forward.
The pilot yelled. “We're descending fast. Hold on!” Dad's eyes grew large. He then knew what I knew. For a millisecond, part of me felt relief that my fears were justified, but then seeing him anxious did anything but quell them.
“Hold on, honey!!!” he screamed at me.
I'd never seen fear in his eyes before. Ever. I screamed. I think everyone did, but I'm not sure. Seconds later, metal crunched everywhere around me.
I remember every jolt of force throwing me forward as we bumped along the icy grass. They say I must have blacked out for a while after the crash, but I know I remember it. Blood sloshed around my mouth. I smelled the burned fibers of the synthetic royal blue seat fabric.
After we slowed to a deceiving, gentle stop: total silence.
“Dad!” I screamed. “Dad!”
Wind whistled through the cracks in the metal, and snow started whirling into the now shattered front windshield. It was way too calm inside. And next I knew, maybe three full minutes later, the skidding sound of vehicles outside the craft penetrated the eeriness inside. A man in a yellow suit with reflective silver stripes started coaxing me through the wreckage, the gusts of snowfall obscuring the beam of his flashlight. I couldn't see my father or the pilot. I knew they were hurt. I didn't hear them and they weren't taking care of me, the child, in the wreckage. And I had the sudden sense they were dead.
Once they pried open the window, the men asked if we could move. I was curled upside down and waited for my father to answer.
That was the worst moment of all: the silence after I asked again. I would have actually been relieved to hear him screaming in pain at that point.
Freezing wind was now howling through the front window and the sides of the open plane. The men asked again if we could move, if anyone heard them. I finally said out loud, “I'm okay.”
“Good. That's good. Can you try to get through this window?”
“I don't know if anyone else is okay.”
“C'mon, sweetie, we'll get them; you just get yourself through the window. Undo your seat belt if you can. There's room for you to get out from under the seat. Crawl through right here.” The top of my hand was cut badly and my bones felt rattled, but, as far as I could tell, nothing was broken. The red light of the ambulance siren reflected off the snow and metal, blinding me every time it whipped around like a lighthouse beam. I did not want to leave that plane.
I shook my head. “I gotta get my father. I gotta get my dad!”
“We're going to get him for you. We have to get you out first; you are next to the exit.” He grabbed my upper arm with one hand and supported my lower arm with the other. “Can you get out this way?” I thought that metal had somehow gotten lodged in my mouth. My tongue felt jagged, shattered teeth on the right side. I remember worrying the edges were going to cut my tongue.
“Where's my dad! Where's my dad!” I screamed, the taste of iron from the blood in my mouth now thick and soupy. My head filled with pounding wrath.
How dare Dad let us take off.
And how dare he let two other people from back home get on the plane with us.
“HEY, LADY, YOU
gonna pay or what? What are you doin' so quietly back there, knitting an entire sweater? I don't got all day. We're here already,” the taxi driver said, knocking on the partition to stir me out of my trance. In a flash, I was back in the taxi, shaking with a rage I hadn't felt in years.
How dare he die on me so young.
I had to wipe my trembling hand on my jeans before I could open my wallet and pay for the sickening ride.