Sunday, June 21, 2009
The Son and His guardian Angel
This morning my son and his lovely wife,Jen, came by to tell me about their terrifying attempt to fly home last night. The weather was iffy but they tried anyway. Their story was breath-taking. They flew sideways, horizontally, vertically, dashing toward the ground, being sucked toward the heavens. He is living proof that you just aren't going to die until it is your TIME! No matter how blatantly you tempt fate, it just doesn't happen. This is a story I wrote about him last year.
He landed on the earth just as Apollo Seven took off.
I should have known.
It was the year the hippie counterculture was alive in San Francisco, Bobby and Martin were assassinated, there were raised fists during the National Anthem at the Olympics in Mexico City, and the only president who would ever resign the office in shame was elected. The new baby's uncle was somewhere in the Mekong Delta doing something that had to do with supply routes. His mother secretly wondered if she had any business bring a child into the world that was clearly going to pot. Literally.
When Rob was a baby he was so sweet that his mother carried him around everywhere and her friends were sure he’d never learn to walk because of it. He would turn his hands backward and press the backs of his arms close in order to mold his little body as fluidly as he possibly could to his mother’s torso. He would bury his face in her neck and fall asleep when she rocked him.
As he grew, he happily began to enjoy the world around him. He was still a gentle soul and crept into bed between his mommy and daddy every night. When they tried to reason with him about the necessity of staying in his own bed, he would simply say, “But I love you.”
He began to plan his future at an early age. Early on he aspired to be a garbage collector. It was that big noisy truck that captured his fancy. When he realized he’d have to touch actual garbage, he changed his ambition to something less icky; football. He had seen a picture of his daddy in a football uniform and he wanted to be like daddy. It wasn’t long before he saw a football guy on television get the bejeebies knocked out of him and he revised his thinking toward something less potentially painful; the medical profession. It seemed much safer. A few months later, after he barfed on his pediatrician during a throat swab, he rededicated his life to art. As a rule, artists did not get hurt or barfed on and the job wasn’t too icky.
So when did this gentle soul turn into to Evel Kanievel? I believe he was about nine when I first came home from the grocery store and found him on the roof. That was about the time he became curious about how various items looked when they were on fire. He also enjoyed putting assorted items in the street to see what they looked when they were run over by cars and trucks. This child was going to require lots of supervision.
He was also nine when he opened the shower door with a karate kick and the non-safety glass shattered and cut his leg so deeply that the muscle and an artery were completely severed. We were all next door and I had sent him home to take a shower. Suddenly I had a feeling that I needed to check on him. An angel tapping on my shoulder , perhaps? As I walked in the front door, I heard the glass break, and I was there to hold his leg together while the paramedics came. As the emergency room doctor put the last of fifty-seven stitches in his leg, he told me that he probably wouldn’t have been able to make it to the door to call for help if I hadn’t been nudged by that angel.
He has since given that angel a workout, and fortunately she hasn’t given up on him yet.
One dark and stormy winter evening during rush hour he went white water rafting down a busy four-lane street in a torrential Southern California rainstorm. Twelve year old Rob confessed later, after I found his dripping clothes on the washing machine, that he just couldn’t keep his blow-up raft to the side of the street. It kept going out into the traffic. Gray hair.
While relaxing on the beach one lovely summer day, I noticed the Huntington Beach lifeguard running into the water. “Uh oh,” I thought. “Someone’s in trouble.” You guessed it. Rob was pulled , exhausted, from a rip tide. I noticed my second gray hair later that day.
While camping at Lake Isabella near the Kern River, he and his friend Mike went out to explore. Along the way, he leapt over what he thought was a mound of dirt, which turned out to be a hundred foot drop near the dam. He landed about ten feet down on a ledge and wind milled his arms backward to keep himself from plunging to the bottom of the dry gorge. Mike helped him to safety. There was a sign nearby announcing the number of days it had been since anyone died in the rapids. Nothing about any hundred-foot cliffs.
Then came the Army years.
Eighteen year olds messing around with nuclear missiles that stand two stories tall and contain thirteen thousand pounds of solid rocket fuel is a recipe for disaster. Indeed, two years before Rob was assigned to the Pershing II crew on a base in Germany, one of these missiles blew, killing every soldier in the motor pool. As a member of the Pershing crew he was told of this event and shown photographs of the carnage that a missile full of rocket fuel can do. This was on his mind one day while on a maneuver, when the missile began to smoke. This was NOT supposed to happen and understandably, the boys panicked. He quickly flipped the off switch and joined his team mates as they ran in wild-eyed terror away from the behemoth. The smoking stopped. Surely that angel told him to flip the switch. On another occasion, still in Germany, they were taking the missiles out on maneuver, and one veered off the narrow, muddy road and sort of oozed to the ground, landing on its side. The boys in the battalion gently placed sand bags around it as they waited for a crane to hoist it back on the road. Sandbags versus a Pershing Missile full of solid rocket fuel? No way. Sandbags and a guardian angel versus the missile? Simple.
Surprisingly enough, he made it to adulthood.
He married a beautiful and very brave woman. Together they climbed Half Dome and stood on the top in the wind. They climbed icebergs in Alaska, and sailed, alone and strapped to their deck, through a perfect storm somewhere south of St. Lucia in the Caribbean.
They once sailed through a pod of whales in the Sea of Cortez. The whales played with them, rocking their small boat. Rob has a video of two of the whales swimming out from their boat at a forty-five degree angle, then rounding in toward each other as if they were doing a choreographed water ballet, and then turning, still in unison to swim toward the boat at great speed. (Here the camera shows the sky and the deck of the boat and there is a lot of noisy commotion.) Just as the huge things got to them, they swooped under them, almost turning the boat over.
Rob took flying lessons, bought a plane and in four years of flying has come close to crashing twice. He nearly killed himself and his first three passengers by taking off with an overloaded plane on a hot day. He barely made it over the trees at the end of the little runway. I know about this adventure. I was there helping to cause the overload. He is still flying and his guardian angel is still on the job.
Then the most dangerous thing happened to him. His seemingly robustly healthy, and very brave wife, who was only 34 years old, had a heart attack and died. Just died. Right out of the blue. I have never feared for his life more than I did then. But he is recovering and will continue to do so for the rest of his life.
He has a beautiful new wife now. She is trying to be brave. He has convinced her to take up motorcycling.
They have bought two big ol’ Harley Davison motorcycles. OK, dear guardian angel. Do your thing!