Wednesday was a weird day and frankly, I don’t completely feel recovered from it yet.
Our friends were coming in for the night from Houston/Austin. Their band is currently touring and they made a pit stop in Philly on their way up to Canada. We’ve been really excited for their visit, but the past few days have been really hectic, so I wasn’t able to get the apartment cleaned up before that day. I got permission to leave work early to do a few last-minute chores. Initially, I planned on leaving around 2:30, but got out a little after 3 because there’s a lot of stuff that I need to wrap up at work.
While on the way home, my cousin texted me. “Good thing Luca got sick. The duck tour we were supposed to go on sank. I was going to take the 3 kids by myself. People are missing.”
For those of you who haven’t heard the news, one of those amphibious tour buses that runs in Philly was hit by a barge and sank in the Delaware River. 35 of the 37 passengers were rescued. Two, a girl of 16 and boy of 20, are still missing (although I heard this morning they believe they found the body of the girl).
As I processed her text, I became aware of the many helicopters buzzing overhead. I literally live one block from the river on the NJ side.
Although I had a million things to do at the apartment, things that I had been fretting about accomplishing in time before our guests arrived, I almost instinctively went to the waterfront. Maybe it was morbid curiosity. Maybe shock. I don’t know what brought me to the edge of the water, watching the flashing lights of the emergency vehicles across the way, watching the helicopters dip close to the water, and then ascend by into the sky, hovering, circling.
People from the nearby businesses were outside, tourists too. People were murmuring the details passed on from the news, maybe from people who saw it happen? A barge had hit the boat. There were two still missing. The ages were unclear–first they thought it was a 7 and 19 year old, gender unknown. Later, the news clarified they were 16 year-old girl and a 20 year-old boy.
Although seeing our friends was great and we had a fun night in Philly, I could not stop thinking about that boat, those people, the two still missing, somewhere in the Delaware River. I wondered what will happen to their families, whether there would be any hope for them, what their last minutes would be like. We took the speedline over the bridge and my heart sank as we looked out behind the glass at the water, blackened by the night. We went up on our roof to admire the view with those who had never seen it and I couldn’t help by watch the Coastguard boat that rocked back and forth over the crash site.
I can’t explain why this story has affected me so much. Maybe because the idea that it could have been my family members on that boat freaked me out. Maybe it’s the “in my backyard” reality of it that we can usually avoid when we watch and read about these stories on the news–when bad things happen in other towns, it is easier to believe they didn’t happen or would not happen to us. But now there are two missing, two probably dead, and they are waiting to be found or identified just one block away.
I already was walking around with some heavy feelings because of this, but then that same night around 1:30 a.m., our complex’s fire alarm sounding and we were all startled out of sleep. I absolutely HATE the fire alarms in our building. They send me into a sheer state of anxiety and panic and fear. I hate the frightened rush of getting the rabbits in their carriers, hate having to quickly decide what, if anything, we will bring. Most of the alarms have been malfunctions or small kitchen fires, but really, there is never anyway to know if this will be the “real” one or not. Especially because it’s a large, multi-unit building, you cannot easily verify if the drill is a false alarm, a prank, or if the apartment right next door is ablaze and so you must quickly scan your apartment to see what you would want to save in case this might be “it.” I hate the waiting. Hate feeling completely helpless while we wonder if everything we own is being destroyed as we stand on the adjacent concrete, utterly helpless.
That night was especially bad. Being asleep and then feeling like adrenaline was injected directly into my heart sent me into a shaky and incoherent rush. Both of the carriers were taken apart and so I tried to quickly reassemble them while our friends gathered their stuff. We were able to easily get Em and Joe in their carrier, but our foster, Mogwai, was no where to be found. With the alarm sounding over and over and over again, there is an added layer of urgency and panic and the more time passes while we try to push everyone out of the apartment, the more I begin to wonder “is this the real thing?”
I had to make the decision to leave Mogwai behind. Our friends took the other two and D tried one last time to find him. I ran out, barefoot and without my glasses, so I couldn’t even find my friends in the crowds and pockets of blurred faces. Not being able to see is probably one of the most frustrating and scary things ever. Add that to the fear that your husband is still inside a potentially on-fire building and one of your pets is also unaccounted for.
Donnie came down a few minutes later, empty-handed. I realize that we have to think of ourselves first, but honestly, knowing that I left an animal who cannot fend for itself in a potentially life-threatening situation is one of the most fucking horrible things I could imagine doing. The guilt of my decision into me as the alarm continued to sound.
After about 15-20 minutes, it was over. We went back inside. We let the rabbits out. And then the alarm started again. We decided to stay inside that time–at this point, it was clear there was a malfunction. But I could not turn off the feeling of fear and panic as we waited for it to shut off again.
Once everything had settled and it seemed pretty certain the alarm issues were over, everyone settled back to sleep. D passed out before I made it back to the bedroom. The majority of the guys seemed OK getting back to sleep. I sat in the bathroom, trying to breathe away the horrible stomach pains that came on. Finally I felt alright enough to lay down where I spent a long time trying to get calm. I still felt guilt; I still felt fear. I was half waiting for the alarm to go off again. And then I thought about the two still in the river, just a block away…
Yesterday was a hectic day at work, which help to distract me from these feelings; however, I couldn’t help but obsessively check the news to see if any new reports had come through about the crash. There were bits and pieces of information released: that the two, now almost certainly dead, were from Hungary and in the states for an English language course; that the Coast Guard’s hope had faded to find them alive…
I can’t explain why it’s been so important for me to get closure on this story–to know that they have been found, dead or alive, and returned to their families. I can’t help think about their loved ones, waiting another continent away, for something–anything–that could bring them hope. I hope they find peace soon…