I told him I was broken and he responded, “Aren’t we all?”

***Disclaimer folks, this is a long one.  But, I’m the storyteller so I get to tell it in as many words as I want.

Until last weekend there were two instances that ripped my heart in half.  The most traumatic moment of my life was when I had to tell my Daddy that Ma had died and then hearing his agony in the minutes that felt like centuries after.  The second happened in September 2011 when my daughter was rafting the Gauntlet (ie the full length of the Gauley River).  There was a fatality on her trip and for a short period of time I had no idea if she was safe.  Both very different events, both utterly devastating to me.  And then there was this Saturday…

Last week I had felt like Ma was close at hand, just hovering over my shoulder.  Thoughts of her haunted me.  It has become commonplace in the past year, that when new things and new people make their way into my life, she stands just on the fringe of my awareness – observing but never becoming fully involved.  I kept writing it off as her spirit trying to pry because I have a new and wonderful boyfriend.  But, when Daddy told me Friday night that he had dreamed about her for four straight days – he told me so with a sense of trepidation that actually brought tears to my eyes and concerns to my heart.  Yeah, I am that person.  I believe that those who loved us through our lives can sometimes breach the rift once they pass away and touch us, guide us one way or another – either through stray thoughts, dreams or feelings.  I also believe there are angels among us and they come to us in various forms.

Saturday felt “off” – I could not get myself into a groove.  But when Sam yelled across the hanger and asked if I wanted to be on the first load with other students I said sure.  My exit was crap (always is).  The chute deployed with a line twist (I have only had one jump that did not involve a line twist so it was no surprise).  I was able to come out of the line twist and enjoy the ride.  It was my first jump without a radio.  Only “I” was responsible for myself.  As I had been instructed by Sam, I made my way over the river and played to my heart’s content.  180s, slight flare, testing my ability to bring my toggles to the desired location for landing – straight out having fun.  I followed my landing pattern, lined up properly while coming in, had my arms high above me as I should.  I passed over a just-landed-Sam who had a smile on his face and shaking his head – that was a confidence boost in itself.  When I felt that it was time, I flared.  For the first time in any jump I was able to flare, straight down the middle, pulled my fists to my crotch area and it was a perfect flare.  My canopy did not wobble, it was square and I hung perfectly under it while keeping a constant flare.  One issue – I flared maybe fifteen feet too soon.  So, boys and girls, what happens when you flare (albeit with good form) too high?  I can tell you – those be some amazing air brakes.  And, while paused there in the sky, I was able to have one complete thought – this is going to hurt my ass.  Remember as a kid when you would sing “Little Bunny Foo Foo” and you got to the part where you “Bopped Him On The Head”?  Well, my landing felt like a “Bopped Him On The Head”.  I landed flat on my butt (boop) and then slid a little.  Although the landing was rough, I felt (overall) the jump was a success.  No radio, complete flare, injury-free landing.  Sure there was tons to work on but that was one heckuva ride!  And like a five-year old seeking approval, I asked Bobby if he had seen my jump (thinking that now that we were dating maybe he would not want to watch for fear of worrying too much) – and he had.  As he explained, he knew I would come to him with questions and how could he answer me if he had not watched.  Everyone was happy for me that I was able to flare properly for the first time (although too high, still an accomplishment for me).  I was figuring on getting a few more jumps in this weekend because I was daydreaming of non-student jumps with Bobby.

There was a bit of a crowd in the hanger upon my return.  Tandems had arrived and students were wanting to manifest.  It took a few minutes to sort everything out but then everyone had a game plan and the day’s manifest was coming together.  Since we started seeing each other (more times than not) I can turn around and find Bobby sitting on the little couch behind me at the manifest desk.  I always smile because it is a comfort to see him there.  I had just met his sister that morning and we had hit it off.  I felt maybe the day was finally pulling together.  I sat down next to him and asked him if was going to jump.  Actually, I kind of prodded him to jump because I know he wanted to work on things like honing his video skills.  So, I was trying to encourage.  He said no, he wasn’t feeling it.  A few loads went up and as I manifested the next load I was one or two shy of a full set and Bobby pipped up, “put me on!”  I smiled.  I know he loves to jump and I love to watch him.  Everyone has a certain face they make during their landing – there is the Garrido grimace and the Phil lip bite.  Bobby has this grin as he comes in for his landing.  I have loved watching that grin on his face since the first time I watched him land, the look of joy.  He walked away from his locker and onto the field, kissed me for good luck and boarded the plane.  I told him to be safe.

I went back to work on the manifest and chatted with customers who were prepping for their tandems.  Then, JP (the pilot) came across the scratchy intercom, giving notice that there would be a jumper in the sky soon.  I picked up two cameras and walked to the field.  Bobby’s long-range lens is great for catching exits.  As I heard the engine cut, I zoomed in to see his freefall but then I lost track of him (which is not uncommon for me).  I lowered the camera but trying to find him and not seeing a deployed chute felt like it took forever.  Then I heard the crisp sound of a deployed chute and saw the blue color of his open canopy.  Even from the ground, you can hear a chute as it deploys.  It reminds me of being a kid and helping Ma fold laundry.  We would come to the flat sheets and have to shake them out before folding them.  Shaking out a sheet makes a distinctive crisp “snap” sound – a chute opening reminds me of that very sound.  So I heard the chute and I saw the chute and I saw Bobby under it.  My heart eased a little and I realized that every time he jumps from this day forward, I will be filled with apprehension until his toes touch grass.  Suddenly, without warning, Bobby started spinning and I was trying to understand what stunts he was working on because the spin he was in seemed to be too much, too steep.  I may have called out, in my mind I called out.  And then Andy was standing next to me.  I kept saying “oh God” and Andy kept saying “cut away Bobby, cut away”.  It was the first cutaway I had ever seen as it occurred.  The parachute, like a feather caught by a gust of wind, stayed aloft and started to make its slow decent, without Bobby attached.  The world suddenly went to slow motion.  I know it probably took maybe three seconds for the reserve to be fully deployed but, for me, I can still see in my mind the blue banner of a chute floating to earth without Bobby attached and his being nowhere in sight.

I have wondered if the reason why the reserve is white is kind of like a “surrender” flag – you fly it in the face of your enemy in hopes of a safe meeting.  Maybe the white canopy is a signal to the earth that the jumper is only asking for a safe meeting as well?  Whatever the case, my heart slowed a fraction once I saw the canopy full and stable.  I made a half turn, setting the cameras in a chair, and started walking down the field to where the main chute seemed to be slowly headed.  As Bobby approached for his landing, he dropped his cutaway cables and I got a visual on where the bag had fallen.  I was setting about the task of picking everything up for him.  As he flew, just over my left shoulder, I turned to watch him land – feeling better that he would soon be back on the ground.  As he flared, it seemed as if he didn’t even slow down.  I cringed, I knew it was going to be bad.  I watched him try to lead with his bad leg because that is the leg he favors, I watched him roll and come to a stop.  I held my breath.  He was not getting up.  I ran to him, helping him unclasp the harness.  Sam and Garrido brought him to his feet.  He was unable to stand on his own.

***When going back to look at the video Bobby was taking at the time of his jump, we found out that he had a line over (that means that when the chute opened, one of the lines you usually see coming from the chute to the jumper somehow deployed over top of the chute, making it sort of collapse at the end).  The line over caused the canopy to go into a spin.  Bobby was already dealing with a line twist (envision when you were a kid on the playground on a swing set – you would spin round and round on the swing until the chains were twisted the whole way up and then you would kick your legs back and forth until it spun you round and round and cleared the chains – same concept).  Although the line over cleared, the centrifugal force the spin it put him in would not allow him to clear out of the line twist.  At that time he was forced to cutaway.  That means he pulled two cords, one to cut the lines to the main chute and the second deployed the reserve chute.  The reserve Bobby had was from his swooping days and was a bit smaller than it should have been.  Because of it being smaller, Bobby came in for landing faster than he would have preferred.  Because of a previous accident that resulted in his lower femur being broken in three places, his pelvis requiring two plates and some screws to be put back together – he was more susceptible to an injury in his left leg.  Bobby leads with his left and it was a natural instinct to put down his left leg at landing but the speed/force of the landing was hard and the bone broke.

So the angels in their many forms… When I had my bad tumble a few weeks back, the first person I saw running to me was Melissa.  She made sure I was ok and talked me through my humiliation.  When I unclasped Bobby’s rig, I looked up, thinking someone will help make sense of this for me and although I never saw her arrive that morning, there was Melissa, once again running to me in a time of need.  She has always been one of my angels.  Garrido and Sam held Bobby up as I ran around like a mad woman – put on shoes, grab wallet, grab phones, grab grab grab.  I handed off cameras to Ryan and then directed him to the cash box and explained – there is a lot of money in there, if someone other than Andy, Garrido or Ralph tries to touch that box, beat them to death.  His response, “ok”.  For his helping me in a time of dire need and for coming to see Bobby in the hospital, I will forgive him for the incident involving the tippage of my camper.  He, too, was an angel.   I was barking “who is driving”?  and Melissa was there.  “Can we get him over to the car?”  “NO”  someone else barked “just drive it up the field to him”.  Without hesitation Melissa had her SUV sitting in the grass in front of the hanger.  She was our ambulance.   Dave called ahead to the ER at Cabell Huntington Hospital and we were granted immediate entrance through a back door of sorts.  And here is where the “hurry up and wait” started.   Cabell was on trauma alert that night and it was a Saturday during a warm month.  Later, I would learn that something like eight massive traumas came in within fifteen (or so) minutes.  At one point, while we were still on a gurney in the hallway, I had tears in my eyes and I would look away (trying to be the strong girlfriend).  He was in pain and I felt ineffective in trying to do anything for him.  Bobby looked up at me with a smile unique to him, took my hand and said, “Don’t cry sweetheart.”  Which, of course, made the tears finally spill over.  He smiled again and said: “I think we should buy a boat.”  Sigh.  That’s my Bobby.  Of course, I would insist on driving said boat.

After a bit, Bobby was sent for X-rays.  As they wheeled Bobby from Exam Room 8, tears started to fall uncontrollably.  I would wipe them away and they would return.  It was an endless fountain.  And because a high volume of traumas is generally a magnet for the odd and bizarre –  while waiting for Bobby’s return I was confronted with a zombie (complete with a shuffle-drag of one foot and partial scalping due to an ATV accident).  He stood in the doorway and stared at me.  Had he muttered “brains” I would have pelted him with a bedpan.  Because my stomach must be connected directly to my nervousness, once Bobby had left for X-rays I made my way to the bathroom across the hall and donated the contents of my stomach to Cabell Huntington Hospital.  I needed a drink of something to clear the palate.  Standing in front of the machines, fidgeting with the money that refused to go in the machine, I had some young man open the men’s restroom door and whisper “heeeey. heeeeeyyyy.  come here.”  Absolutely no end to the entertainment folks!  WAS there a full moon?

It was determined that Bobby’s femur was broken right at the neck and surgery should be performed.  We spoke with Dr. Douglas Tice.  Love him.  The man had roadrash on his arm from a road biking accident in Arizona.  He understood Bobby’s active lifestyle and opted that instead of a hip replacement he would aggressively try to save the actual bone.  The reason for that is that a hip replacement generally has a lifespan of twenty(ish) years.  Dr Tice preferred to try to brace up and heal the original bone which would allow for better mobility and would last longer.  The one thing we have to worry about is Avascular Necrosis (AVN).  That means if the blood flow in the bone is lost due to the injury, the bone will die off.  If that happens, Bobby will then require a hip replacement.  The surgery was performed on Sunday morning.  It took just a little over an hour.  Dr Tice came out to explain the surgery and what to expect in the upcoming weeks.  He drew me a picture that showed:  two screws at the head of the femur to stabilize and heal the bone, the plate next to the bone for support and two screws through the shaft to hold it all in place.

The surgery was Sunday morning, he was up on crutches Sunday night.  Our hospital time together was not as heavy as it should have been.  We joked, carried on and had nurses giggling at every opportunity.  A number of friends came to visit Bobby and they kept him upbeat.  There was one incident – I had just finished helping him get cleaned up and was dumping the tub of water into the commode.  When I flushed it a volcano of poop and toilet paper erupted from the shower drain.  Seriously, a volcano!  After a fussing at the nurses’ station regarding my fear of his getting an infection because of fecal matter in the air – they finally moved him to a new room.  In the interim, a nurse walked in and handed me fifteen hospital dollars for my inconvenience.  Bobby looked at me and said, “You are the only woman I know who could get comped at a hospital.”

I bought some really bad food in the cafeteria with those bucks.  Not sure that I was truly comped in that ordeal… lol

I learned a great deal about Bobby in the few days at the hospital.  I can repeat his entire medical history by memory now.  I know that changing his dosage of insulin can really piss him off.  Even though I know he was in pain he always found a smile for me.  We traded stories, snuggled in bed to watch my friend Bruce win his first Tony award, and giggled like fools once when I was trying to put him back in bed.  We are around a month into this dalliance of a relationship we have.  I think we skipped steps 2 through 23 in the relationship handbook while dealing with his injury.  I don’t care though.  I think that people come into your lives at the right time for the right reasons.  We started this journey at exactly the right moment and I am so glad I was able to be there for him during all of this.  He is home now.  Has been here since Tuesday evening.  I took the week off from work to get him settled in.  We have run errands and set up PT and blood work.  Yesterday we went for a drive to Point Pleasant, stopped by the Mothman statue.  Bobby has a hand in that statue, he helped cut the wings.  He then took me to meet the artist.  What a joy.  But, that is another blog.

Believe that everything happens for a reason. If you get a chance – take it. If it changes your life – let it. Nobody said it would be perfect or easy, they just said it would be worth it.

4 replies »

  1. sometimes the most traumatic experiences in life force you to open yourself up to the things a “normal” you would turn away from or think twice about. those moments of vulnerability where you’re truly acting and feeling on instinct are the basis for the best friendships and lifelong relationships. skipping a few steps doesn’t matter hell how many times have we done this between us michelle lol we should know these things aren’t planned or even have rules. i’m so happy to see a blog from you and i can’t wait to see you and bobby at the field. expect an enormous hug! love ya!

  2. Michelle, what a great story..You sure have a way with words..I can hear the love you have for Bob, in the way you relate to all that has happened in the last few wks…I can also tell that you are full of love for everything around you…I think you are a great find for Bob..I also think West Va. Skydivers and all the folks you come in contact with leave with a smile…You just seem to love life…I hope you don’t mind me saying you remind me so much of Meledy Johnson..She has the same love for life, and you two have that same infectious smile…..I know you Mom is so very proud of you…You are indeed a very special young lady..Thank you for the Blessing of You….Phil Sr.

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