Behind the Madness: The Airborne Toxic Event, Part 3


That’s how I felt, sitting there in that derelict tree, staring at a wasteland that was now underwater.

I wondered if there was anything left of me.

I wondered if the water would ever recede.

I wondered what I would find if it ever did.

It wasn’t long, however, before I saw a raft coming around the bend.  It was Hubby in a life jacket, rowing his way through the muck and debris.

Miscarriage is such a personal thing.  For some women, it is a blip.  A hiccup.  “They happen,” some might say.  For others, it is mind over matter.  “There was something wrong with the baby,” they reason.  And yet for women like me, it is a veritable disaster.  It is death, for sure, but with it dies hope of the most fragile kind.

For men, it is this death of hope that is the most severe.  There are some men who don’t understand.  But for a sensitive man like mine, it is watching his beloved friend experience something heartwrenchingly painful, tragic, and bloody.  And the emotional aftermath has its own cocktail of grief that affects both parties.  While it is something entirely different from losing a child, in its quiet, destructive process it is just as powerful for a couple of kids who “feel” so deeply.

“You have to come down,” he called from the raft.



“Just leave me here to die.”

“Not going to happen.”

“I’m not coming down.”

“What if I need you?”

I looked at him.  I knew the pressures he faced, the loneliness he felt, the chaos and turmoil going on in his own corner of these ruins.  Our lives had been overturned in so many ways.  More than losing Wesley, more than the miscarriage, more than we could handle outside of ourselves.  Yet, for some reason, catastrophe had a way of coming after us no matter how fast we ran.  Hubby was no exception.

I climbed down and into his raft, and we started planning our escape.

In two months, we could leave for Portland, Oregon, though neither of us cared if we lived to see the next day.  Still, it was a goal.  Perhaps if we could make it there, we could keep going.  We could go on. 

The weeks passed quickly as the water slowly receded.  We kept to ourselves, working quietly but together.  Only a few people knew what had happened, and we wanted it that way.  If we heard “Sorry” one more time, there was a mutual understanding that one or both of us would go insane.

But it was during these quiet weeks that the water receded enough for me to return to my little writing cave.  It hadn’t been swept away with the rest.  If anything, the water created deeper caverns, uncovering more creative gems.  Suddenly this tiny nook, hidden from the rest of the world, became a vast and inviting place.  The perfect place to get away from it all, without going anywhere at all.

In two months, I wrote 300 pages of a second novel, as the water evaporated along with my tears.

In those two months, and all summer long, Hubby had been going to school on the weekends for additional certification.  It was the first time I had ever been alone since we were married, and it was the worst possible timing.  But there was no use crying over things we couldn’t change.  He had to go, and I had to stay here.

I threw myself into writing and music.  At night, when these ruins become such a scary, formidable place, I blasted the music from every corner and crevasse.  And when I was especially lonely, I would climb that dead tree and allow myself to wonder what it would be like to fly away from here.  If the wounded bird could do it, why not me?

I would fall asleep listening to The Airborne Toxic Event, dreaming of a band I had never seen, of people I had never met, of fictional characters and places I had created.  In this way, I survived the worst of it.

Now it was July, and it was time to go.  I squinted in the harsh gray light filtering through the clouds above when I finally emerged from whatever imaginary place I had been.  The anniversary of Wesley’s birth and death had passed with me hiding from the sights and sounds of the July 4th Holiday, virtually ignoring the passing of time altogether.  Hubby had arranged for the necessary time off from work and school to take us Out West, to that promised land of beer and donuts that is Portland, Oregon.

Our flight was scheduled to leave late on a Friday afternoon.  We were packed and ready to go.

Before we left for the airport, I received a text message from my best friend.

Hey, we’re here at the music festival.  Going to see your band.

I sighed.  My heart was being pulled in two directions – West and North.  But I told her to have fun and take lots of pictures.  You can catch them another time, I told myself.  You’re going on vacation.

We checked in at the airport and made ourselves comfortable as we waited for our plane to board.

Except . . . there was no plane.

Our flight was delayed.  Indefinitely.

There was no one even at the gate to tell us what was going on.

We were just two of many passengers in a long, confused, and angry line of people wondering what we were supposed to do now.

Time was ticking away.  We only had a small window before we had to catch our next flight in Chicago.  Now it looked certain that plane was going to Portland without us.

In the middle of this chaos, I received another text message from my best friend.

It was a picture of another friend of ours at the music festival, smiling and chatting with none other than Mikel Jollett himself.

I gasped and cried to Hubby.  “Look what we’re missing!” I said.  “And now we can’t even leave!  Why, oh WHY didn’t we change our flight months ago?!”

Hubby was crushed.  “I’m so sorry,” he kept repeating.  “I’m so sorry.”

Looking back, I am rather embarrassed how childish I was at the airport.  Pacing about pouting, cursing at my phone, my friends, my band, myself.  Wondering why I ever thought I could escape disaster, or just escape this desolate heartbreaking existence that is my life.  Wiping away angry, bitter tears at my present situation – stuck at an airport while My Band was taking the stage just a few short miles away.

Then it hit me.

Look what we’re missing.  Why aren’t we there?

We could be.

When it became blatantly obvious we would miss our next flight, I proposed my idea to Hubby.  Let’s make a run for it, I said.  Let’s go to the music festival.  Even if we just make it for the last song.  Let’s go.

We were both desperate enough that we believed we had a chance.

When someone finally appeared at the desk to help us reschedule our flight, we quickly went through a short list of options.  Subsequent flights were overbooked, and layovers were brutal.  We finally settled on a direct flight early Monday morning.  We would have to cut our trip short by a few days, but at least we didn’t have to wait around at any airports.  And we could enjoy the weekend-long music festival in our hometown, starting with The Airborne Toxic Event.

We ran.  We literally sprinted through that airport.

We ran from the car to the festival.  In all likelihood, it was less than a half a mile, but it felt like twenty.

Our hearts were so hopeful.  Desperately hopeful, like always.  Stupidly hopeful.

We entered the gates just as they were leaving the stage.

We didn’t even see them.

Suddenly, we were gasping for air in a sea people, except now I felt as if I couldn’t breathe.  I was a complete and total mess of a human being, and I didn’t care what I looked like.  Let them stare.  My world was falling in around me.

We had just missed them.  And we had missed everything.

And now we couldn’t even leave.

And I had brought myself and Hubby into this chaotic mess, blindly pushing him because I thought we just might have a shot. 

Because I just had to see them.

I just had to see them.

I just had to see them.

I just had to see them.

I just had to see them.

I knew that they’d break me in two.

And that’s precisely what happened.

We wandered through the festival as I bit back tears, cursing myself for caring so much.  Wasn’t I numb just hours ago?  How could I let myself care so much about some stupid band?

We tried to enjoy the headlining band, the last one of the night.  But I felt like I was being crushed to death, knowing they were here.  Somewhere.  Didn’t they know I was, too?

How could this happen?!

Hubby followed me to the river, where I sat on the concrete steps.  Jane’s Addiction was playing in the distance, and the crowd was in a fervor.  But here in this quiet, isolated place, I realized I was trapped.  There was no escaping these ruins.  It was as if someone had put gates and bars on my sadness, trapping me inside my own head and heart and the heartbreaking tragedies that followed us everywhere.  I began to scold myself.  How foolish it was to think I could escape.  How foolish to convince Hubby, too, with his unfailing support and lifelong goal just to make me happy.  I had brought him here to this catastrophic disappointment.  I was responsible.  This was all my fault.

If you think perhaps our reaction to missing The Airborne Toxic Event was over-the-top excessive, perhaps you need to take a closer look at the couple sitting on those concrete steps by the river.

A year ago, we lost our son.  Two months ago, I had a miscarriage.  Two hours ago, we thought we were going on a much-needed vacation.  Two minutes ago, we thought we had a shot of seeing our favorite band perform.

Now, there was no band.  There was no escape.  It would have to wait for another two days.  Everything was put on hold, and our hopes and dreams and happiness was put on hold indefinitely.

Why hope for anything at all?  We would never get anything we ever wanted.  Never.

But something tripped my memory.  Some little light bulb in the back of my mind turned on, flooding a darkened world with a faint realization.

I checked my phone for confirmation of what I thought to be true.

They were scheduled to perform Sunday night two hours away from here.

These days of taking disappointment lying down were over.  This feeling of being trapped, of feeling helpless and hopeless and at the mercy of Life and Death – I was through with it all.  I was taking my life back.  I was taking control.  I was going to get what I wanted.  Nothing could stop me now.

I was going to see My Band.

to be continued . . . .


4 thoughts on “Behind the Madness: The Airborne Toxic Event, Part 3

  1. I “listen” raptly as you breathlessly spill intimacies and agonies…and survival amidst tragedy and heartache. The end of each installment leaves me longing for more, the emotion it evokes, the content, and your writing style itself that makes my heart go pitter-patter (allusion in your essay to “Somewhere After Midnight” lyrics– “I just had to see them…I knew that they’d break me in two.” Colleen, I adore your blog! I want to read that book!!!!!

    • Thank you Sarah. I’m just a big Airborne nerd. My book needs editing badly. I wrote it when my work still wasn’t measuring up to my good taste. Actually I’m not sure that’s ever happened yet. But my ambitions are good, Ira Glass!

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