Tuesday, May 05, 2009

10 Years Ago

May 3, 4 and 5 are never my favorite days of the year. They bring back memories of close calls, catastrophic destruction, life cut short, death and regret.

May 3rd 1999. I had agreed to drive to a corporate meeting in Dallas with my colleague Ron. Ron was not a big fan of flying and figured the drive to Dallas from Kansas City was not that bad, especially for two. What the heck I thought, might be fun. The trip was long but not real eventful until around 6:30 that evening.

We had not left until later in the PM, so supper time found us in Oklahoma City. We decided to stop at a filling station and fill our car, grab a bite and change drivers. I noted we were actually in Moore, OK. "Ron", I said as I got into the driver's seat of the company issued Ford Taurus, "looks like they are going to get a good storm here soon". The sky was rapidly darkening, rumbles were heard in the distance. "Good thing we are headed south", Ron mumbled as we took off and merged on the highway.

Within the hour, the place where we stopped, along with a good chunk of Moore, OK, did not exist any longer, blown away by a dreaded F5 tornado.

May 4th 1999. I hate corporate meetings, this one in May 1999 was one of the worst. I was getting tired of my job. The company was changing, the spirit we once had was sapped as new management changed from "creating magic moments" to "creating value to our stakeholders". I would be gone a little more than a year later. This was one of the last times I would see many of my colleagues that I had considered friends, enjoying the restaurants and clubs in far away cities as we partied the night away. On this occasion, the morning break could not come soon enough. I remember the meeting room to be somewhat dark and sterile, set up classroom style, presenters droning on. About the only good thing so far was that Ron and I were mini celebrities; we had captivated our fellow attendees with our tornado antics.

When we broke, I was handed a message. Usually, messages received at meetings were not as urgent as the sender implied and could be ignored. This one said URGENT in big capital letters (why it was not given to me immediately I never asked) and was from The University of Missouri Hospital in Columbia. Now that couldn't be good news. A social worker answered, it was she who left the message. My oldest son Michael had been in an accident in Jefferson City and was flown to Columbia. He is critical, time is of the essence, get here now. It didn't make sense. I began to scream I need to go home. Someone was making a plane flight reservation for me. I was then told to get going, Alyce, a company executive, who had just presented at the meeting had returned, she had left her purse. She and some others were on the company jet. They were taking me to Columbia.

The quick ride to Love Field I do not even remember. I do remember taking off, remembering it was from Love Field that Air Force One departed for Washington with the new President Johnson and the body of JFK. My own tragedy mixing in with that historical moment.

In Columbia, I was let off and got a ride to the hospital from someone at the airport. I was carrying my clothes as I did not have a suitcase big enough for them; I had just hung them in the back of the car. I saw some neighbors and church people in the lobby, I was taken to ICU. Lori and the kids were there, many others. Michael looked like hell. I guess upon arrival he looked worse. The car in which he was riding left a winding road, one I had traveled frequently, and slammed head on into the side of the creek bank. Michael was in the back and not belted in. He hit the roof, flew forward, through the windshield and landed in the creek. His buddies were hurt, but he was most serious.

I knew it was it. I am not one to hold out much hope. When there is a tragedy, like a fiery plane crash into the ocean, I scoff at those who say they are hoping to rescue survivors. I don't wish it, but I just guess I am a realist and see that survival was not possible. Certainly in this case, I wish I was proved wrong, but the news kept getting dimmer. He was without oxygen for too long, the pressure in his skull was high and would not come down. Fever was wracking his body. He was not responding.

Beating a wall and screaming does not help, as I found out. Slowly, all his friends were gathering. Young men and women, 18-19 yrs old, supposed to be full of life and looking forward to fun and education and challenge, not death and tragedy. My friend Jerry was there, I don't remember how he even knew, maybe I had called him. But I remember our eyes meeting as I was in the small ICU room and he was standing out side. Crying continuously for 5-6 hours does weird things to your eyes. Light blinded me; some of us took a car loaned to us to get out of the hospital for a few minutes. It was so bright I could not drive, Aunt Becky took over. The day droned on. Sleeping in a hospital is not recommended.

May 5th, usually a day set aside to celebrate Mexico, forever turned into a day of death and finality. The Doctor was polite, but to the point. Michael was dead basically. Surprisingly it was not much of a debate to end life support. None of us saw the purpose, we did not believe in some miracle, we did not imagine him dancing and smiling at us. The plans made, the goodbyes said. Maria, only 11 bravely said "good bye Michael, you've been a good brother". Daniel was quiet, he idolized Michael and spent the rest of his teens making sure he was a better drummer than his brother was. I wished so much had been different.

The rest is now a blur. Somehow I made it back to Grain Valley where I was living. Somehow I made it back to Jefferson City for the funeral. Half the city was there it seemed and certainly most of the high school. Friends and family gathered, co-workers, even people I could not stand. Becky Stevens, Robert Rowlett and Lee Adams from Trinity sang and played for the service, the kids of the church sang. We had a celebration lunch, then every one drifted away back to reality.

And then silence and memories.

Michael Reza Clark 9/30/80-5/5/1999


tanner said...

Ten years ago and it feels and seems like just a few days back....but I remember and once again, "I am so sorry for your loss." Love, Jerry

Unknown said...

Thanks so much for sharing this with me, Don. So much of the story about your Michael and my Darrick are tragically similar. It's strangely a comfort to know someone who really DOES know what it's been like...Thank you again, Don...there was a reason -other than merely a ride- for you to be in my life today. Yes, I am very glad to call you "friend."