EyetoothDouglas W. Milliken
Aside from me, the only other survivors were the tour’s organizer and manager—a woman named Diane with whom I’d become involved and who anyway had gotten me the job to begin with—and a Mexican folksinger named Josefa. Of all the talent on board our flight, Josefa was the only one to make it out intact, but hers was a story I wouldn’t learn for some time, as her deep sleep—no one was willing to call it a coma—lasted much longer than mine or Diane’s. I’d later learn that Josefa had been thrown clear of the wreckage, far enough away that, in the storm, she could not see where the plane had crashed. In all likelihood, she should have been incinerated or had her bones smashed to dust against a tree. Instead, she landed gently in clean snow. No bruises or broken bones, just a mild concussion and a major jolt. She got up and looked around and walked for a while through the blizzard until she came across a snowmobile trail cutting through the woods. This was a woman who had never seen snow before but she knew what she was seeing and knew that tracks meant people, and people, in this instance, meant safety, so she took a gamble and followed the tracks, but ultimately chose the direction leading away from the nearest town. She was only wearing a pair of jeans, an electric blue sweater, and red cowboy boots. It’s amazing she survived at all, but when the rescue workers finally found her, she was marching with headstrong authority against the increasing squall and storm of night. She had not lost the trail. But she had begun to hallucinate. When she saw the rescue workers, she thought they were riot police. She fought them with what waning fury she had left in her, biting and gouging their hands and faces before they finally restrained her and ferried her safely to the hospital
But like I said, I would not learn any of this for a while. All I knew was that Diane and Josefa and I were the only ones to survive the accident. All the other Latin American artists—painters and poets and musicians and dancers—were dead. Of a twenty-one date tour of rural universities, we’d only met with and performed before three student bodies, all in Utah or Colorado. Our program of cultural and artistic diversity ended before it had properly begun. When you think of all the work these artists would have later made had they not been on that flight—when you think of all the kids snoozing through the performances or the kids that never had the chance—it’s very likely our program did more harm than good. But these are unquantifiable things. Like the thoughts that raced through their minds before impact. Like the number of seconds between their next-to-last and last breaths.
What little I did know that first day in the recovery house, I learned from our male nurse, Kevin, once I woke up and stayed awake. Kevin took care of everything at the recovery house. I think he actually lived there with us. If we needed anything, he would oblige, though he did not dote over us at all. In fact, he was almost detached from who we were and what had happened. The impression was that he understood that we were capable adults who were only slightly damaged and not by our own mistakes, people who knew when to ask for help and when to help ourselves. For the most part, we were left to heal on our own.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. There’s something I want to explain. That first day in the recovery house, I woke up and sat up and knew that I would remain awake. Then Kevin came in and talked to me for a little while—he introduced himself specifically as our “male nurse,” and told me where we were and why, how Diane and Josefa and no one else were also here in the house, and he said this with an accent that I could not place—then he brought me a coffee and a bowl of cereal. I was not wearing any bandages or anything, but my skin felt tender all over, and I had an IV and a catheter that, now that I was really awake, Kevin helped me remove. Then he left and I had my breakfast and, for a while more, sat quietly in my bed. My room was old and spare and seemed at first like a strange place for a hurt person to be. The wallpaper and hardwood floor were dull to the point of looking almost dingy. In many ways, this felt like an abandoned place. Yet despite this, I felt perfectly comfortable. I liked the dim room and the way the white light made my one window glow like a blank television screen. I moved my legs back and forth beneath the covers. I didn’t feel like a victim at all.
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