CXVII – Where Were You When…?

Before I begin, don’t forget to go check out my daily posts over on preposterousponderings.net. There I write short posts on what’s going on day to day.

For most of us, when we experience something important or downright shocking, it’s like a timestamp is placed indelibly in our minds. We remember where we were or what we were doing like it was yesterday. Older folks still remember their circumstances upon learning of the JFK assassination. While I was born nearly a decade after that, I have had some experiences that I still remember vividly.

WHITTIER NARROWS EARTHQUAKE

The date was 01 Oct 1987. At the time of this earthquake, I was just arriving at school. I had just gotten off my bicycle when I heard the metal flashing along the school building roofs make all sorts of noise, then the ground began shaking. I don’t recall for how long, but it felt like what I imagine surfing is like. That jolt wasn’t quite so bad for me, but some of the aftershocks sure scared the hell out of me, especially a couple of the stronger ones while sitting in the living room at home. The last time I felt an earthquake was in September of 1992, in southern Utah, along the Hurricane fault. This was at like 04:30, so I was in bed. Having moved from California only two years prior, my reaction was, meh, an earthquake. Others in the area were quite disturbed, as most of them had never been in an earthquake. Sure, it’s been 28 years since my last earthquake experience, but if I never go through another one, it’ll still be too soon.

earthquake damage
Parking structure collapse at Quad shopping center, Whittier, CA, 10/01/87
Earthquake damage
Whittier Theater destroyed in Whittier Narrows Quake, 10/01/87

SPACE SHUTTLE CHALLENGER

January of 1986 was a tragic time due to the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. Many people witnessed it on live television, but I was already en route to school when it happened. I remember my science teacher telling us there was no lesson that day, and she was playing her radio on a local news station. I heard something about “space shuttle explosion” and my internal reaction was something like OMG. I believe everyone just went about something quiet, like reading, while the news played.

shuttle explosion
Debris trail from Challenger explosion, 01/26/86

9/11 ATTACKS

Almost everyone old enough to remember 9/11 can tell you their location at the time. It seems comical, but I was sleeping at the exact time of the attack. I was unemployed at the time, and I was at the local employment office looking for work when I saw the news on TV. The scene turned out to be the plane in Pennsylvania, and my initial reaction was “oh, another plane crash, how sad”. Once I’d heard what had actually happened, I went home and turned on the news, and saw the burning towers. Eventually the first tower collapsed, then the second. It was a moment of sheer awe for me. For two days, all air traffic over the US was prohibited, save for military, police and medical purposes. It was weird to see images of airport arrival and departure monitors. Every flight showing “CANCELED”. New security measures were implemented and still used to this day.

airport flight monitor
Airport arrival monitor, showing all flights cancelled, 09/11/01
world trade center tower collapse
South Tower of the World Trade Center collapses, 09/11/01

MY DAD’S DEATH

I grant that some people could not care less when their dad dies, and that is their prerogative. I lived next door to my parents from 1997 – 2012. My dad had a history of heart problems, first genetic, second because of his diet. Every morning for years, before going to work (continuing after his retirement for a few more years), he would cook hash browns, fried eggs and bacon for breakfast. He’d peel and grate the potatoes, and all of the breakfast was either cooked in butter or resulted in lots of bacon grease. Anyway, after years of that culinary fare, he had a heart attack and eventually bypass surgery in 2002. His cardiologist said that he couldn’t even bypass all the affected arteries, and that the operation would buy him another five years or so.

Sure enough, he got almost exactly five years. On Saturday, 23 June 2007, I was visiting. My dad and brother were watching TV in the living room. This room has many windows which face the Sun, so it got quite hot. I got up and said that I was going home and that it was too hot in there. My biggest mistake was not telling hugging Dad and saying “I love you”. That was the last time I saw Dad alive. At about 01:00, I was awakened by my phone. My brother said that Dad was thrashing about and wouldn’t respond. I ran over (quite literally) to witness the sight. Everyone tried to wake him, but everything was for naught. The ambulance arrived and took Dad to the hospital, but I didn’t go, as I really dislike hospitals, and I wouldn’t be able to do anything.

Around 09:00 on Sunday morning, 24 June (exactly one week after Father’s Day that year), my brother called again with the worst news—Dad had finally passed away. I immediately broke down crying, and delivered the news to my kids as soon as I hung up. My daughter, at the time almost 8 years old, cried intensely, as she really loved her grandpa. My two boys, 5 and 2 at the time, saw us crying, but didn’t really understand the concept of dying.

Dad loved listening to old country music—he didn’t like other music played in the house. Even after 13 years, I still cannot listen to the songs “Daddy’s Hands” by Holly Dunn, and the Statler Brothers’ “Elizabeth”. Yes, they’re old country, but that was what I grew up on, because any other genre was just noise to Dad, and he despised it. To this day, for some reason unbeknownst to me, I still hold the regret of not telling my dad one last time that I loved him and giving him that big hug.

MY BROTHER’S DEATH

Heart trouble seems to run in my family. Fortunately, I’m okay, but my dad and grandpa died of heart trouble. This curse did not spare my brother, either. In October 2008, my brother had a visit from his daughter. They helped watch my kids while my wife and I both worked (at the time, in the same place). They were driving around with my kids on 10 Oct 2008. They came to work and ate, then left for Sportsman’s Warehouse. Later, I get a call from the hospital saying my brother “was not doing well”. That’s all they said. After work I went to the hospital to check on him. Had the hospital people told me he’d died, I would’ve left work right then and there, work be damned.

Arriving at the emergency room, my niece approaches, and all she says is “Dad died”. My jaw dropped, and I uttered a very appropriate “what the fuck?” He had collapsed on the floor at Sportsman’s Warehouse and was convulsing (this in front of my two boys). His daughter heard the commotion and ran to his side. In her thinking, she applied CPR. In hindsight, that was probably not an appropriate maneuver, but emotion killed rational thinking. As he had recently eaten, the chest compressions probably caused him to throw up, as the doctors said he had aspirated vomit, which led to his fatal heart attack.

Whatever the case, in the ER, I went to see my brother—no one else wanted to go, understandably. Seeing his lifeless body was shocking, even after my dad passing sixteen months prior. My brother and I didn’t really get along. I tolerated him for years, but there wasn’t any real bond, per se. However, on the drive home from the hospital that day, I looked to the sky, and, as if talking to him, said, “Why didn’t you take better care of yourself, you dumbass?”

What were some of your shocking moments? What in your life has left a permanent, vivid memory? I hope you find a way to deal with those moments, and properly grieve whatever losses you go through. Mental health is very important—I’m proof of that. Take care of your physical health as well as mental health. If your parents are still with you, hug them and tell them how much you love them, before it’s too late. Regret can take a wicked toll. Remember to wash your hands and wear your masks when required. As always, please be safe and be well.

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