Vol 1: Spellbound‎ > ‎Read‎ > ‎

Ch 13: Lori

Saturday, February 25, 1978

It must have been meteorites or aliens.  It couldn’t have been anything else, since there was no one on board but four people I loved and trusted almost my whole life.  It is unbearable to think that anything other than something not of this planet happened early Friday morning.  Each person deals with tragedy and trauma differently.  My brain has chosen to suppress the unthinkable...the unimaginable.  I lost two people very dear to me, people I chose to call Mom and Dad.  Not because they expected it, but because that is how I felt.

When I went to bed Thursday night, I slept soundly.  We’d had a busy, exhausting day.  Dad decided we needed to head straight for Papeete so he could fly back to Seattle on March 1 to say goodbye to his father, who was dying of cancer.  We were having such a fabulous time.  Dad didn’t want to leave Mom while he flew back to Seattle, but it would take too long for the Spellbound to sail home.  Papeete was the nearest city with a major airport. The trip should've taken about five days. Dad would fly from Papeete to Seattle to say his farewell while we visited the city.  We didn’t talk about what would happen when Dad returned.

For those of you who have never traveled on a boat in the open seas, you need to know how loud it can be, especially when the motor is running.  Picture yourself in a nightclub, packed with people, the music blaring, everyone talking and moving.  One dancer, only a couple of people away, screams something at you.  You can’t really hear her, as her words are swallowed by the cacophony of the nightclub. 

 At sea, you have the restless water forever banging against the hull, the waves getting louder and louder until they reach a crashing crescendo, then subside and start all over again.  And there is the wind whipping across the sea, whistling in an indiscernible pattern.  The boat’s engine seems louder than standing next to the souped up exhaust of a muscle car.  The hull creaks as it rolls in the water.  And, then there are the random items in the boat banging about.  It is LOUD.  Eventually, you learn to sleep through just about anything.  And after three months living aboard the Spellbound, I think I could sleep through a freight train rolling by my bunk.

Early Friday morning, about 4:00 am, I was abruptly awakened by Gary standing over me yelling, “We need you to steer the boat!” I was trying to pull myself out a deep sleep and groggily thought, was that Gary?  “Lori, we need you to steer the boat, now!” he said sharply.  I jumped out of bed as fast as I could and stumbled through the galley into the main cabin.  My thoughts began to race, what could possibly have happened to cause Gary, who is usually so aloof, to wake me in the middle of the night.  It was not my turn to take the helm for another four hours.

Mom was leaning intently over something.  Why wasn’t she in bed?  Gary yelled again, “Go steer!” and guided me by my elbow to take the helm inside the wheelhouse.  I numbly nodded and took the wheel.  He walked over to be with Mom.  Get it together Lori, I said to myself.  Wake up and steer.  Then I wondered where Kerry was?  She slept most of the time on the couch since her cabin in the front of the boat rocked and rolled more than the rest of the boat.  It was hard to sleep in her berth without getting sick.  I looked around the main cabin and saw her asleep on the couch.  She slept hard like the rest of us learned to do.

Then I saw Dad lying on the floor.  How did I not see him when I came into the main cabin?  I must have stepped right over him.  What happened to Dad?  Why was he lying there?  And what was Mom doing, hovering over him?  Suddenly, the urgency of the situation hit me, and my senses sharpened with a flood of adrenalin. Dad is hurt and Mom is trying to resuscitate him. She doesn’t look worried or upset. In fact her face is void of any expression, which I take as a bad sign.  All of us have benefited at one time on this trip from all of the medical training she took before she left Seattle.  How did she know it would be needed?  If anyone can help Dad, she can.  I’m trying to keep my attention on steering the boat while scanning the cabin for clues to what happened to Dad.  Is that blood on the floor, on the wall?  I dare not disturb the scene to ask, Mom is so intent on helping Dad.

Gary kneels beside them, blocking my view.  Dad doesn’t seem to be moving.  Wait. Don’t forget to steer I reminded myself.  My hands start shaking so hard I can barely grasp the wheel.  I am crying.  I feel guilty that I can’t see the instrument panel with tears in my eyes. I can’t even help in a small way.  Gary and Mom move aside briefly and I see Dad’s head cradled on a towel in a cardboard box.  Did they put the towel there for comfort?  Why a box? 

What the hell happened?  Irrationally, I look outside for an answer, but the stars are hidden by clouds and the black ink of the sky threatens to engulf me – the infinity of it scared me.  I look back in the cabin and see Mom crying.  Her hands cover her face.  Gary now stands motionless and quiet.  No one moves for what seems an eternity.  I have no idea where we are or if we were headed in the right direction.  Shit!

Time stands still.  Eventually the sun rises, as it must.  Gary tells me to take the helm outside while he cleans up the cabin.  I go outside.  It’s hard to gather the strength to get myself up the three stairs and lift my arms to steer.  I sit next to the wheel on the deck, feet dangling in the cockpit.  Mom is checking on Kerry.  Why?  What happened to her? Is she hurt, too?  Eventually, Gary brings Mom outside to sit with me.  I can hear him just inside on the Ham radio reporting Dad’s death.  I can’t even think the word . . . death. 

Mom’s eyes are swollen and red, the left one drooping a little.  She tells me about Bob, her first husband, and how he lost his life.  I have not heard her tell the story before.  Her eye seems to droop a bit more.  She lost one husband and now another.  I think how cruel life can be to take Dad from her.  But, she was strong for her children when Bob died.  I know she will be strong for us now.

I try to listen to her but my mind wanders.  I hear bits about surviving a horrible car crash, losing a loved one, finding love again.  I think about the time they took my sister away when she got pregnant in high school.  It was like she died.  We were not allowed to talk about her condition to anyone.  Mom had repeated the word loneliness enough times in her story to pierce through my thoughts. Yes, it was lonely without my sister. When she came back, we had to pretend like nothing happened.  Wait, what did Mom say?  Mom repeats that she cannot go on, knowing what happened.  Yes, I think, I felt like that after my sister returned.

When Mom is done talking she looks up at me and smiles. “Lori, you’ve been up all night.  I’ll take the helm, you take a short nap,” she whispers hoarsely.  I am so tired and amazed at her strength.  Even with this tremendous loss so recent for her, she is thinking of me.  We can get through this.  I nod, and tears choke off any words I try to speak.  I try not to cry for Mom’s sake but it is impossible.  I head to my bunk blinded with grief and collapse into a deep, fretful sleep. 

I don't know how long I sleep.  I awake with a start.  My hands cover my face.  The events of the night can’t be true.  But, I know they are.  I force myself to get up.  Mom needs me.  I go to find her. Mom is still outside at the helm.  I feel a chill in the air outside even thought the temperature rarely dips below 70 degrees.  Still, my T-shirt seems inadequate for the cold I feel.

I can see the grief in Mom’s face, but there is something else.  Determination? “Lori,” she says, “why don’t you fix some breakfast.”  I still can’t speak to her.  I don’t know what to say.  I see Gary on deck behind Mom cleaning something.  I nod to Mom and walk down into the galley inside.  Loren’s body is thankfully gone.  I don’t dare ask where.  It is easier to think of the body as Loren’s rather than “Dad’s.”  Why didn’t I notice his absence when I woke up and walked out to see Mom at the helm outside?   Kerry is still on the couch.  She is holding a towel to the side of her head.  Did she get hurt too when Dad did?  I want to ask her, but her eyes are hollow, so I move past her into the galley without saying anything. 

I think about what to make. The eggs are gone. There isn’t any meat.  I open cupboards, set things on the counter.   I decide on biscuits.  I now have something to do to take my mind off the horrors of the night.  I pull out a bowl, find a spoon from somewhere, biscuit mix is already on the counter, I get water, and then a pan.  I can barely see Mom at the helm outside through the window above the couch where Kerry is lying down.  The mundane task of cooking is starting to calm me.  Mix, breathe, mix, breathe.  I have a rhythm going.  Mix, breathe.  I’m feeling a bit better now.  Mix, breathe.  BANG!  I drop the bowl, it clanks to the floor spewing its contents across the galley.

Kerry sits up.  We both look outside.  Mom’s face is gone – there is only blood where her features should be.  Her body slumps into the cockpit, out of sight.  She is gone.  There is blood dripping down the window.  I scream.  Kerry opens her mouth to scream but she is silent.  The world turns black, and I crumple to the floor.

I awake to find myself on the floor in the galley.  Kerry is quietly sobbing, her hand over her mouth.  Why am I lying here in the galley? Gary is standing over me again, “Mom killed herself,” he mumbles.  Impossible, I hear myself shrieking inside my head. “Where did she get a gun,” I practically gagged on the words. “Mom and Dad brought guns for protection, remember,” Gary answers.  I look blankly at him.  Of course I knew that.  Gary and Dad shot cans all across the Pacific while Mom and I stayed inside to avoid the ear piercing shots.  Mom and I both hate guns.  I can’t even think of her in the past tense.

I am heartbroken. How could Mom do that?  She was supposed to be my strength.  But, I thought about how much she loved Dad, how she said she could not live with what happened.  I drag myself over to the steps that lead into the main cabin and slump against them.  There is a touch of Romeo and Juliet to the whole affair.  In a way, her death is almost romantic. I try to defend Mom’s actions to myself.

Gary says we are lost.  I know it is my fault.  Kerry is injured too.  We need help.  When did she get hurt?  How did that happened? Mom and Dad are gone.  It is cloudy so Gary can’t use the sextant to get us back on course.  And, somehow he injured his wrist so it is difficult for him to use it.  How did he hurt himself?  Gary gets on the HAM radio and calls for help. I am not supposed to operate the Ham radio because I do not have a license. I don’t think anyone answered.  I don’t listen, my grief makes me deaf. 

Some time later Gary suggests that Kerry and I wait in the main cabin while he takes care of things on deck.  We readily agree as neither one of us can bear to look at Mom in such a state.  We are grateful Gary is now our strength.  Kerry sleeps again.  I can hear water washing over the deck.  I perch on the settee across from Kerry and look at her sleeping face.  I notice how beat up she is.  I wonder again how and when she hurt herself.

It is hot now, so hot.  The gravity of events seems to be mirrored by the heaviness of the sun.  There is no answer on the radio still.  Where are we?  It is hopeless.  We are a little speck in an ocean of blue. There is nothing out there except water, and more water, and heat.  It is too hot, the air feels so close and heavy in the main cabin.  Finally, I marshal the courage to venture on deck for fresh air.  Gary has thankfully moved Mom.  I try not to look down.  I blur my vision so my brain cannot register what I am stepping on. 

On deck it smells like rotten eggs.  I dry heave.  Waves of heat linger on the deck.  No, the smell is more like rotten meat, but we don’t have any meat on board.  This was supposed to be a short sail from Hiva Oa to Papeete.  I am sweating more than usual. What happened?  What happened to Mom and Dad?  Why was it so hot?  Where is that rancid smell coming from?

It couldn’t be!  I stumble to the side of the boat and wretch.  Mom was quite sea sick during our voyage across the Pacific but I wasn’t too bad – what is wrong with me now?  I realize that the foul, putrid, smell is from the bodies.  I dry heave again and again.  I can’t manage to stand up anymore, so I kneel and grip the boat.  I try not to think about what will happen to us.  I can’t bear another minute of that smell.  It is a constant reminder of the nightmare I am a part of.

The magic of the South Pacific is gone in just one night.  Yesterday the sea was a welcoming blanket of blue, offering us its smooth comfort.  Now she is an enemy working against us.  The boat is taking on water and I am not sure why.  Gary asks me to operate the pump.  It seems for an eternity. The minutes tick by excruciatingly slow.  Is the pump helping?  Gary tells me we are almost out of gas.  I wonder if this nightmare can get any worse?  Gary suggests we bury the bodies at sea.  He tells me Kerry agrees.  Since we had no idea where we are or when we will be found, I nod in consent too.

Kerry is passed out again on the couch.  I return to pumping.  Finally Gary says the water is gone and I can stop.  At least the boat won’t sink.  I am glad I was inside while Gary took care of the bodies.  The smell is finally gone, carried away by the marine air.  We are still lost. Does it matter if we are found? I think of my Mom and Dad, my siblings – I decide I don’t want to die.

I am so tired.  I crawl back to my bunk.  Since the engine is not going, I can hear Gary talking.  Is he talking to Kerry?  I thought she was asleep again.  I decide I really don’t care who he is talking to as the only real safe harbor I know is gone.  I let sleep take the pain away.  Gary is taking care of everything.  I know we will be okay.