AQ 14 - 3.13.10

I was the first one to board the Air Force C17 cargo jet to McGuire AF Base. Mike took over Trevor’s duties & carried me aboard. The crew quickly changed gears from delivering relief supplies to delivering earthquake evacuees. They came to me. “Passport, please.” No passport. “ID of any kind.” No ID. Hmmm. A crew member left & then returned with a piece of paper & pen. “Would you write your name & address and social security number, please.” I wrote my name. “Good enough,” he said.

The crew flipped down all the seats on the sides of the aircraft & bolted down some seats in the belly of the craft to accomodate about 90 of us. A blanket was offered to me. “We don’t have enough for everyone. But you need one for sure.” I had been given a sleeveless shirt & skirt & flip-flops, & I was now headed to New Jersey in the dead of winter. A few of the men conferred & then started looking for more blankets. They gave some to Dawn & Pria. One man stripped the two patches off his flight uniform & gave them to the girls. Another invited them to see the cockpit, which involved a climb up a ten-foot ladder.

It was a short trip, but not short enough for my aching body. Most people rested. I had my head down & was trying to rock the pain away. A crew member opened my hand & pressed two Tylenol capsules in to it. “This is all I have. I’m sorry.”

It was a short trip, but there still wasn’t enough time for my mind to catch up with the fact that we’d just been through an earthquake in Haiti, with concrete, dust & screaming people all around us, & we were now on a clean air force jet with passengers resting quietly. We weren’t on a boat to La Gonave. We weren’t on our way to school & work. I would not be giving my presentation. We hadn’t eaten the elaborate Haitian meal I’d spent all day preparing. I hadn’t turned off the stove or computer or picked up the dog from our friend’s house. We hadn’t returned the blow up mattresses or tool kit to our friends across town. I was wearing someone else’s clothes. I didn’t have my purse., & I was strapped in a military seat, like a paratrooper. We weren’t flying to the Dominican Republic or Guantanamo. We were flying to New Jersey, just a few hours from my parent’s house. Trevor wasn’t with us. Mike & Angie were with us, & it would be their first trip to the north east. A new adventure. Like we needed a new adventure.

When we arrived in NJ the commanding officer and some high ranking military men boarded the plane with a camera man. They all looked quite surprised. Then they decided to take me off the plane first on a stretcher. Mike stayed with me. In the ambulance we were met by two EMTs. They also looked quite surprised. “We were just informed (a nice way of saying “awaken in the middle of the night”) two hours ago that a plane was arriving from Haiti. And, more would follow.”

I looked out the window on the way to the hospital. It was bleak & cold, & there were patches of snow on bolders that lined the roads. Where was I?! Three hours prior I had been in the balmy Caribbean.

At the hospital I looked up at the doctor. “Please don’t touch anything,” I said.
“I’m going to send you for x-rays,” he answered.
He asked me when I had last eaten.
“Eaten what? Eaten anything? Or eaten protein? Why are you asking me.”
“I’d like to give you a Percoset but not on an empty stomach.”
“Well then I need something to eat.”

He looked at me curiously. “When did you last eat a meal?”
“This is Friday.”
“Well I had a hotdog & a marshmallow one day, & a granola bar another day.” I was trying to remember how many days were between Monday & Friday. “And an MRE (military “Meal Ready to Eat”) on Thursday.”

We’d arrived at the hospital before breakfast, so nurses headed for the staff lounge to retrieve any food they could find. I tried to share with Mike, but he said no. One nurse went to tell the kitchen staff to hurry up the meal preparations. She was pleased to deliver the first meals of the day to Mike & me.

The doctor came back. “These x-rays don’t show any breakage, but there’s so much swelling of your arms & legs. I’ll give you something to reduce the swelling.”

We were then transported to the base recreation center where they had unloaded our family & the rest of the passengers from our flight & a flight that followed. One office was now the baby care room. The snack shop was doling out sandwiches, fruit & drinks. A hundred passengers were standing in the hall way. Air force personnel & spouses were filing in the doors with clothing. Some dropped off bags & headed out the doors for more. Others stayed in the gym sorting clothes by gender & size.

I was on a cot in the baby care room. Pria was sitting by the floor-length window with five of her new “friends.” Two men came in smiling. One dropped a pile of legos. The other dropped a pile of baby dolls & action figure dolls. I noticed that he had a puzzled look on his face. He later returned with some dark skinned baby dolls.

The children were happily playing on the floor with their “new” toys as the sun was rising. Pria began to sing: “Oh come all ye faithful, joyful & triumphant.” The Haitian children joined in, humming. A man in uniform came in the room with a bag of shoes. He held up a foot of one of the children & found a shoe to match, & he continued on to the next child. Another man came in the room. He was on a cell phone. He looked at one little girl. “She’s about the size of Lily. Well maybe in between Lily & Rachel.” It wasn’t long before a woman arrived with little girl’s clothes. I was pretty sure the clothes had formerly belonged to Lily & Rachel.

A young mother washed her baby in the office sink. We’d all been given Red Cross packets of shampoo, baby powder, tooth brush & toothpaste. A few other women were on phones trying to figure out transportation to U.S. destinations where they had relatives.

A woman came in the room. She looked around. She looked quite surprised. She came over to my cot. “Usually, I’m the secretary here.” She looked around “her” office which fifteen of us were now quite comfortably occupying. “But, today everything has changed, & that’s okay, of course…….Usually I make coffee. But, we don’t have to today… Just give me a minute to think about this.”

She returned with a wheelchair. “ It’s winter here. You look cold. They’re bringing warm clothes to the gym. Let’s go get something for you.”

My family was on the way from the gym to get me. We thanked the shell-shocked woman for her help & then went to work on our wardrobe. We all laughed as we chose things that erased our former creative identities & any suggestion that we had just come from the tropics.

Frank had been in touch with my parents, who would soon arrive on base. So we headed for the shuttle bus in our “new” sweats & jackets as another plane-load of passengers came in the door.


  1. Let me simply say I love you, to listen to your words as I hear you speak them in my mind, my heart breaks all over again. Who will we all become post EQ. We the daughters of God, not understanding His greater plan. I count it a treasure to know you and to see your strength post EQ.


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