On a hot September Monday of 1998, I was climbing the high bridge that ties together the buildings of the State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ), to apply for an MFA, when I experienced dizziness. The height, that never looked so scary to me, felt strangely uncomfortable. It was around 9 in the morning when I was trying to get to admissions for forms and information. A janitor helped me cross the rest of that long bridge to get to the other building. I spent some minutes recovering, and then decided to leave and go back home.
Intuition is Real
During that whole day, I felt funky. It was my intuition telling me bad news – but I didn’t know at that point. At night, my partner D., an actor who was traveling in the Amazon Forest to shoot a TV special, was supposed to call me. We had been living together for the past five years, and we had developed this ritual that had never been broken so far: every time we were apart, we would call each other in the morning and at night, from a pay phone or a hotel phone or even, if we were lucky, a cell phone (yes, it was the 90s). He had failed calling me in the morning, and it was pass 8pm and he was also bypassing the evening call. Maybe, just maybe, my sixth sense was trying to tell me something since that morning.
I went back to our apartment in Rio de Janeiro, located at the end of a very steep street that reminded me of San Francisco. The lights to our place were off, and as soon as I stepped into the dark living room, I felt chills. From that moment on, my memories were entangled, reality mashed with fear and PTSD, nightmares blended with real facts, and a lot of what I know I heard from people about what really went down.
After a few phone calls, I found out that D. and the TV series crew never made it back from the morning shoot, which was supposed to happen in one of the highest peaks of Northern Brazil, more than nine thousand feet above ocean level. That was all the information I could gather until a couple of hours later, when the mayor of the little town where D. was staying drove to a paid phone in the middle of the jungle to call me. By then, I had a few friends and family members over to help me understand why D. was missing.
"Are you aware that this is a very dangerous place, Laura? It's hard for any helicopter to land there and we had many accidents in the past years. The fact that they never came back indicates that something went wrong. We need to act ASAP, can Rede Globo Network announce their disappearance? Our region has very few phones, but many TVs,” the mayor told me. His voice was tense, and I imagined a short man, sweating with the responsibility of having a crew of the number one television network in the country disappear right under his radar.
My friends helped me reach out to the network, Rede Globo. They arranged a Breaking News alert saying that the helicopter with the famous actor, plus the TV show crew, was missing. Somehow, that national announcement at 11PM made it real: my partner was gone.
Good News, Bad News
I have flashes of that night: all my fantastic friends who helped me a lot. My mother, who stood by my side all the time. And people who just showed up for support. My father, who was helping remotely from São Paulo, was the one who figured out how to find him. He called an ex-girlfriend, Suelly, who knew the far away Mount Roraima, where their helicopter went missing. Suelly had been a police deputy there and with her help, Rede Globo's influence and the fire department helicopters, the search started by sun rise.
"They found the helicopter,” my mother announced around 11am the next morning. More than 24 hours missing. I smiled, but she did not respond.
"What?” I asked.
"Well, apparently one person lost his life, the other ones are badly injured,” she responded. As she was going to fill me in about the details, the TV in the living room started blasting the same news: "We still don’t have the confirmation of who the deceased person is, but it is confirmed to be a male."
Right there, I shut down. My eyesight went dark. I entered a long tunnel – no, a cave. An internal cave. My own feelings and emotions were so sharp, grueling, that I was sucked up into myself. I got momentarily blind: reality was too hard to watch.
Couple of hours later, my vision was still pitch dark, but I could hear my doctor talking to me. He had come to my house after my mother's request, and he gave me a pill that completely knocked me out.
"You need to rest; your stress level is endangering your health and there is nothing you can do about it. People are taking care of D. and his crew mates,” were his last words as I dozed off.
Just 30 hours before our lives were normal. And now we were stuck in that limbo zone. I was in my internal cave and he was losing himself in his own blood. Ready to be washed away from existence. In hindsight, it is unbearable to remember this: our daughters would have never been born.
Waking Up in a Nightmare
I woke up five hours later. My vision was partially back, I could move between my bedroom and the living room where my mother, family members and friends waited for news.
"He's alive!” someone shouted out.
I started crying. My mind, buzzed, could only see shadows of gray.
"Where is he?” I asked.
Someone took my hands; I will never know who, since so many people surrounded me with love and affection.
"He is in the General Hospital of Roraima, in surgery. He has a massive internal bleeding” another voice volunteered.
I remember that moment. I remember the sensations, the bitter taste of death flying down my throat, and the hands of someone petting my hair. Then, the TV rerunning the images of his rescue, his head covered in blood, his upper lips split in two, and the most desperate, lost, almost lifeless look in his eyes. "I could only think about my woman, Laura, whom I love so much. I thought I would never see her again,” he said, while lying down in a gurney before being shoved in another helicopter to the general hospital.
It was the most beautiful love declaration I had ever received. I could see the pain in his eyes, and with his public words, my heart felt alive again and my eyesight came back.
"Who died?” I asked.
"The audio operator,” a voice communicated.
"Oh, no!” I shouted.
I walked back to my room, then locked myself in our bathroom. I stripped out of my clothes and turned on the hot water. I let it pour on my head, as I curled like a baby on the bathroom floor. Yes, just like in the films. It seemed stupid but it just felt so natural to take the fetal position. I should have married him! We should have had our babies! We should never have come back from the US!
I tortured myself for long minutes, until I decided to fight my negativeness and get up. He would need me. And if he died, his family would need me. So, I had no choice but to fight my paralysis.
*Stay tuned for the sequel, next week!