Crazy For The Storm - novelonlinefull.com
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Nick stopped drinking, going cold turkey, and soon afterward Grandma Ollestad died. Nick drove the three of us to her funeral. The service was in the same little church as my dad's funeral, about an hour away from the Palisades. Everyone spoke about how kind and giving and full of vitality Grandma had been and they mentioned my dad sometimes and I winced at the thought of him watching me these days, so spiteful and so blind to the beauty all around. As if he were hovering overhead, I told him that I was getting better. Did you see me surfing the other day?
On the way home from the funeral I kept thinking about Grandpa. He stood with a very straight back and when everybody gathered outside the church he listened carefully to each consoling relative. He only spoke a couple of times and his words were concise and poetic-like music or colors that send you upward. I thought about how his eyes were the same blue starbursts as my dad's and as mine and I thought about how my dad would be very saddened by Grandma's death but not paralyzed by the grief, and I imagined him playing guitar for everyone outside the church.
We were driving down the freeway, Nick at the wheel, and I started to compare my dad's fluidity to Nick's jerky body language. Nick wrestled with each social interaction and at the funeral he sighed a lot and belted out hardened proclamations about death and life and so on. He grated against things, in a fever, compared to how I imagined my dad acting-an enchanter. Nick's pinched red face and Dad's wide smile juxtaposed in my mind.
As we came through the McClure tunnel onto the Coast Highway Nick spoke about being a good person, responsibility, hard work and honesty. He used words like colossal colossal and and catastrophic catastrophic as if we were about to go off to war and this was our pep talk. Instead we arrived in the sleepy Palisades on a windless, cloudless Sat.u.r.day afternoon. as if we were about to go off to war and this was our pep talk. Instead we arrived in the sleepy Palisades on a windless, cloudless Sat.u.r.day afternoon.
I wandered down the stairs lost in my observations and comparisons and saw the ocean lined with swells stacked to the horizon. Grandpa, Eleanor and Lee were on their way over and I was afraid to ask if I could go surfing.
The next day I hung out with Grandpa over at Eleanor's house and n.o.body talked much.
Then in the afternoon Grandpa said, I have to fix the roof, and got in his car and drove back to Vallarta.
The following weekend I was doing my ch.o.r.es around the house and I noticed the waves picking up. I waited another hour to make sure the swells were not an anomaly. When they kept getting bigger and bigger I decided to take the 3:30 bus down to Topanga Beach. Nick and my mom had gone out to run errands and before they had left Nick reminded me that Sunny had been chasing coyotes into the canyon, which was a trap, and that our new policy was to put her inside or on the upstairs porch in the afternoon before it got dark so she wouldn't get lured into the coyotes' ambush.
No problem, I had said.
I reminded myself to put her inside while I made a melted cheese sandwich and Rolloff called from the phone booth at Topanga and said, It's goin' off the Richter. I got so excited that I just grabbed my gear and ran to the bus stop, inundated with visions of my board stabbing the lip and cutbacks and me riding inside a tube.
When I stepped off the bus a four-wave set was reeling in. The legends were in the water and I watched them tear it up while I slipped into my suit. Rolloff was perched on the lower deck of the lifeguard station and he asked me where I had been and I told him about my grandma's funeral. He nodded and changed the subject. As I zipped up I noticed Benji staring at me. He was sitting by the lone palm tree with a few of his buddies. I ignored his stare and Rolloff said that Benji was talking s.h.i.t about how he was going to snake me.
Watch out, said Rolloff.
I shrugged and told myself that the only thing that mattered was to ride the waves and avoid the bulls.h.i.t.
I'm just here to have fun, I said to Rolloff.
That's cool, said Rolloff.
I concentrated on the waves and how they were breaking and where I would take off and I ignored Benji's stinkeye. I strolled to the point and dropped onto my board, ducking under a little insider. A layer of sorrow wiped right off me and it seemed like I could see for a thousand miles. I sat with the legend pack on the point and they asked me where I had been. I told them.
You've had a rough go, said Shane.
Norm, he said. Just hang in there. It'll turn around.
I surfed for an hour and it was hard to get waves with all the heavy boyz heavy boyz out. Finally Shane went in and that opened up a bit more s.p.a.ce. I was eager to snag a set wave and I could feel the frustration darting inside me. Something menacing was rising up and it seemed like everything I had hoped to let go of was surging back and that made me desperate to burn it up. Suddenly I really wanted to shred a wave in front of Benji and his crew. out. Finally Shane went in and that opened up a bit more s.p.a.ce. I was eager to snag a set wave and I could feel the frustration darting inside me. Something menacing was rising up and it seemed like everything I had hoped to let go of was surging back and that made me desperate to burn it up. Suddenly I really wanted to shred a wave in front of Benji and his crew.
I heard somebody calling my name from the bluff. I squinted and recognized Nick's body language. He had one hand on his hip and the other waved me in.
Get your a.s.s in here, Norman, he yelled.
I saw the crew on the beach turn from me to Nick then back to me.
Wanting to minimize the embarra.s.sing drama I paddled right in.
Busted, said Benji with a smile when I pa.s.sed him.
Most of the locals knew Nick from the old days and as I gathered my shorts, shirt and flip-flops they said things like He looks agro. Tell Nick to take a 'lude He looks agro. Tell Nick to take a 'lude.
I meekly waved good-bye to the surf crew and hauled my gear up the dirt trail.
Nick had both hands on his hips when I reached the top.
Do you think we're all here to clean up your f.u.c.king messes? he said.
No, I said.
He jabbed his finger into my breastbone.
You do not exist at the center of the universe, he said, punctuating some words by jabbing harder.
I know, I said.
No you don't. You're a f.u.c.king self-centered thankless little s.h.i.t.
I shook my head.
No I'm not, I said.
Yes you are, Norman. Yes you are.
What did I do? I yelled at him.
You left Sunshine out.
Oh s.h.i.t. Is she okay?
That's beside the point. The point is she could be dead by now. Eaten alive by those f.u.c.king coyotes. You don't give a s.h.i.t about her or about anything but yourself.
That's not true, I said.
Yes it is.
No it's not. I just got so stoked that I forgot.
That's a bulls.h.i.t excuse, Norman.
He pressed his nose against my nose. The whites of his eyes were mucus yellow. I recognized that he wanted to hit me and punish me and make me squirm. In that moment I envisioned myself much older and I was screaming and h.e.l.l-bent, fighting a bunch of angry faces, eager to punish them like Nick wanted to punish me. When I came out of this vision and saw him again I was merely fascinated by his rage. What else could Nick do but fight all those demons, I thought, and try to slay them before they sucked him into their darkness?
I slapped his finger off my chest and stepped back. He snickered at my retreat.
I never want to become you, I declared to myself.
Tears welled from a hot cavern in my chest and washed him out of sight. I moved away and followed my feet. When I looked up I was walking along the bluff away from the point toward the bus stop. I held my board tight to my ribs and I cried and watched the waves roll into the cove. I wanted to dive into those long bending swells. As I imagined my escape the rage and pain converged with the shimmering light blooming off the water. It all blended into one, like rivers entwining. This invisible current swept me up and it felt right to go with it.
I ran down the embankment and across the horseshoed sand in the cove. The beach was empty and smelled like seaweed. I dropped my board and streaked for the ocean. When I hit the water my skin stung as if cakes of dried mud were tearing off of me. Now there was nothing buffering me from the pain.
I miss you, Dad.
I felt my tears flooding into the water. I opened my eyes. It was murky down there. A big s.h.i.t storm.
I dove deeper and skimmed the sandy bottom. Dark.
You left me all alone. All alone.
I needed air. Surfaced. The ocean under my chin rippled and swayed. I was not okay okay like I wanted to believe. I was sad. I was angry. And it made me feel ugly and lonely and cruel sometimes. like I wanted to believe. I was sad. I was angry. And it made me feel ugly and lonely and cruel sometimes.
I came to sh.o.r.e and pounded the sand with my fists. I kicked and beat the sand for a long time. When I was worn out I rolled onto my side and stared at the ocean.
I was in pieces. Unable to gather myself back together. I stopped trying, and it wasn't so bad to be in pieces. I was calm, easy, light. Then the pain cut deeper into me, all over me. But somehow it was all right to feel things so close to my bones. The pain did not crush me.
The ocean spread out and the swells undulated and the waves looked beautiful peeling down the point. Dad taught me to fly right there on those waves. They were there for me to ride for all time, like the powder, streaming through the center of my body. I stood up.
The sand filled out the high arches of my feet, balancing me. In the hiss of the surf whispered my dad, asking me to trust that heaving wave in Mexico, trust that the ominous wall would bend and wrap me in its peaceful womb, revealing everything essential, a dream world of pure happiness-beyond all the bulls.h.i.t.
Off the point at Topanga Beach I stared into the eye of a distant wave. Somewhere in the oval opening I grasped what Dad had always tried to make me see. There is more to life than just surviving it. Inside each turbulence there is a calm-a sliver of light buried in the darkness.
TWENTY-SEVEN YEARS LATER, I was driving to Mammoth with my six-year-old son, Noah, and we pulled into Lone Pine. As always, I pointed out Mount Whitney. It was haloed by swirls of snow dust alone in the bluest of sky. Noah was playing his Game Boy and he glanced at the blocky summit, yawned, then suddenly asked, I was driving to Mammoth with my six-year-old son, Noah, and we pulled into Lone Pine. As always, I pointed out Mount Whitney. It was haloed by swirls of snow dust alone in the bluest of sky. Noah was playing his Game Boy and he glanced at the blocky summit, yawned, then suddenly asked, Did your dad use to show you Mount Whitney too on the way to Mammoth?
Yep, I said.
Is it true that you skied the Cornice when you were four?
But you're not going to make me ski it. Right? he said.
No. Those were different times. My dad made me do lots of things that I'd get arrested for making you do.
Really? he said.
Oh yeah, I said.
By the time we reached Bishop I had chronicled our skiing exploits from L.A. to Utah, and Noah had stowed his Game Boy in the backseat cubbyhole.
Noah asked me lots of questions and I answered them the best I could. Then as we climbed the Sherwin Grade out of Bishop he asked me about the airplane crash. I paused. He knew the general facts, his curiosity piqued by the scar on my chin. Now it was time to reveal more details, leaving out the goriest parts. I wanted to demystify the ordeal so that he would understand that reaching deep into yourself to overcome something seemingly indomitable was accessible to everyone, especially him.
Forty minutes later our car skidded and lurched in the snow along the road to our old cabin. It was snowing hard. I pulled into the driveway, stopped and looked in the rearview. Noah was staring at the back of my head, eyes narrowed, mulling over the ordeal I had just laid bare for him.
That's the story, I said.
Were you scared? he said.
Yeah, but I was in shock, I said. I just focused on getting down. There was no time to be scared.
I opened the door and then his door and he stepped out into the fresh powder. We looked at each other and I saw that he was okay, eyes bright and strong. He kicked the snow with his boot and the crystals spread wide, floating.
Should be some good powder skiing tomorrow, he said, parroting my enthusiasm.
Yep, I said. If you have any questions it's okay to ask them. You can ask me anything. Okay?
I know, he said.
I had always wondered what exactly went wrong during our flight back in 1979. It took me twenty-seven years to get up the guts to find out. I obtained the National Transportation Safety Board's Accident Report for our incident incident. The verbatim transmissions between the pilot and the control towers were included in the report.
Once I had it in hand I met my friend Michael Entin at the Santa Monica Airport. Michael has over twenty-five years of flying experience. When I sat down in the front seat of his four-seat Cessna and saw all those switches and dials, and the radar tower out the windshield, my throat went sticky and my heart beat against my breastbone. The sky was blue, yet I felt dreary, as if it were overcast all of a sudden.
You were doomed from takeoff, said Michael right away.
He pointed to one of Rob's first transmissions: I'm, ah, VFR I'm, ah, VFR [Visual Flight Rules] [Visual Flight Rules] over, ah, LA en route to Big Bear airport for landing, I'd like, ah, radar following for a steer, unfamiliar with the area. over, ah, LA en route to Big Bear airport for landing, I'd like, ah, radar following for a steer, unfamiliar with the area.
Thirty seconds into your flight Rob was already lost and had no idea where he was going, said Michael. He was using an underpowered plane with no instruments on a cloudy day-he never should have taken off, much less proceeded toward the storm ahead.
Apparently, air traffic control warned Rob three times during our flight not to fly VFR-meaning the pilot can see for at least two miles in all directions and there are no foreseeable obstructions to his maintaining this ability.
Worse, said Michael, it says here that the pilot never even got a weather briefing or filed a flight plan. Basic stuff, Norm. Had he done that, he would have known not to take off.
What a waste, I thought. My father wasn't killed by an avalanche while skiing an epic powder bowl. No giant tube ate him alive at the moment of ecstasy. Instead, a guy he didn't know took him on a doomed, easily avoidable airplane ride, killing him, his girlfriend and almost his son.
When we had finished poring over the transmissions I was nauseous and wanted out of the plane. Michael was studying the NTSB tracking map of our 1979 flight path, and I searched for the door handle.