Chapter 1: There's no help...
Newark International Airport bustled with people going on that last minute vacation, or holiday as Da would say, but my wife Kathryn was 4 and a half months pregnant. As a San Fran native she was determined to visit relatives before the busy holiday rush began. As I embraced her I kept an eye on the board. I wished I could go with her but work needed me for a few days more so I was following her in a few days.
She cuddles into me and looks up, ‘United 93, on time’ kept flashing on the screen so I took her for a snack, as we were eating the ‘Now boarding’ began to flash on screen. Making our way to the gate Kathryn grinned and kissed me goodbye. “Looking forward to you joining me in a few days.” She grinned, I didn’t think I could let her go but held her hand until she went into the gate. One last look back and she went, grinning to her plane.
Climbing into the car her perfume scent was lingering, as if it knew I’d be missing her already, taking a deep breath I conjured up my wife’s image in my mind. Her beautiful brown hair that she straightened so diligently everyday blowing gently in the breeze, her honey coloured eyes that shone love for anyone she was close to, that beautiful smile that she kept only for me.
Once at work I sat at my desk and turned on the computer. Everyone was crowded around the TV that was at the front of the office. “Anything interesting?” I enquired before Jack, my best friend who kinda looked like Joey from friends, ushered me over.
“You don’t wanna miss this!” I looked at the TV, a plane had crashed into one of the famous twin towers in New York. The blaze was incredible and I could see people hanging out of the topmost floors and waving things like scarves in a desperate attempt to get attention. I was very glad that Kath was well on her way to San Fran by now.
As I was engrossed in the news story the telephone rang, someone would pick it up, I knew that, “Hey Jerry!” It was Ollie, I had told him my name was Jemmy on my first day but he had misheard and now forever called me ‘Jerry’ which wasn’t wrong but I didn’t like it, “It’s your wife.”
I frowned but took it anyway. “Kathy? You know you shouldn’t be calling from the plane…” my scolding was stopped in its tracks as Kath sobbed. “Baby, what is it?” My heart was going at a rate that would make a humming bird seem dead by comparison.
“They have control of the plane…” She sniffed and let out a shaky breath. “I’m so scared..” As I shushed her and tried to reassure her Becky screamed and drew my attention away.
“Oh my God! A second plane has just crashed into the other tower!” My heart shattered and then reassembled only to jump into my throat.
I bellowed down the phone “Kathryn?!?!” There was a second that felt like forever.
“I’m here honey.” She was sniffing and crying. “I love you, I have to go, there’s other people who want to use this to talk with their families. I love you. It was so good to hear your voice.” Then there was silence on the other end, I frantically tried to redial but everytime I did I got the operator telling me I couldn’t be connected. I threw the phone down in frustration.
I was excused and sent home for the day when it was shown over the news that Kathy’s plane had crashed into a field, there were no survivors. As I drove home the car still smelled of her perfume but I was in no mood to take a deep breath, I was numb as I pulled open the door to our house, climbed the stairs and looked into our baby’s half-done nursery. But as I entered our bedroom I heard Kathy’s voice hurrying me along that morning; “I’m gonna miss my flight and it’s all gonna be your fault!” She had giggled as I had wrapped my hands around her then. What I wouldn’t give to be able to wrap my hands around her now.
I collapsed on our bed and pulled the pillow to my nose, it still smelled like her...I don’t mean her perfume, it just smelled of pure Kathy. The organic shampoo I hated the price tag of, her homemade bread, the smell of the garden she so lovingly tended. As I breathed in the tears that had been threatening all day fell and I pulled that pillow close and held it as I broke my heart.
The days blurred, I drove up to Pennsylvania and spoke to the police. They had found a pregnant woman in the wreckage and needed me to identify the body of the woman I loved and was looking forward to bringing a baby into this world with.
My breathing was so quick when he pulled back the sheet off her face, after nodding he put the sheet back on her and I embraced my wife’s cold body and cried. In the hotel I thought of my parents, pulling out my cell I called mom.
“Mama? I’m sorry I haven’t been in touch in a while. Kathy and I...we...we were…” I am sobbing at this point. “Mama, she was going home for a bit before the baby got here and then...they got her plane mama…yeah, the one that crashed into the field.” It’s my mom and I cannot keep anything from her. “She called me mama...she was so scared and I couldn’t do a damn thing...no mom, don’t. You and da have work. Don’t come visit me...mama….” She had promised that she and Da would visit and stay with me until the funeral.
At the funeral Mama took charge and I’m glad because when I saw the coffin I lost it in public. There was too much potential in that coffin that was never realised, and a life that should have been lived but was cut off too soon. Da pulled me aside when the wake started.
“There’s no shame in the tears, lad. That’s yer family yer burying. But I think there’s more tae it.” I looked away, he was so right. “Are ye feeling guilty that ye couldna do anything?”
“That I couldna be there...that she was scared and I couldna be there to hold her hand.” I slipped into my natural Scots accent with Da. “She only got to hear my voice and I think about how I kissed her before she got on the plane I wish I had told her I loved her like she did me but I didna and now she’s dead and I can never say it again and I hate myself fer that!” The sobs take over and my Da pulls me into his arms and lets me sob. I feel a hand at my hea and realise it’s mama. “I want granny and granda…” I look at both my parents and plead with them silently. Da looks at mama and she nods and he nods.
“Alright lad. We’ll go and see yer granny and granda.”
We don’t go for a few weeks and a memorial, a temporary one, is formed in the field where my worst nightmare came true. I want to see the memorial and mama and da agree to go with me. Kathy’s name was all over the media as she was pregnant at the time of her death and there’s a little pile of flowers and cuddly toys left for the woman who had taken my heart and the baby who had never taken a breath. I picked up a teddy and read the message attached; “So sorry that hate robbed you of your life before it began.” Jamie from Texas must have really been moved because they left a bunch of crocuses as well.
I hate myself because I couldn’t bring anything, not even gas station flowers which she never minded. “I want to name our child…” Kathy and I had discussed names and her choice for a girl was really beautiful, “Hayley.” I closed my eyes and I hugged mama. The press had left us alone as much as possible but I spot them across the field. “Let’s go back to the hotel.” We walk back to the car and da drives us back to the hotel and we start making plans to leave for the ridge.
Mama and Da and I arrived in the Carolina Wilderness, Mandy called but she has her hands full with the new baby. And we get a cart and start our journey home.
Chapter 2: My family, Our medicine
Jemmy is on the ridge and his life is just now starting to heal.
As they came up on the ridge I could see Jemmy looking around and then gasping as if he were holding back tears and when he came up the path his knees gave way and he collapsed, Roger was right at his back but Jamie still rushed to catch him from the front and I ushered them into the surgery while questioning Bree and Roger about why he would collapse.
I looked at Jamie as Jemmy let out a sob and said one name: Kathy. But what did his wife have to do with this? I smoothed Jemmy’s hair and whispered into his ear. “What about Kathy?”
He gasped, trying to catch his breath between sobs. “Kathy...the baby….both dead, both dead.” Sobs wracked his body again and he curled up in the fetal position and I held him close while Jamie looked at Roger who only nodded and moved towards Bree who had immediately moved to comfort her little boy.
He cried himself to sleep and Jamie moved him upstairs to the guest bedroom. I sat with Bree and Roger and Jamie joined us. “Tell us how we can help Jemmy.” Iain brought tea and sat beside us.
“His wife was travelling home to her parents just before the Christmas season. They were staying in Newark, New Jersey while she was from San Francisco, California. She was halfway through her pregnancy and missing her family so she booked a flight on September 11th but so did 4 terrorists who hijacked the plane.” I gasped, no wonder Jemmy was so hurt. “The passengers fought back and the plane never reached its intended destination, instead it crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, there were no survivors.” Jamie crossed himself and pulled me close. “I think because he was supposed to go too but needed to be at work for a few days more he feels some kind of survivor guilt.” I nodded and cuddled into Jamie.
“That makes sense. So he lost both his wife and unborn child in a terrorist attack?” Bree nodded and I looked at Jamie. “We have no idea how vulnerable he is right now. If we talk to him, avoid the subject and get him to talk about the good times instead.” He nodded and drank his tea.
“As you say, Sassenach. I have no idea what a plane is apart from what you have told me so there’s nae danger of that happenin in all fairness.” He was trying to joke but I could see him being as upset as the rest of him. “Did they find his wife, a leannan?” Bree nodded. “So she and the bairn are laid to rest. Small comforts and mercies.” I sighed.
“Not much we can do tonight, Bree and Roger are in the room next to him so if he wakes up get me and I’ll give him a sedative.” Bree nodded and cuddled into Roger. “We’ll have to help him as best as we can.” We all nodded and then went up to bed. I leaned against our bedpost and blinked back tears. “Our poor Jemmy.” Jamie pulled me in for a hug and pulled me towards the bed.
After a few hours of sleep I was shaken awake by Jamie who put a finger to his lips and moved towards the door. He led me to my surgery and as I opened the door I saw the fire lit and a figure huddled in front of it. Jamie and I sighed in relief as we saw the outline of Jemmy. “What are you doing awake?” I sat beside him, Jamie and I both making noises as we sat on the chairs.
“I couldn’t sleep, granny.” He held up a photograph of Kathy, she was beaming and holding her bump. “That was taken just before she got on that plane...I had it developed not long after the...incident...it was the photograph we used for the funeral.” Jamie and I looked at each other.
“If ye dinnae wish tae talk about her lad we understand…” Jemmy shook his head.
“She was so loving. We didn’t want to know what the baby was so she picked a beautiful sunny peach colour for the nursery.” He started smiling slightly. It was good to see. “She had given me a list of chores to do to get the nursery ready while she was in San Fran and I was in Newark…” His smile faltered and my heart broke. “She was teasing me that morning. I was still doing my checks. We had hours to get to the airport but she was teasing about being late and missing her flight...now I think it wouldn’t have been a bad thing if she had missed it.”
“Hindsight is 20/20 my darling.” I stroked his face.
“I just...I felt so helpless...she called y’know. Shortly before the crash. She...she was so scared and I couldn’t do a damn thing about it. I couldn’t even hold her.” He closed his eyes and I pulled him closer to me. “Why didn’t I insist she left at the same time as me? Or why didn’t I fight to get time off? If I had been on that plane with her I could’ve comforted her.”
“Darling, just hearing your voice probably comforted her immensely.” He looked up at me, unshed tears shining in his eyes. “I know whenever I was in danger your granda’s voice comforted me immensely.”
“Because you knew he was there to save you.” He allowed the tears to fall and I held him close and let him cry it out.
For the rest of the night Jamie and I sat with Jemmy and he started to smile as he talked about Kathy. She had been at the ridge before so Jamie and I had met her. He wasn’t out of the woods yet, not by a long shot, but he was beginning. And that was the main thing.
Chapter 3: Sharing is caring
Claire hides the dangerous herbs in case Jemmy has a grief relapse and Marsali and Fergus join the family and learn what had happened to Kathy without the flight and the terrorist details and Jamie and Jemmy have a heart to heart.
After the fireside chat I put Jemmy back in his bed and came down to the dawn rising and Claire waking Iain, Bree , and Roger. “What are ye doing, Sassanach?”
“I’m still worried about Jemmy.” She then tore into the surgery and began taking jars out of the stores. “I want to get all the things he could potentially take to harm himself out of his way.” I crossed my arms and stared at her. “Grief is a process and one setback could have him reaching for…” she picked up the water hemlock jar. “...these.”
She handed the jars to each of us and asked us to follow her, which we did without question, to the woods near the boundary of the ridge. Claire then got me to dig a hole near the tallest tree and we buried them.
Walking back to the house I looked around in the rising sunlight and remembered the wedding that Kathryn had insisted on for me and Claire. She had looked so bonnie that day with her long brown hair flowing in the wind and how Jemmy had looked at her. It was another case of two soulmates wedding, like Claire and I, and Jemmy’s parents.
Marsali and Fergus were also making their way to the house and Marsali’s face lit up when she saw Bree. “Sister! ‘Tis good tae see ye again!” She embraced Bree and I felt my heart soar. “Ye must come and see our new house...no’ as big as da’s right enough but...Germain and Constance needed a place tae lay roots...and lay they did. I’m a granny 4 times over now, and that’s just Germain’s bairns…” I put up a hand to still Marsali.
“Let’s get back up tae the big house and ye can catch up ower tea.” Marsali nodded and we made our way back to the house with Bree and Marsali deep in conversation, Marsali’s brow furrowed and I knew Bree had told her about Jemmy and Kathy.
When we came back to the house Jemmy was still sleeping and so we made tea and had a breakfast of parritch and honey. After breakfast Marsali sipped her tea. “So his wife was killed while travelling….” Bree nodded and Marsali made the sign of the cross and shook her head. “Babe in her womb an’ all...have they no decency?” At that point Jemmy awoke and came into the dining room rubbing his eyes.
Fergus stood and embraced him, “good morning, nephew. How did you sleep?” Jemmy shook his head and kissed Marsali’s cheek. “Ah, no matter. Will you have tea?” Jemmy sat and drank tea with his family.
“Lad. Ye want tae walk wi me?” Jemmy nodded and we both stood and walked around. “I just thought ye widnae want tae be smothered by yer Aunt Marsali.” He laughed and I was relieved to see him laughing again. We walked in silence until he felt the need to talk wi his grandda again.
“I felt so helpless when Kathy called, you know? I hated that I couldn’t be there to hold her and comfort her, even as she was dying. But the thing that hurts the most is that I never said ‘I love you’ when she said goodbye...even though I had plenty of time...why didn’t I say it?” He looked at me for reassurance.
“Lad, ye likely thought ye’d say that when ye saw her again. Ye never dreamed it would be yer last chance tae say it.” He went rigid and I knew he was listening but not truly hearing. “See the still?” He nodded. “I was lured there when a man took yer granny. I was away from her when she was scared and I couldna comfort her when the man who took her began unspeakable things against her...and I had realised that I hadn’t told her I loved her.” He looked at me. “I realise that I got yer granny back and I could tell her then but the agony I felt when I realised that was immense and the pain if I hadn’t gotten her back to tell her would have killed me. And in that you are a stronger man than I am.” I saw him stop and I stopped too.
“I...I didn’t know Grandda. I’m sorry.” He opened his mouth to say more but didn’t need to.
“I didna tell ye so ye could be sorry. I telt ye because now ye ken I ken how ye feel.” I smiled and I saw him smile again and take a deep breath and with that we walked back to the big house.