In retrospect, it seems impossible to believe everything that has happened to my family, myself and the world in the months that have passed. The situations and circumstances have been frightening, unfathomable, yet entirely predictable and almost inevitable. I’m Ron and this is my best recollection of those events. I’ll begin when the world was still whole, when we were at our island home on a long vacation, much longer than usual.
We, that is my wife Mel, ten year old daughter Emi and I, were just finishing up two solid weeks of vacation during this unusually hot summer at our island home in the far northern reaches of Michigan. The island was a refuge from the world, with no internet, cell phones or TV. The only communications we had were a landline phone for emergencies and an old fashioned news device called a “paper” that was usually several days old by the time we read it if we bothered to even buy one.
Emi wasn’t as thrilled about the idea of spending time away from her friends, out of touch and isolated, but she would just go with the flow and after a day or two, get into the swing of island living. For me, the idea of leaving Memphis for blissful, native experience was heavenly. I loved it up here at the island and would have lived here all year long if it were possible. The winters were brutally cold and harsh, and only the extremely hardy would consider full time living in a place so remote. I thought of myself as one of those rugged souls, a fantasy perhaps.
Our house on the island was perfect. It wasn’t as big as our home in Memphis but quite cozy. It had a long driveway, a private beach, and a living room with a million dollar, panoramic view with floor to ceiling picture windows. Mel and I would sit on our couch after Emi went to bed and watch the lights twinkle on the mainland twenty-five miles away from cars, houses, and people going about their lives. It was beautiful and extremely relaxing. Mel would often fall asleep on the couch right there, with her head in my lap as I stroked her hair. We cherished the closeness of those moments. A far different life than we experienced back in Memphis where she would often come home late and leave at dawn five or six days a week. Mel loved her job as an ER doctor and put it above everything else. When we were here at the island, her job melted away into nothingness. She had no regular patients who might have an emergency while we were away. Nobody needed to consult her when she was outside the hospital, and her job was literally a thousand miles from her thoughts when we were here.
We were getting ready to head back to the real world. We’d travelled to the island in our airplane, a single engine turboprop that flew high, fast and pressurized for comfort, a jet with a propeller. The weather along the route was forecast to be perfect, and we expected an easy flight home.
We had everything buttoned up and I had been waiting for the car service to get us when Officer Friendly popped in for a visit. This guy kind of irked me in a way, but then again, as Mel constantly reminded me, he was here for our protection. He was the only full-time police officer on the island. We’d always leave a message at his office to let him know we were leaving, and sometimes he would drop in just to check things out. He’s a big imposing guy and too nosy for my tastes.
“Everything okay with you folks?” he asked.
“Yup, we’re just waiting for a ride to the airport,” I replied. Mel and Emi were still in the house.
“Anything I should know about?” He had his ever present dog with him. A rather menacing German Shepherd. Menacing to me, but everyone else loved him. Before I met Mel, I had a precarious relationship with the cops.
“No, everything is ready to go. The house is closed up.”
“Where’s your wife and daughter?”
“They’re in the house and will be right out.” He was a very curious man.
“You coming back or is this it for the season?”
“I don’t think we’ll be back until spring. If you see a truck out front with a bunch of guys taking out furniture, please ask them to stop.” Throw in some humor.
“I sure will. You folks have a safe flight back.”
“Thanks. We appreciate your concern.” Ya, I wish he would ignore us like the rest of the police in the world. Cops ignore well-to-do people. It’s like we don’t even exist. A white person in an expensive car can go past a speed trap at 20 MPH over the limit and never be stopped. Drive by that same cop just over the limit in a beat-up car, and you’ll be given a ticket for sure.
That’s why I had an instinctive problem with cops. I was on the poor side for most of my life and got pulled over dozens of times for no good reason. They’d write me a ticket for 3 MPH over the limit or some other silly violation, and I’d have to waste four or five hours of my time to take it to court. I always managed to get out of tickets. Always. The trick was to show up in a nice suit, well groomed, and when called, walk confidently and speak in a clear and powerful voice. I had charisma and charm and used it whenever I needed to. The cops didn’t buy that usually, and I’d get a ticket no matter how nice and charming I was. The exceptions were female officers. They had a weak spot for a good looking guy who was sweet, even the women who were grizzled and had seen it all.
The car showed up, and I called for Mel and Emi to come out.
“You missed Officer Friendly.” That wasn’t his real name. I just couldn’t remember it.
“Ron, you know that’s not his name. Why are you always so negative about the police? He’s just here to protect us.” Mel liked him. She had no reason to have any animosity toward the cops. She ran into them all the time at the hospital. She knew many by their first name as they hung around a lot in the ER.
“I like his dog. He’s super cute and knows all sorts of tricks.” Emi loved dogs and wanted one badly but our schedule prevented it. Dogs and planes were a pain. When Emi was old enough to take charge of a dog, she might get one, but until that very moment, forget it. I didn’t want to be responsible for cleaning up dog effluent on the plane or taking Fido a half a mile to the only green strip at some airport for potty duty. It would naturally fall to me, and I vetoed the dog idea.
“Door locked? Ready to go?” We locked our door. I’d bet we were in the extreme minority on the island for that. Crime is unheard of, and it was such a pain to get to the island that no criminal would come here. We did it anyway, out of habit and because we were city folks.
The ride to the airport was fifteen to twenty minutes. The island was pretty big, nearly ten miles long by five wide. Most of it was wilderness harboring a town at the north end with some shops, two small grocery stores, a post office, and a few restaurants. Most houses were situated with lake views, and the inland areas were just woods. Deer and wildlife were plentiful and often caused cars to stop as they crossed the road. A number of tourist-oriented attractions existed too. We pretty much stayed away from those. We technically weren’t tourists. Mel had grown up vacationing on the island, and the house had been in her family for years. Her father, Bobby, had bought it well before she was born.
Emi and I loaded the plane while Mel did the preflight. She was the main pilot of our little air force. I got my pilot’s license shortly after we were married. I really didn’t like it, but it was good to understand more of what Mel loved. I did quite well during training. Not a natural, but not a clod. On Mel’s urging, I earned my instrument rating and became qualified to fly the Meridian a few years ago so I could be of more help as her co-pilot, but the insurance companies would never let me fly it alone. I felt more comfortable flying the venerable Cessna 172 or the more modern Diamond DA40 and had over a hundred hours in each. They could be rented if I ever wanted to go fly. I preferred to be Mel’s co-pilot. I did things like tune the radios, work the autopilot, listen to the weather, and keep an eye out for mistakes. Every pilot makes mistakes no matter how good they are. Having another person looking over their shoulder could save a minor error from becoming something regretful. I really enjoyed finding those little faux pas. Catching Mel in an error any other time was virtually impossible.
Emi was neutral concerning the plane. She really loved the extra status it gave her with her schoolmates and friends. Nobody else in her circle had their own plane. Some flew privately, but having a plane was special. That was about the limit of her love for it, though. She had to ride in the back, alone. As far as seating goes, it was like first class plus. She had tons of room and could spread out like some sort of corporate stooge. I’d go back to sit with her sometimes during a long flight. I really preferred to sit up front where the action was. It’s quite interesting to be the co-pilot. Emi showed no interest in learning to fly. Given the choice, she’d rather just travel first class on an airline. Her exposure to that mode of transportation was limited, and she hadn’t experienced the joy of cancelled flights, lost luggage, or the “glove” treatment by the TSA.
The three-hour flight back from the island was uneventful. The sky was clear and winds light. The Meridian was a great traveling machine. The only thing that seemed off was the total lack of traffic. It appeared we were the only ones in the air near Memphis. That was unusual even for a Sunday afternoon. Memphis is a busy cargo hub with hundreds of flights coming and going every day. ATC forces small planes that can’t keep up with the big boys down low where we burn a lot of Jet-A in rough air, but this time, we didn’t have to descend until forty miles out. We landed and locked up the plane in our hangar, packed the car, and left the airport.
Continue reading Chapter 2: Collapse
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