A song came up on my Spotify today, and it brought with it a flood of memories and emotion that I had pushed away, regardless of them being so recent. I was watching the documentary on Netflix about Lady Gaga when she described the inspiration for the song, and watched as she played it for her grandmother. It was beautiful, and I downloaded it as I was still watching it being sung.
That was one week before I got a call from my sister Anastasia, telling me our sister Tatiana had been in the Las Vegas shooting. It was before the media had time to broadcast the details, or even a preliminary report. I had no idea the magnitude of the tragedy, just that someone had opened fire onto the music festival; her call was the first I was hearing of it. Her injuries were relatively minor, a bruised thigh and a sprained ankle from jumping a fence; her husband had a swollen knee, but was otherwise physically okay, as were her friends that were there with them. It was a perfect storm of misfortune: My sister, her husband, and all of her closest friends love country music, and my brother-in-law, an executive for Mandalay Bay, was able to get them free tickets. I remember sitting up in my bed, my head immediately swarming with follow up questions and confusion. “You should have heard her voice Trin, I have chills remembering it. She sounded so scared, I’ve never heard anyone sound like that”. I could hear the tears in her voice. I started talking fast, anxiety swelling in my chest to unbearable levels and suffocating me. “I’m getting on a plane. We’re getting on a plane. We’re going. We need to be with her. What the fuck is wrong with people?”. “Don’t book anything yet, we should check with her before we all descend on their house. It might stress her out”, Ana said. She’s right, take a step back, be rational, calm down. She might not want us there. But I couldn’t swallow that thought. I couldn’t accept the idea of not being with them after something like this.
“I hate that we’re all so far apart. I hate that we’re not together” Ana said. I was thinking the same thing. Here was a genuine emergency, and I was at least a 4 hour flight away.
I tried not to cry at work. I tried to stay calm, to not let people know anything was wrong so they wouldn’t ask probing questions. Tatiana left the hospital at 10am Pacific time, called Anastasia and I on three-way, told us she wanted us to come but wasn’t sure about her work schedule. “You’re not fucking working” Ana and I said at the same time. It would have actually been funny, in a different situation. My sister is a Radiologist, at the hospital where they were sending all of the victims of the shooting. Our first thought was that was the last place she needed to be right then; her first thought was how she could be helping other victims. That’s how she is: she sees the big picture, then selflessly and quietly offers herself in assistance. No grandeur, no reciprocation.
We were making arrangements for our flight when my mom called and said Southwest was offering free flights to Las Vegas for the families of the shooting victims. I called. The girl on the other line was calm, gracious, warm, and empathetic. I’ll never forget her kindness. Sure enough, they booked the flights for myself, Anastasia, her daughter Athena, and my mother at no charge. I remember being so grateful, I swore I would never fly another airline other than Southwest if I had the option, and I’ve kept that promise.
The flight itself was brutal. I sat in a middle seat, bouncing my leg, tears welling in my eyes as I tried desperately not to let them fall and bring attention to myself. I could hear a group in the back cheering and wooing in excitement, and I felt a flash of anger. Who the fuck do they think they are? Do they have no respect? No sooner did I finish that thought when a flight attendant came over the loudspeaker, announcing that there were people on the flight who had been affected by the shooting and to please be respectful. She shouldn’t have had to say that, it should be known. The gentleman to my right notice my demeanor. He gently leaned over to me and asked if I was flying alone. “I’m meeting my family in Vegas”. Then he asked if there was anything he could do to make my flight more comfortable. In a relaxed state, I would have been surprised at his offer, but in that moment I felt grateful, and greedy for comfort. I asked if he would hold my hand. He let me squeeze his hand in mine with troubling strength until we were in the air. I never learned his name, and in hindsight, I wish I had bothered to ask.
I played Joanne by Lady Gaga on loop. “Heaven’s not ready for you” “Every part of my aching heart needs you more than the angels do” “Girl, where do you think you’re going?”
Anastasia was at the gate when I departed the plane. I ran to her. Literally ran, attacking her in a bear hug and crying quietly. “I hate the world”, I sobbed into her shoulder. She just nodded quietly and let me hold her. Tatiana picked us up from the airport and we must have been there holding her for no less than 15 minutes. The security guard circled around to tell us to move on, but upon seeing 4 women in tears, he kept moving. Wise man. She took us to breakfast and we all took turns holding her hand. I was surprised at how open she was with talking about her experience: the chaos, the noise, the sound of the gunfire, the widespread panic and fear, the overwhelming hyperdrive of survival instinct that kicks in. I listened silently, feeling sick to my stomach and wanting to put my hands around the neck of the fucker who dared open fire on my sister. I would settle for his corpse.
She handed each of us a card and said she had been saving them for a while. My mom opened hers first, read the inside, screamed, and then burst into tears in the loudest way possible. “Mom! Jesus…” I said. I’ve never been very sensitive when it came to my mother. And then I read my card. I saw the word “aunt”. She was pregnant.
It makes me cry to even to remember it. The all-encompassing feeling of fear, worry, and panic was instantly replaced by pure joy, gratitude, and the furthest depths of love you could feel for another person. “I guess I was meant to survive for a reason”, she said with tears in her eyes. I sobbed openly at the breakfast table, surrounded by people staring at us, not being able to even remotely relate to the moment we were having.
She had her baby in June. Savannah.
Last updated July 12, 2018