What I Know
I want to tell you a story. In the 30-plus years since I experienced this strange and life changing event, I have only shared this story with a few people. I shared it because I felt they needed to hear it. After the insanity of the last few years, though, I think it's time everyone hears it. Interpret it how you will.
I was engaged once before, several years before I began seeing the man I would eventually marry (and divorce, but that's a different blog topic). We were only about 22, had no idea what we were doing, and were probably doomed from the start. Thankfully, we remain great friends, he is happily married with a lovely wife, and is what many of us wish we could say we were - a working actor. He was (and still is) an adorable Irish redheaded boy with the most beautiful tenor voice I have ever heard.
Other than a few months here and there, it was a long-distance relationship. At the time, I was working as an actor as well, so he was usually in one place doing a show while I was in another. Challenging, to say the least.
To add insult to (inevitable) injury, I met him eight months after he lost his girlfriend on Pan Am Flight 103. For those of you who weren't around at that time, Pan Am 103, flying from London to New York, exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland on December 21, 1988, due to a time-release bomb that was hidden in a cassette player placed in a suitcase. I remember it well, because I was rehearsing for a cruise ship gig in Florida and happened to fly home for Christmas that same day, walking into my parents' house and turning on the news to find that air traffic control had lost communication with the flight. The worst part? This happened on his birthday.
I had never known anyone who had lost a loved one in such a tragic way. Being the young, insecure person that I was, I became a bit obsessed with her. I wanted to know her name, what she was like, I wanted to know about their relationship, and constantly wondered what her last moments must have been like. Truthfully, I've been that way ever since, obsessing over tragedies and what goes through the minds and hearts of those experiencing them.
Fast forward a year, and being apart was taking its toll on both of us. I was in Roanoke, Virginia doing a production of EVITA at Mill Mountain Theatre. The cast was housed in an old building that as it turned out had been a brothel in the 20s and 30s and was rumored to be haunted. (Sidebar: The third floor was SUPER creepy)
Maybe it was the atmosphere, the history of the building, the stress of being apart, or maybe it was a combination of all three. One night, I had a dream. (IFYKYK) I was in a rehearsal for the show. We were given a break, and suddenly I was at the airport saying goodbye to some of my castmates, getting ready to board Pan Am Flight 103. I got on that plane knowing what was going to happen and knowing that, regardless, I was going to be alright. I took my aisle seat on the right towards the back of the plane.
I had seen a picture of her, so I knew who I was looking for. She was one of the 35 Syracuse students who were on the plane that day. I found her, sitting several rows behind me with a group of girls, who couldn't help but notice that there was this strange girl staring at them. I kept trying to listen in on their conversation, and as soon as I heard her mention her boyfriend (now MY fiancé), I jumped at the opportunity to insert myself into the conversation. "Oh, you know Mark? I know him too!" They stared at me like I had two heads. Super awkward. As we approached the moment when I knew the bomb was going to explode, I became increasingly restless and anxious. The girls couldn't help but notice.
Now, in reality, we know that the plane exploded in midair, and the passengers and crew were likely killed instantly, never knowing what happened (which is somewhat of a blessing, I suppose). In my dream, however, the plane somehow ended up on the ground in two pieces. Someone yelled, "We need to run! It's going to catch fire!", and everyone began to run as fast as they could away from the wreckage. I caught up to her and grabbed her arm to stop her. She looked at me in horrified disbelief, but I said, "Wait! I need to tell you something. I know you love Mark. I love him too, and I just want you to know he's okay." She then continued to run with the rest of the passengers, while I went in a different direction, knowing full well that they were all going to die.
Pretty heavy, right? But it wasn't over. The dream repeated itself, but this time I had a chance to save her. I remember standing at the bottom of a short staircase with my hand held out to her, yelling, "Come with me! I can save you!" She looked down at me from the top of the stairs with the most peaceful expression on her face, not saying a word, shook her head "No", and turned away. I knew she was gone.
For the longest time after this happened, I couldn't get through the story without completely falling apart, and even tonight as I write this, over 34 years later, it's stirring up a lot of emotion. I began reading the Bible again, praying, and generally looking at life from a completely different perspective. Even when I returned to Wilmington, my dear departed friend Mary James Morgan looked at me one day and said, "What's happened to you? You're not as bitchy." Too true, MJ. Too true.
This may or may not resonate with anyone else; after all, it is quite specific. But here is what I know. Our lives are not our own. Whether you worship God, Allah, Buddha, or the Church of the Fonz, in the end it's all the same. We have much less control over our lives than we think we do. While our choices do influence what happens day to day, when you consider the bigger picture, things happen for a reason.
Even though the relationship (at least the romantic one) didn't last, I know that it was part of the path that he and I were meant to take in our lives. After all, if I hadn't made the decision to go to work as an entertainer on a cruise ship a week before I was set to go to college to obtain a degree in voice, I would not be the nurse I am today. Even though my marriage did not survive the changes to who we are over the course of 18 years, I don't regret one bit of it. We had some wonderful times, created two incredible human beings, and made many good memories.
The things that happen to us are designed to get us to the next place we are meant to be in our lives. Sometimes those events are magical and sometimes they are painful. I can tell you from recent experience that sometimes they end up being a bit of both. But they all have a purpose.
And sometimes, you just need someone to tell you, from wherever they are, that it's okay. This is how it's supposed to be. And if you still don't believe me, my first child was born seven years later......on December 21.
In Memory of Nicole Elise Boulanger