Alana discovered that she was pregnant during our senior year of college. We hadn’t planned to start our family so soon, but baby Alissa was a welcome surprise. After her birth, we coordinated our class and work schedules so that one of us was with her at all times.
We both graduated at the top of our classes. The military recruited me right after graduation, and I was given a position as a squad leader. Alana was hired by one of the swankiest restaurants in town to be a line cook.
Then Alana became pregnant with our second child. We were going to have a boy!
Then came the decision that changed our lives. I was offered a big promotion that would lead to my reaching my lifetime goal of becoming an astronaut even sooner. It was a position as a fighter pilot at the military base in Champs Les Sims, France.
Alana was in her fifth month of pregnancy, and it was a long trip for someone in her condition. I had a plan to make the trip as easy for her as possible.
“Alana,” I said excitedly. “I’ve been offered a promotion!” I went on to explain what had happened.
“Oh I’m so happy for you David!,”she exclaimed. Then she looked pensive, rubbing her pregnant belly. “That’s a long trip for me and for Alissa. Even if we fly, it’s still a 10 hour flight. “
I grabbed both of her hands in mine.”I know it’s a long trip, Hon. That’s why we are not going to fly. We’re going to take a cruise ship. It will take longer to get there, but this way it won’t be that much of a strain on you or Alissa.”
She started smiling and getting excited. “I’ve wanted to go back there ever since our honeymoon. I can learn so many new recipes. I’m even going to learn French. Imagine raising our children in such a beautiful, peaceful town!”
I pulled her to me and kissed her.
The first few days of the cruise were very pleasant. The sea was calm and the air was pleasantly warm. On our fourth day at sea the weather suddenly took a turn for the worst.
Alissa was asleep in our cabin and Alana and I were standing together on the balcony outside the cabin. Suddenly the ship rose roughly over a wave almost knocking Alana off her feet. I grabbed her to me and saw the unease in her eyes. “Wow let’s get back inside the cabin. It looks like the sky is gonna burst at any moment, ” I told her.
I helped her back inside and stood for a few moments gazing at the sky. There were dark heavy clouds as far as the eye could see, and a strong wind was churning up the ocean waters.
When I reentered the cabin, Alana was curled up on the bed with Alissa in her arms. A loud piercing alarm sounded throughout the ship.
Across the ship’s PA system came this announcement: “ALL PASSENGERS REPORT TO YOUR LIFEBOAT STATIONS! PLEASE REMAIN CALM!”
Alana turned her terrified eyes to me. I took Alissa from her arms . Then I grabbed Alana’s hand and pulled her out of the cabin. “Stay calm, Baby, we’re going to be okay!”, I told her, as we rushed towards the upper deck.
The sky was black and the rain was pouring down with a driving force. There was panic everywhere. The mechanisms that lowered the lifeboats into the ocean were malfunctioning! The crew were working feverishly to lower the boats , but I overheard one of them say that with the damage to the ship there would not be enough time.
Alana heard it too. “What are we going to do David!”, she cried looking at me.
I kept tight hold of Alana’s hand pulling her with me through the crowds of panicking passengers. When we reached the display, I quickly checked over the small boat. It appeared to be seaworthy. Getting it into the water would be tricky, but not impossible. On this level of the ship, the water level was a lot closer.
I directed Alana to sit on the floor beside the display, hold onto Alissa, and wait for me to come back for her. “Please don’t leave us David,” she cried at me, tears in her eyes.
“I’ll be right back for you, Baby”, I told her . “I have to get this boat into the water.”
I grabbed a blanket and a flashlight from one of the displays and placed them into the boat. Then I leapt over the snack bar counter, grabbing a bag and filling it with bottles of water and cans of food and a can opener. I threw the bag under one of the seats in the rowboat and then dragged the boat out onto the deck.
A crewman standing on deck approached me. I thought he was going to try to stop me, but he silently assisted me in raising the boat over the railing and securing the boat with ropes so that it would stay close to the ship until I returned.
“I have to get my wife and daughter!,” I shouted to him, trying to be heard over the sound of the crashing waves, wind and rain. I rushed inside and grabbed Alissa from Alana’s arms and pulled Alana after me out onto the deck .
“You get in first and I’ll hand them over the deck railing to you!, ” the crewman shouted to me. I scrambled into the boat and reached up to catch Alissa as he handed her down to me. I laid her down on the floor of the boat and quickly reached up to help Alana into the boat. She grabbed Alissa to her and huddled down on the floor in a corner .
I looked up at the crewman and shouted, “Why don’t you come with us?”
“No! I can’t leave. Save your family! Row away from the ship as quickly as you can!”
He untied the ropes, freeing the rowboat to drift away from the ship.
We could hear the sounds of metal grinding against metal. Then the ship began to shutter as it took on more water.
I started rowing as furiously as I could away from the ship, my muscles straining with the effort. Finally the waves started carrying us further and further away until the sinking ship was just a small speck in the distance.
Alana kept Alissa sheltered as best she could with the blanket. I decided to stop rowing and just let the boat be carried by the waves. I squeezed in close to Alana keeping Alissa between us and pulled the blanket around the three of us.
Totally exhausted, Alana laid her head on my shoulder and drifted into an uneasy sleep. She awoke with a start when Alissa started crying softly. “It’s okay Alissa,” I murmured to her gently. “Mommy and Daddy are right here and we’re going to keep you safe.” She drifted back off to sleep. I stroked Alana’s cheek with my fingers and she eventually went back to sleep.
Alissa woke up telling me,” I hungry DaDa”. Hearing her voice, Alana also awoke. I moved away from them and grabbed the bag of food that I had stowed away in the boat. I didn’t know what would be suitable for her to eat. Alana asked for the bag and opened a can of peaches and hand fed it to Alissa.
I told her to make sure she ate some also. Knowing her well, she would save all the food for Alissa and eat none herself.
I knew that more than likely no one was looking for us. By the third day, Alana had become ill and listless. The temperature was warm, but she was cold.
I prepared a spot on the floor of the boat for Alissa and gave her some makeshift things to play with. I made Alana stretch out on the bench and covered her with the blanket.
Not once had she looked at me with reproachful eyes or blamed me for our predicament.
Her worsening condition worried me. I knew I had to find land and get her out of this boat. I thought back to the geography of the area. There were small uninhabited islands in this part of the ocean, but I did not have a map nor a compass. I decided to use the position of the sun as my compass . I had a rough idea of where one of the islands was located. Eventually I spotted it. I rowed as hard as I could to the shore determined to get my family to dry land.
By the time I dragged the boat onto the shore, Alana had begun to have contractions. We both knew that it was too soon for the baby to be born. Alana was not quite six months along . We were far away from any medical care.
I carried Alissa out of the boat and placed her on the beach telling her not to move. Then I rushed back to the boat and laid Alana on the sandy beach.
Alana looked at me with terrified eyes and screamed in pain. Alissa started crying loudly, hearing her mother scream. “David”, Alana managed to say to me,” Take Alissa away from here. I don’t want her to see this.”
There was no way that I was going to leave Alana alone. I dragged the boat completely out of the water and put Alissa on the floor of the boat. I gave her the flashlight and some other things to play with. “Everything is okay Alissa. You just stay in here and play for a while.,” I told her. She settled down to play.
I raced back to Alana. I carried her further down the beach where I could still keep an eye on Alissa and help her as well. “Alissa is fine sweetheart. Just concentrate on you right now.”
I did not want her to know just how worried I was. I was terrified that I was about to lose her.
“Whatever happens David, always remember that I love you . Don’t blame yourself and make Alissa happy,” she said to me.
“I love you too Alana. You’re gonna be fine. We’ll get through this together because I’m not going to let you go!”, I told her with tears in my eyes. Then commenced the worst hour of my life.
Alana gave birth to our son. His tiny body was so perfect but totally lifeless. I could not revive him. Alana held him in her arms gazing on his tiny face without a tear in her eye. She handed him to me and said, “Bury him David, find a pretty spot.”
With tears falling down my face, I found a beautiful tree and buried our little son under its protecting branches. I wiped the tears from my eyes and returned to the rest of my family.
I helped Alana wash up. She was very weak, and I knew that she could not be moved far. I decided to build a makeshift shelter for the night and start working on something more permanent the next day. I carried her to the shelter and built a fire. I put Alissa beside her.
” I’m going to catch some fish!”, I told her. With my military training , I knew how to care for our physical needs on the island. Alana’s health and emotional condition, that I did not know how to handle.
As I fished, I could hear Alissa talking to her mother and laughing. I could tell that she was happy and content to be back on dry land. Alana made an effort to talk with her, but I knew it was difficult .
I cleaned the fish that I caught and roasted them over the fire wrapped in palm leaves. I sat Alissa on the ground and broke up pieces of the fish placing it and small pieces of a banana that I had picked, on a palm leaf in front of her. She grabbed a piece of the fish and started eating with an contented smile on her face.
Then I went over to Alana and held her upright in my arms. “David I’m sorry, but I’m not hungry,” she told me, refusing the mouthful of fish that I was holding out to her.
“I’m sorry too Alana,” I told her, “but you have eaten nothing all day and you are going to eat this.” My tone allowed for no argument. She ate the fish and also a few bites of the banana. She even managed to drink some coconut juice.
I cleaned up after our meal, and we all settled down to sleep in the shelter for the night.