“This is why mothers don’t sleep”

Vanessa Bryant’s nightmare


My job as a parent volunteer at today’s school fundraiser was to belay children at the rock climbing gym. It meant about three hours of holding and working ropes that ran from me up to the high ceiling, and then down to grunting middle-schoolers and high-schoolers. Most are novice. They fall off the rock often, so wrapped in love and trust that as their fingers slip, they mostly laugh. Of course it will all be fine—a wonderful thing for a child to feel in her bones. 

And a big bet on the adults. I was looking up at my climbing 16-year-old daughter when I first learned Kobe Bryant might have died. My 13-year-old son was climbing when I learned that Kobe’s 13-year-old daughter might have been in the helicopter with her father.

Nightmare. Nightmare. 

You tie the big careful knot that connects the child’s harness to the rope, and then you tie the backup to that knot a few inches further up. If the harness is too loose or isn’t high enough over the hip bone, a person could slip out altogether. So you check the straps each time because, they taught us, kids loosen them between climbs and wriggle out. 

You know how parents are. There’s a lot of obsessing about keeping kids alive and safe. This very morning I read an aching, stunning essay by Claudia Dey, in the Paris Review. It’s about how children affect thinking.

No one had warned me that with a child comes death. Death slinks into your mind. It circles your growing body, and once your child has left it, death circles him too. It would be dangerous to turn your attentions away from your child—this is how the death presence makes you feel. The conversations I had with other new mothers stayed strictly within the bounds of the list: blankets, diapers, creams. Every conversation I had was the wrong conversation. No other mother congratulated me and then said: I’m overcome by the blackest of thoughts. You? This is why mothers don’t sleep, I thought to myself. This is why mothers don’t look away from their children. This is why, even with a broken heart, a mother will bring herself back to life.

I knew I was pregnant when I could smell the glue binding the slats of wood together in the bedroom of our apartment. When I mentioned this detail to a friend some time later, he looked at my round stomach and said to it: “That must be a predator-prey thing. Like your body has to be alert to new dangers or something.”

The drive home from the rock climbing gym is only a few minutes. We stopped at Lowe’s and bought an on-sale toilet to replace the one in the downstairs bathroom that, last night—when we had company for dinner—shot water to the far wall like an industrial sprinkler. It seemed like all the cars in the parking lot were some mix of dads and moms and daughters and sons and jeans and shopping carts and conversations, all on their way to patching up little broken things. We crammed the new toilet in the hatchback and made our way home. I tried to concentrate on the road as my learning-to-drive daughter drove (more vigilance!), but my mind wasn’t much on cars. It was swirling with helicopters. Circling death.

A few hours earlier, Kobe was a Sunday dad, bopping to a sports thing with his young teenager. Terrible questions emerge about the deadly sequence. Did the helicopter first have trouble? Were there terrifying minutes, when those poor nine people grew increasingly sure they might die? Did father and daughter hold hands? Would you? What would you say? Is it enough to just cry and cry and hug and say I love you? Is there something more momentous?

Or was it all instant? What’s better?

Jerry Kocharian was standing outside the Church in the Canyon drinking coffee when he heard a helicopter that was flying unusually low and struggling.

“It [didn’t] sound right and it was real low. I saw it falling and spluttering. But it was hard to make out as it was so foggy,” Kocharian said. The helicopter vanished into a cloud of fog and then there was a boom.

The L.A. Times

So, there was time. That’s not just some imagined movie scene. Kobe Bryant and Gianna really had some last words, some hug or not, some hand holding. Nightmare, nightmare. Was he tending to her? Even terribly strong people get terribly terrified. I wonder if anyone can comfort anyone in a falling broken helicopter. It makes me cry just sitting here writing with the dumb luck of having all my people home, safe and sound.

Today, every celebrity and Laker fan and NBA player and politician and journalist is carrying the weight of the fiery violence. But it’s Vanessa Bryant—she’s only 37—who all at once becomes a solo parent, a widow, and a member of the worst club: parents of deceased young children. It’s Vanessa Bryant who just took the first step in a devastating ultramarathon.

"To learn that you have lost a sibling or a child is unfathomable. We are poorly designed for that kind of loss.” Sam Hinkie lost a brother in his youth. That’s what he said, in a press release, when Joel Embiid’s own brother died. It is unfathomable. We are poorly designed. People don’t survive this because there are good systems for it. People survive this because people do miraculous things.

What could Kobe say to Gianna? What can anyone say to Vanessa? May there be infinite perfect love around.

… firefighters arrived to find that the crash had ignited a quarter-acre brush fire in steep terrain, said L.A. County Fire Chief Daryl Osby. Responders included 56 fire personnel — firefighters, a helicopter with paramedics, hand crews — and sheriff’s deputies.

“Our firefighters hiked into the accident site with their medical equipment and hose lines to extinguish the stubborn fire as it included the brush fire … and the helicopter,” Osby said during a news conference Sunday afternoon. “The fire also included magnesium, which is very hard for firefighters to extinguish because magnesium reacts with oxygen and water.”

L.A. Times

This doesn’t feel like the day to write about Kobe, the player or the person. But I can’t help one overwhelming thought: Of course it took 56 people to put out that fire.