July 17, 2006

ChrishaAddendum: 15 years since I’d originally written this. 25 years since the day it happened. It is no loss haunting and each year the day never fails to rise up in my memory. This one, for obvious reasons, more so. 25 years on. Really and truly wish you were still here to share stories about growing old.

In the fall of 1990 I meet an amazing person. Her name was Chrisha Siebert. She was a graduating theatre stage crafter designer heading out into the great big world of professional theatre (with an eventual short stay in Ohio for grad school). Her laugh was deep and husky but strong and full of life. She’d make this wonderful little grunting noise whenever she thought something was irritating, under her breath, where you’d hear it but think to yourself, ‘did she really just do that?’

Chrisha was an ecclectic icon. She wore old keds tennis shoes before they became hip. She loved overalls and paint-crusted hats but was about as feminine as any woman I have ever met. She had a bright smile and big, gorgeous eyes that took in everything around her and said to the world in a shy ‘from under a hat’ sort of way, “I love life.”

10 years ago on this day the world became a sadder place. July 17th 1996.

I sat on the set of an independent movie, laughing and joking and wondering how we were going to solve the boredom of waiting for the next set-up to finish so we could do our 10 minutes of work for the day. We were bored and bored actors on a movie set is a nightmare for any director so we’d been banished to a room where we could eat, make stupid jokes and generally not get in anyone’s way who was doing real work.

Two days later, I sat in the same position, the same place and for the very same reasons. The News and Observer daily newspaper was tossed to one side after everyone had already rifled the sports page. A sudden sick feeling crept in my gut and I had no idea why, not an inkling, but for some reason, I picked up the front page, turned to page two and began reading the names.

The names of all those who had died on July 17th, 1996 in the explosion of Flight TWA 800.

Chrisha’s name, amongst the hundreds of others on the plane including her sister, Brenna, was on the list.

I remember the feeling that hit me when I saw her name. I felt the world tilt beneath my feet. It was like standing on a large platform, high over some massive chasm and having that platform suddenly pulled away.

The paper dropped to my feet. Rob, a friend to this day, looked over at me and his face screwed up. “Are you okay?”

I didn’t know what to say. I stood to my feet and walked into the other room. I stood there for about two minutes and my breathing felt erratic and forced. My face felt wet. Tears. Hot tears. I don’t think I moved for an hour.

She was gone.

Since that day, I’ve managed to visit her grave twice. She’s buried in her hometown of Jefferson City, Mo. It’s a beautiful hillside, overlooking a lovely pastured view. It breaks my heart every time I think about it.

I miss you, Chrisha. You are not forgotten. Ever.

Edit (added 2016): TWA Flight 800 International Memorial