I can still recall the events of that merciless night I witnessed. Where God turned his back on a small piece of humanity. Forever haunted by the eerie cries of the drowning, the horrific sight of lost souls bobbing gently on the water, and the ear splitting silence that follows death. That night I heard her gasp her last solitary breath as she slowly drowned. The same night my guardian angels were stolen from my unyielding grasp.
She was named “Unsinkable”, “The Ship of Dreams,” they said, “Not even God could sink her,” we were told. All of these becoming the unnecessary curses that sentenced her to an icy, eternal stay in Davie Jones’s locker.
Despite it being many years since that night, I still remember first seeing the Titanic sitting there. She was surrounded by a jubilant crowd of thousands. Her glorious perfection shining out light the brightest of beacons in the dullness of our humble town. She towered above us all, a true iron maiden, with a long open deck stretching out to the horizon in the late afternoon sun, a privilege besotted on the wealthy, but one we could all appreciate in earnest. Sammy and I held onto little Tommy, his hazel eyes gleaming with unworldly excitement as we boarded the “Ship of Dreams”. As we worked our way down to our room, I could smell the slight bitterness of fresh paint mingling with the sweet fragrance wafting off from Sammy’s long, wavy hair. Our room was humble in its size but it was enough. A solitary lamp glowed, lighting our faces in the otherwise darkness. We tucked Tommy into his bed on the top bunk; all the excitement had taken its toll. “A night for celebrations,” Sammy whispered to me as we later captured our own little piece of heaven, while the Titanic’s mighty engines began her maiden voyage below us.
Three more blissful days flew by my astonished eyes. Even though the entertainment poured onto the wealthy aristocracy was barred to our degraded class of workers, we still could enjoy mingling with other passengers, feasting on well-prepared food until we could barely manage to stand, and appreciating the uninterrupted time we could receive as a loving family. Yet besides all this, one night, four long, though somewhat too short days after departure, still stands out above the rest. The cloudless night of April 14th, 1912.
Sammy had just lulled Tommy off into a serene-seeming sleep. We were about to turn in for the night ourselves when a light shudder abruptly rippled through me. I gave it no second thought and climbed into bed when the shaking began. It started slowly, but soon its intensity of sharp jitters increased. An ear-splitting screech, more painful than fingernails being scraped down a blackboard, continually stung me. Unexpectedly, without warning, all subsided, and an unnatural silence fell. Not even the normal, distant hum of the engines could be heard. Sammy by my side, still dazed, I peeked through our now-open door, where a crowd of people already stood. Staff were already flitting in and around the tightly packed space handing out strange, creamy-beige coloured parcels. All of a sudden, sound found its way back through to my uncomprehending ears, and the mayhem all sunk in. From the babble of voices one thing was certain. The unsinkable was sinking.
“Edward?!” Sammy’s distressed voice broke through my guarded senses. “Get Tommy. Now. We have to go!” She did as I requested, no questions asked. That was what I loved about her; she could put all her faith in me without a second’s hesitation. But now wasn’t the time for bitter-sweet reveries. I grabbed Tommy and held him sturdily in one adrenalin fuelled arm. “Sammy, hold my hand, don’t let go.” I felt her soft, warm fingers wind around mine as I reluctantly turned from her and began to flee. Corridor after corridor flew past my vision. I paid careful attention not to look at the shocked, frightened families searching for their children, neither did I hear the shouts and screams as people were pushed over and trampled on in the rush to escape, and nor did I notice the fact the ground below my feet was forming and increasing layer of moisture.
More and more corridors blurred as they rushed past my vision. The instinct for survival burned strong within me, giving me the vital hope I needed to carry on. The only time we stopped running was to hastily pull on three abandoned life belts; we needed all we were given. We pushed on, up staircases, until we came to the main gate leading to the deck. I couldn’t believe what I saw. All of the third class was being held back. They wanted us to die. Around fifty families were huddled together in front of us. “Push! Push!” I shout, but my voice is lost in the commotion. “PUSH!” I scream, this time more people joining in, and as one the bundle pushed forward with all their might. The gate began to buckle, and on the fourth attempt we were free; spat out like a distasteful meal onto the deck. Looking around, past the anxious, crazed faces, the stern had already begun to be submerged. A large snapping sound, a low groaning followed by creaking started. The titanic was about to become two.
I turn to face Sammy. She steadily holds my gaze. “we need to jump off. Now.” She bobs her head lithely, once, in acknowledgement. Before I turn away, she leans up towards me, searching. I lean down and kiss her gently, but soon it was more. There was something more urgent in the way our lips moved in synchronisation, an unwanted, unwelcome tenseness. A last goodbye. But I pushed this thought far away, as for that one moment time stood still.
We break apart and search for a safe place to jump off. I spot one, and we move towards the middle of the grand deck while Tommy becomes increasingly restless in my arms. “Daddy!?” “Hush. Not now.” Other families are saying rushed farewells as the last of the dearly beloved women and children are separated from devoted fathers and tearful uncles. The last of the lifeboats, the final chance for guaranteed survival, is lowered as we step up onto the side barrier. In the distance there are boats with a single gas lamp revealing the location of each. Oh how I wished we were them. “Edward, I’m scared,” Sammy whispered in my ear. “Me too love. Don’t be.” And with that we embrace and together throw ourselves off the side, Tommy safely secured between us.
We hit the water with a huge splash. The shock of the biting cold hit me. “Keep swimming out or we’ll get sucked under.” Sammy leads, while I follow supporting Tommy. Each stroke pushes me one step closer to my absolute limit. Kick. Pull. Kick. Pull. At 500 m out we stop. Neither of us have the energy, nor the will, to continue. As I gaze up at the beautifully starlit sky, the Titanic begins to rise. The bow is lifted up, high into the air, and with an ear-bursting shriek it snaps away, leaving her in two. Meanwhile, the helpless left aboard, the mothers, the father, the young children, are thrown off. Others bump into countless poles and other obstacles during their descent. Those unconscious, in a way, are the lucky ones. They won’t feel the pain.
I look up once more, and now the bow is rising. 40, 50, 60 feet up. Many are still being flung off. My heart aches to save them, but my head tells my heart to only save myself and those I love. She continues to heighten, until perfectly perpendicular, and with the precise grace of royalty she slowly sank into the water to her icy grave far below.
At first there is silence, yet soon the agonising screams and shouts began. Those pulled under have reappeared at the surface, searching in desperation for their loved ones. People are fighting, somewhat pointlessly, over scraps of debris to use as a float. It reminded of seagulls fighting over crumbs of bread; there is no real need or reason.
We are bobbing there. It is so cold now. We are waiting.
Seconds, minutes, hours pass. It is impossible to keep track of time. My hands are numb. Tommy is alive, thank God, but he’s sleeping peacefully. Sammy and I are humming our favourite melody, just to pass the endless time.
Later, I realize little Tommy has left us. His chest no longer softly rises and falls with his fragile breath. Rest in peace, son. We cry silent, gentle sobs. Our hair is frozen in place. I’m getting stiff. I’m tired and I want it to end. Now. Painlessly.
Sammy is really struggling. She has become quiet; more subdued, her breath ragged from effort, and her face is tired. I try to hold her but my arms fail me. “I love you Edward, so much. Please, always remember me,” she whispers to me, as her head is submerged under Satan’s water. “Sam, NO!” I reach for her and pull her limp body to the surface. “You’re not going to leave me!” I cried out in desperation. But she already had.
So soon after I hear voices. I open my eyes. There’s a boat. They’ve come to rescue us. Me. The light swivels around directly at me, blinding me. I move my arms around to draw attention. “We’ve found one!” They shout, relief flooding their tone.
I paddle towards them with my last reserves of strength. As I reached out my hand to grab the side of the boat, I gave in. I had absolutely nothing left to give. The chilling blackness enfolded me, emptying all reason, as the cold, lifeless nothingness became me. That’s what death feels like.
Death is not your enemy. Death is your friend. He taunts you with pain and suffering. He draws you into the cold and black, and leaves you there alone, frightened. But he gives you knowledge. The knowledge that you will be reunited, that Sammy and Tommy have not permanently left me, they’re only on leave from this Earth until I can meet with them again. This knowledge is power. Power to bring me back to life.
To this day, I held my promise. The last wish of my Sammy, before the cruelness of death withdrew her. I’ve lived a long life, and I am grateful. But no-one ever recaptured my heart like Sammy did, no-one rekindled the light within me like Tommy, nothing managed to ever hurt me again.
Yet there are things I learnt, I know, and was forced to live up to. The bond between us, Sammy, Tommy and I, was forged so deep that it could not be broken by any absence, nor distance, or any amount of time.
The devil’s work is never done until no happiness destroyable survives. In the end the devil beat me:
Nothingness is all I feel.