Saturday mornings and I don't usually get together so early. The late fall sun was barely out of the sack when I twitched my wrist and felt the cool, fat air above shove me away from the runway. It was a fantastic time to be alive. The cockpit of the Pitts fit like it always did. Like an old shoe. A comfortable feeling. I was going aloft with a dear old, somewhat raucous, friend. I was home, but at that moment I didn't know exactly how much a home it was.
When it came, I really wasn't pre-pared for it. Going through 2000 feet, as I climbed away from the pattern, I felt it well up inside of me and suddenly I was sobbing. Not just misty eyed or crying, but I was racked with the deepest, most gut-wrenching sobs I've known as an adult. Maybe ever. I was alone for the first time in a week and I was suddenly faced with the true knowledge that my brother was gone. I wasn't wrapping my arms around my mother trying to comfort her. I wasn't holding his wife Betsy, feel ing our tears run together. I was alone. In my entire life I had never felt so alone.
It had been exactly one week since that awful call had come in the middle of the night. It wasn't supposed to happen to my family. The stories about men dying in their prime, at forty-one years old, were about other people Not Gary. Not tall, good looking, so damned sensitive, Gary. It just wasn't supposed to happen. But it did. And there, at 2000 feet, I knew the set had been broken. I would never again know that feeling of walking into a room as The Davisson Kids. We were a pair. Now I was alone.
Somehow through the numbness of the week I managed to grieve the only way I knew how, with my arms around another loved one who hurt as much as I did. What I didn't know was that I was grieving not for Gary and not for me, but for those he had left behind. For Betsy. For his three kids. For the literally hundreds and hundreds of people he had touched in his lire, everyone of whom knew they had met someone special.
Through our entire adult life it was almost embarrassing, the way he could get inside somebody's head in a matter of seconds. If you met Gary for five minutes, you knew Gary. And what's more, try as you might to hide, he knew you. I guess that's why he became a shrink, a PhD in cowboy hoots and Levis who prac-iced the theory of love and made it work for other people. Especially kids. Most especially kids.
I pushed my way through the week. It was a blur or airplanes: Newark! O'Hare/Omaha, Omaha/Dallas/Phoenix, Phoenix/Denver/Lincoln. Then, finally, Lincoln!/O'Hare/Home. Home! The trip was punctuated with tidal waves of hugs and tears. With kind words and kinder caresses. It was one hell of a long hard week.
And then I was home and it was an absolutely beautiful Indian summer day, It was a day made for Pitts Specials and one I wasn't going to waste.
As I was taxiing out, I had forgotten my first impulse of the week before. Seven days earlier the phone rang in the dark and I answered. The shock and disbelief took their toll and, without thinking, I started to put on Levi's and mv leather jacket and head for the airport. As the sun came up, the press of having to be someplace else in a hurry and the dense ground fog combined to make me forget why I was walking around the house in a flight jacket. I forgot a lot of things that morning.
Then, a week later, as I pressed my head against the side of the canopy and let the pain exit my body anyway it wanted, I remembered where I was headed that morning. I had wanted to be alone. I wanted to be where it was just me and nobody else. Where I could let go of my emotional control and wouldn't be embarrassed at the consequences. Still, I was surprised, and relieved at the strength of the sobs, the profusion of tears. And the sound of my own cries over the Lycorning. Oh God, how I hurt! He was gone and, at that moment, climbing through the early morning sun over Andover. New Jersey, I let myself believe that fact for the first time. And I didn't like it.
I've never been a true romantic about aviation. I've heard a million people say they get up in an airplane! and all their troubles disappear. I've never really felt that way When I'm flying, it's an experiment, a challenge, to see if I can fly better than I did the last time. In a way it's a competition in which I'm the only contestant Flying is a long way from being work for me, but it's not necessarily a mystical experience either. Not usually anyway.
That one flight made me realize that I didn't have the slightest idea how important flying was to me. Gary, in his always subtle way, had made me reach inside to see how the pieces really fit together. For the first time, I was seeing how the emotions actually dovetailed without the sugar coating of logic or rationality. I was seeing that flight was much more important to me than I had ever known. Damned, I wished he'd picked an easier method of analysis!
One of the real tragedies of my life is that I really didn't get to know my brother until we were in our late thirties. Being less than two years younger than me, it shouldn't have been that way. Brothers being what they sometimes are, however, we were so different it took half a lifetime to grow together. And the tragedy is I didn't have time to learn from him nearly what I could and should have.
He taught me two very serious and useful things in his passing; The first is that, in the final analysis, when all the hugs and rituals are over, you grieve alone. That's the grieving which really counts.
The second thing I learned from Gary that day is I now know where I have to go to be alone. I now know how to visit those private places which exist only within my own mind.
Gary and I were never big on good-byes. We'd hug and mumble ". . . see ya later." Never good-bye. It was too final then, and it's too final now. I don't know how many more flights it's going to take to work that one out, but at least I know where to start.