As previously noted, being a father has changed me
. But not only in the humor I find in little kids, but in real, heartfelt ways, too. Both The Scientist and I have noticed our increased reticence to read or listen to news that involves the abuse or death of children. I mean, no one seeks out that kind of stuff, but before kids I would shake my head and say, “Jesus, that’s terrible.” But now? Driving in to work a couple of weeks ago I heard this news story on NPR:
“A woman remains in custody for allegedly putting her infant child in -- CLICK.”
The click was me turning the radio off. Because you just know that that story didn’t end with “--putting her infant child in a pretty dress and letting her eat marshmallows for dinner.” I wasn’t able to avoid reading some horrible news that week, and the story above could have been either a mother who killed her child by putting her in the microwave or the mother who abandoned her child in a garage for the weekend while she went out of town.
We live in a horrible world.
The Scientist and I talked about this a fair amount before having children. Because we do live in a horrible world where things like this happen all the time. And as a society we’ve become so numb to it that we just shake our heads and turn the page. What right, I wondered, did we have to condemn our offspring to live in such a shitty place? We can only protect them for so long, then they’re off on their own, dealing with crackheads and rapists and murderers well after their mother and I are long gone. My urge to protect them was strong, and this was before I ever saw their wrinkly little faces with my own eyes. And now? Now I can’t even listen to the radio news without projecting how terrible it would be if it was my kids.
So it really struck me when I heard about James Kim
You heard the story. Guy drives his wife and two little girls through the mountains, gets stuck in the snow, goes out on foot to try to find help, ends up freezing to death. A tragedy to be sure, but a couple of years ago I wouldn’t have given it much more thought than, “Wow, that sucks.”
But now I have children of my own, and I can better imagine what went on in that car.
Maybe what hits me hardest is that what caused this in the first place is that James Kim missed his turn. Something I’ve done a thousand times. He missed his turn, then got on a road that the map told him would be a short cut. By 2AM the weather was too bad to continue, so they stopped for the night. By morning their car was covered with snow and it was impossible to go on.
That first day probably wasn’t that bad. The family had some food, they could run the car to stay warm. The biggest challenge would have been keeping the kids entertained. His children, at the time, were four and seven months old. The seven-month-old would have been easy, since kids that age don’t do a lot more than eat, poop and sleep. But the four-year-old? My daughter is three, and she’s already smart enough and active enough that most entertainment won’t hold her for long, not more than an hour or so. If the Kims were lucky they had a portable DVD player and lots of movies. Or at least books to read. For an entire day and night they sat on that snowy road, waiting for the inevitable truck to come rumbling by.
But that truck never came. After sitting for a day and night, they must have become worried. Did they start to bicker? Did his wife start to chew him out for missing the turn? Did he scream at her for reading the map wrong? Probably not. Reports say that he kept the spirits of his family high by acting like "they were on a camp-out."
Either way, by day two it must have become scary. The four-year-old would no doubt have picked up on their apprehension. She may have become whiney, I know my little girl would have. “Why can’t we go? When will a car come? I’m cold. Daddy, I’m cold!” How long did that go on? How many times did they tell her, “Soon now, honey. A car will be along soon.”
They sat in that car for six days, waiting for help.
After day three, you have to think their hopes of being found were pretty much exhausted. The reality of the situation would have sunk in long before: stranded in the snow, miles from any town, no-one new exactly where they were, out of cell phone range. As early as day two I bet James Kim started thinking about going for help.
From all reports he was a smart guy. A computer guy, well-known and very successful. But chances are he didn’t have the survival skills necessary to live out in the elements for days. He certainly didn’t have the gear. And he must have known it. All he had were sneakers and lightweight clothes.
How many times did he look at the faces of his wife and children, scared, desperate, before finally deciding to head out? What was the tripping point from clinging to the hope that they would be found, to breaking through that first waist-high snowdrift?
The plan was that he’d walk until 1PM, then turn around if he hadn’t found help. He never came back.
I wonder what happened at 1 o’clock. Did he think he was near help and decided to go just a little longer? Or was that something he just told his wife so she wouldn’t worry? Maybe he never intended to stop until he found help. That somehow sounds right to me; that’s what I’d do.
With the faces of his wife and children firmly in mind, he kept trudging through the ice and snow. It was freezing, and at some point he would have lost feeling in his hands and feet. But he kept going. How could he stop? He had to save him family.
It breaks my heart to think that the guy may have realized at some point that he wasn’t going to make it. That he was lost or simply didn’t have the will to go on. Some sources say that he probably became disoriented or even delusional as hyperthermia crept in. I find this darkly comforting. I really hope the guy’s mind went elsewhere, because that would be so much better than having to deal with the fact that you’d never see your wife and kids alive again. That maybe no-one would.
James Kim is a hero. He took on a task that he knew he had only a marginal chance of achieving, but he did it to save his wife and family. Of course, his family survived. And if he had stayed put he would be alive today, too. But he didn’t -- he couldn’t -- because there was far too much at stake.
He was trying to protect his children from a harsh world.