Owen is five years older than me and a rugged outdoorsy traveller type. He worked as a tour guide in Nepal for a couple of years, lived in South America too. He and his girlfriend missed our wedding because they were on holiday somewhere remote and exotic - they missed my brother's wedding almost a year later for the same reason. It came as no surprise then to hear that Owen would not be spending Christmas at home.
I was busy over Christmas - cooking and entertaining. I didn't check the news until after I spoke to my Mum on the phone. But even after I heard about the wave I was certain Owen was fine. I spoke to another family member the next day. She was inconsolable, wailing, crying, sobbing - I couldn't understand why she had assumed Owen must be dead. But then, we don't have a television. I logged on and checked out the news sites. Worry began to fester.
for us, a happy ending
My Mum called to tell me that Owen and girlfriend had spoken to my aunt. They had been picked up by a cruise ship. More details trickled out the next day. Owen and Samara had been staying on a tiny island off the coast of Thailand they had spent Christmas day on the beach. The next day they discussed whether to stay on the beach or head out to scuba dive, they went diving. Owen was all suited up and about to dive when the crew noticed the water was fizzing. The captain decided to take the boat out into deep water where they'd be able to ride out any storm more safely. They were out there for six hours and watched the whole calamity from the deck. When they came back to the island the tent they'd slept in the night before had been washed away. When they got back to the mainland, the hotel where they'd left their bags had been destroyed. They got on a plane to Bangkok and were going to spend the rest of their holiday there. They were in good spirits and seemed relatively unshaken. When I heard all this I laughed and said typical Owen - trust Owen, lucky Owen. For the rest of the day I congratulated myself for having not been too concerned. TA kept telling me that early reports were wildly optomistic, but nothing really sank in.
It took a day for the enormity of it to hit me and then the sense of guilt crept up on me: guilt for having not been worried, guilt for having misunderstood the scale of the tragedy, guilt for feeling relieved about Owen - strange second-hand survivors' guilt - and now the guilt of the impotent, life carrying on as normal while hundreds of thousands of people suffer. And of course, still, the nervous laugh - typical, bloody-lucky, Owen.