I met Rick online. We are friends on Facebook. We love similar music. We are both pilots. We are both Dads. We both lived apart from our sons. We both went to the Ateneo University. There are minor issues: He is a Harley biker, and I never learned to ride even a bicycle. We each live on opposite sides of the Pacific Ocean. We have never met in person. Minor issues.
We both miss our Dads, who happened to pass within a year of each other.
Rick’s father flew F-86 Sabres for the Philippine Air Force. A jet fighter pilot. It doesn’t get much better than that. His Dad also penned beautiful poetry.
My son Carlo teaches drama, lit and poetry at the Ateneo. Carlo assures me that poet-pilots perch on the peak of a special pinnacle.
I’m a sucker for father-and-son pilot stories. This is one of the best.
Ten Seven Seventy Eight
By Rick Saguin
I still think about you every day. Five years ago, I woke up in a cold sweat because I could not remember how you looked like. That’s when I decided that I needed a tattoo of your face on my left arm. Every morning, when I shave and look at the mirror, you are with me. When I ride the bus to work. When I shoot the breeze with my friends about flying. When I ride my Harley.
These past few days, however, I have been out of sorts. Confused. Befuddled. You see, I am now 52, you left us when you were 42. I wonder how our conversations would go now that I am a decade older than you were. If we met on the street, would I treat you like an elder, or as a younger person? Would I seek your advice, or dispense mine?
There are so many things that I want to tell you. My life has exploded many times, the last major one was my divorce. Do you remember when you took me flying on the Islander? It was just a few months before your accident. You told me to fly straight and level. No sudden turns. Control the power, trim the tabs, easy on the yoke. And then your shoulders dropped to relax. You took your headset off and told me to follow the Isabela River. You smiled and I returned it – the altimeter read 200′ AGL*. Your eyes wandered off to look at the horizon. If only life was like flying.
In 1984, after 10 hours of flight instruction, I soloed at the Port St. Lucie airport. It was a beautiful afternoon as Florida summers go. A thunderstorm had just passed and the air was smooth and calm. I circled Tita Marilu’s house on Elyse Circle to give a nod of gratitude — and you were with me. And then I lined up the Cessna 152 on runway 09’s center line, you were with me as I touched down like a leaf. You would have approved of my landing. You were with me when Richard was born. You were with me when I got married. You were with me when I was honored at Microsoft for a business award that I have now forgotten.
Life continues on with equal parts of joys and stresses. Joy is all about the children. You should see your grandchildren — they are all well-adjusted, happy kids who would make you proud and you would have infused your humor into their lives.
My panacea for stress and pain remains the same as you taught me: when in a bind, escape for a couple of hours to watch some film or listen to music and the solution to a problem will present itself. When the chips are down in my life, I get lost in "Apollo 13" because Jim Lovell reminds me so much of you. You trusted me by telling me to fly the left seat of the Islander when I was 16. I don’t think anybody has trusted me like you did, since.
I am an atheist, as you have challenged me to think freely. So I am not expecting that you and I will ever meet again. But in this life, you will always be my magnetic North, my omnidirectional beacon. I try to live my life as you lived – humbly and contentedly. In the off chance that we may meet again, I hope to hear your story, why you hit that mountain – wasn’t full flaps and full power not enough as you tried to negotiate that mountain peak? You almost made it. I have remained in contact with some your friends – especially the pall bearers at your funeral. Johnny Andrews gave you a heartfelt eulogy. Tito Louie Lopez flew me to San Francisco on the 747 as a jump seat passenger. Tito Nap and Bimbo have passed on. Bimbo crashed flying a DC-9 and Tito Nap died with a broken heart from losing a son. Skipper now flies for Etihad. And now, "Maps" Mapeso is a friend on Facebook. I will tell you about Facebook some other time.
Sometimes, I think that life can be a fucked up mess. On the other hand, I think that I am holding up pretty well given the circumstances. The family is doing great and we all have our health.
On my right arm is a tattoo of a wing with the initials RCR. Rene, Carmen and Richard. The three people in my life who will never throw me under the bus. The three people who remain my inspiration.
There are days when all I want to do is buy a Maule, fly charter for a living, raise a bunch of Labrador Retrievers, teach flying, teach writing, write for a living and just be true to my core. It remains to be seen if I can make those things happen. This is all for now.
I still think about you every day.
(*Above Ground Level.)