After grabbing dinner, the whole team heads back to ZEDRU's office to load up the relief goods and being driving to the port.
I am consistently noting the time, waiting for 7:30 pm, when Leslie should be waking up in America.
We have divided up between the vehicles according Mom Beth's buddy system. Mace and Preston are paired together, and I am paired with Mom Beth.
Mom Beth sits beside me in the van, and while we drive through the streets of Cebu, I keep my eye on the time. I remember Mom Beth talking to me; I think she was sharing a story about another rescue operation when a different calamity hit the Philippines. But I can't recall much as my mind is muddled, and my stomach clenches tighter with uncertainty.
As soon as the clock hits 7:30, I dial Leslie's number. She answers groggily, though excited to hear from me, and I tell her the situation. Leslie sympathizes with me, saying that is a really tough decision, but she isn't biased in either direction. She really wants me at her wedding, but she really wants to support me in this cause. She says she will pray for me as I make my choice, and we get off the phone.
We both know that ultimately the choice lies with me. Walter grabs my hand, and my eyes again well up with tears.
At this moment, we reach the boat dock, and without another quiet moment for me to think, Mom Beth flings open the van door, grabs me by the wrist, and pulls me out into the swarming crowd. Hundreds of people are flooding the boat office to either get into the island, or camping out to wait for the loved ones to be saved from the island. The noise of chatter is deafening, and the lights over the port are extremely bright against the black sky.
With Mom Beth's hand firmly grasping my wrist, she immediately begins yanking me through the crowd towards the boat office. She finagles her way through the lines, showing her EMT badge, and getting special access to continue passed lines of people. I scramble behind her, trying to just get one good breath from the overwhelming situation, my mind still foggy and my stomach still clenched.
I don't even have one moment to think about my decision as Mom Beth keeps tugging me further and further into the crowd. I can't wrap my brain around anything, other than the fact that my arm was stuck in Mom Beth's pursuit, and thus, so is the rest of me.
Finally, we reach the far side of the boat office, beyond the hundreds of people, Mom Beth flashes our tickets to a security officer, who opens the door behind her a tiny crack, and we are allowed to slip through. We are outside behind the building, finally relieved of the noisy crowd. Mom Beth guides us back up the port to where trucks are loading goods onto the boat. We locate our truck with the rest of our team, and I see Mace immediately turn around and spot me. For the first time since I was hauled out of the van, Mom Beth finally lets go of my wrist, and I walk over to him, rubbing the spot where Mom Beth's hand used to be.
Noting the look on my face, Mace asks me if he needs to arrange a driver to take me back to Cebu to stay with Apollo until my flight leaves for America. I tell him that we'll finish loading the goods and then we can talk. Though, I'm not much helping unloading much of anything, as I'm so distracted by what I should do. The van driver approaches me. "Ma'am, are you okay?"
I spin around. "Yeah, yeah, I think I'm fine. Well, I don't know."
Then he interjects in broken, but still very understandable English. "Walter told me about your decisions. Your friend's wedding. Or your travels to Tacloban. I just want to say that you coming to our country is very touching. You come to help our people. And that means a lot to us. Your journey here means a lot to me. Thank you, ma'am." And then he walks away. I stand even more numb than before.
The goods are loaded, and the team pauses for a picture. I'm hardly present.
It's time for us to get on the boat.
The team goes ahead, walking across the ramp and onto the boat, while Mace and I stay behind. We both say nothing, just staring ahead into the black ocean. "Whatever you want to do," he gently says.
And we stand for a moment longer before I turn to him.
"Let's go." And I step onto the boat ramp, and he grins.
Upward and onward,