If you’ve been here long enough, you know that I’m not one for Thanksgiving “I’m Thankful For…” posts. Oh, it’s not that I’m not thankful for certain things (and entirely un-thankful for others), it’s just that I tend to keep my feelings for these matters private. I will of course share them with Handan, just as she shares hers with me. But I’ve mostly kept it away from the blog.
As corny and trite as it sounds, I do “feel compelled” this year to dedicate a small space of the infinite internet to gratitude and grace.
You’re wondering why the change of heart.
You’re wondering what happened. Something must have happened, right?
Just sit back and let me tell you.
I suppose the best starting point for this tale is Baris’s departure for university. In mid-August, Baris, my babes and I drove 6 hours to Blacksburg, Virginia to drop him off and get him properly installed in his dorm room at Virginia Tech. It was a subdued weekend. Baris wasn’t acting like himself, at least that’s how it seemed to me. I thought he was angry with us for some unknown teenage reason. Or perhaps he sensed his upcoming freedom and couldn’t wait to shake the parental baggage. It’s how I felt when I first set foot on the Middlebury College campus back in August of 1990, so I certainly wouldn’t blame him.
His mood persisted until our departure day, and shortly before we were to drop him off and head back to Georgia, I couldn’t take it anymore so I asked him what was wrong.
And then I understood.
He wasn’t mad.
He wasn’t itching for us to get the heck out of his hair.
My boy was sad to be leaving us. He was sad and a little scared at what lay ahead – this great unknown and uncharted territory of university life away from home.
We were sitting in our car in a Kroger parking lot, and Handan jumped out and went to the back seat to comfort our boy as he let his emotions spill out.
Before the trip, I had made Handan promise me to keep it together during the final goodbye. I told her to put up a strong and positive façade so Baris wouldn’t feel sad that his mother was sad. She carried through on her promise (much to my surprise – I really expected Blubberfest 2021), though Baris shed a few final tears. We dropped him off in the middle of campus, as he needed to visit the bookstore. Before we turned the corner, I saw that he was walking with his head up and full of purpose. The tears were gone.
He would be okay.
Of course, that was precisely when Niagara Falls erupted in the passenger seat next to me.
Baris’s absence was much harder on me than I thought it would be. Though he spent most of his time in his room, he was a constant presence in the house these past 8 years, and I’d really grown accustomed to having him around. I comforted myself with the fact that we’d be seeing him only two weeks after dropping him off. We were moving to Florida the week after that, so the weekend of September 4 was the only one open until we would see him again during this Thanksgiving week.
It was during his second week that Baris got his first college sickness, complete with fever, coughing, sneezing – the whole enchilada. It seemed our visit was very well timed! And then on Tuesday, August 31, Handan and I got the scare of our lives.
We were in Walgreen’s. I had just received my second jab of Pfizer, and already I could tell it wasn’t going to be a party afterwards. As we walked slowly towards the front of the store, my phone buzzed and alerted me to a new text message. It was from my sister Margo in Long Island, and it read:
Tornado heading towards VA Tech. Make sure Baris is inside. Engineering school will be hit within 5 minutes.
Baris is an engineering student.
I stared at my phone in disbelief. How the hell would she know that? She was up in New York! I immediately called Baris and relayed the news. They already knew. The dorm alarms had sounded and they kids all ran to the basement. We spoke for a moment, and then the phone cut out. Handan texted him while I called my sister for more information.
Apparently, my brother-in-law Chuck had been watching The Weather Channel trying to get a read on a storm system headed their way when he noticed the scrolling news at the bottom of the screen tell about the Virginia Tech tornado.
Handan was starting to panic, so we hightailed it out of Walgreens and back into our car. It was a 20 minute drive home, and my heart was poundings out of my chest with fear and the aftereffects of the shot. At some point, we lost touch with Baris. Our texts were not going through and his phone went directly to voicemail. I had Margo on one line while Handan tried to keep in contact with Baris with the other. Margo told me that the tornado was headed right for the football stadium, which is essentially across the street from Baris’s dorm.
Now, a cool head with time to think about such things would have deduced that any tornado in the Virginia valleys could probably never amount to much more than an EF0 or EF1 at the most – not nearly strong enough to destroy stone buildings.
But this was not a situation with cool heads nor time to think. The moment Handan lost contact, she erupted into full-blown, tear-driven panic. I just tried my best to keep the car on the road and my heart beating in my chest.
By the time we got home, we had again briefly established contact via text. Baris was okay. He was safe. His only complaint was that he was “a little hot” in the crowded and non-ventilated basement with his 102 degree fever during a brutal late-summer heat wave.
Poor kid. I can’t imagine how uncomfortable that must have been.
I turned on the tv and tuned in The Weather Channel. The threat had passed. The kids were safe.
I assured Handan up and down and six ways to Sunday that it is impossible for a tornado to strike the same spot twice. Never happens. Couldn’t happen! I don’t know if she believed me, but it didn’t really matter, because just then The Weather Channel issued another tornado warning…
…for the exact same location! This was an epic storm that seemed hell-bent on throwing off tornados whenever possible.
I don’t know if the kids ever had the chance to leave the basement, but once again, we lost all contact with The Boy, and once again, my babes slid into terrified panic.
Obviously, Baris survived, as did every other Virginia Tech student, but this was our “welcome to college life” moment.
I would have bet large sums of cash money that the tornado scare would be the worst we’d ever endure this year (and likely any other). Good thing I never made that bet.
Well, it’s been an eventful semester. Baris seemed intent on picking up every virus and bacterial infection Virginia Tech had to offer. Four fevers, one month-long cough and two weeks of strep throat later, and it was finally time for Handan’s baby to come home for some much-needed rest and lots of good dad-cooked food.
His flight took him from Roanoke Airport to Atlanta Hartfield-Jackson Airport this past Saturday. He landed about 1:20 PM on Saturday, November 20.
Handan and I drove down to the airport to pick him up. I pulled into the parking garage and began to hunt for a space. It was crowded. Parking spots were scarce. It was the beginning of the holiday rush. As I drove farther into the garage, I came closer to the road separating the garage from the airport entrance. Just as I was driving through the last lane of parking spots before that road and the airport, a group of people ran past the car. There were travelers and employees – I could tell by their badges. I couldn’t say for sure, but I thought one or two were…laughing?
They were all young men and women – so maybe some sort of game?
I didn’t think too much more about it and continued my slow drive up that final lane. When I got to the end, I turned right and then immediately right again. Looking down that lane, I could see there were no spots.
“My babes,” I said, “You’ll have to get out and meet him while I look for a spot.”
Handan jumped out just as Baris called. He was in the concourse and making his way towards us.
I carried on down the lane I was in, and then turned right again to put me facing the airport and all those travelers returning to the parking garage.
The phone rang. It was Handan.
“I found you a spot, my babes. I’m standing in it. Come quick!”
She was around the corner, so I needed to take a right again onto that final lane I had been in before.
In an instant the scene changed.
A wave of screaming humanity washed past my car.
“What the hell is happening?” I said, panic creeping into my voice.
“My babes, something is wrong. People are running! Get here quickly!” she said.
More humans running. Luggage dropped. Screams of terror.
I whipped around the corner and found Handan in the spot. After parking, we ran to a crowd of people who were still standing across the road from the entrance to the airport.
“What’s going on?” I asked the first person I saw. He didn’t know. Nobody knew. I heard a few murmurs about a shooter inside.
oh shit please no
Then, “Shooter! Shooter! Run! RUN!”
And everyone ran like gazelles on the African savannah.
We were swept up in the final wave of humanity desperately trying to put as many footsteps between them and danger as they could.
Handan was halfway up the ramp to the roof. She was terrified – for herself, for me, but mostly for Baris. Her face was a study in panic and grief.
There was a shooter or shooters in the airport.
Her boy was in the airport.
On the top level of the garage now, we made our way towards the airport entrance. We were one level up now – there was blue sky overhead.
Handan was a wreck. Her mind played out worst-case scenario after worst-case scenario. This made her tornado panic look like a happy birthday celebration.
I hope you never experience yourself or see another parent who is convinced their child is in mortal danger…and there is nothing you or they can do to help.
These were the worst minutes of our lives. We had no idea what was happening inside and no idea if our boy was alive or dead.
When we reached the safety of the upper deck of the parking garage, we called Baris.
He also had no idea what was going on, as ATL is the busiest airport in the world (and one of the largest), and he was about a mile back from whatever was happening.
But we didn’t know that then, nor did we know the extent of the threat. Handan told him through sobbing tears to find a bathroom and hide.
We made our way to the forward edge of the parking structure. We had a bird’s-eye view of the airport entrances. For the next two hours, Baris sat on a toilet in concourse D, as Handan and I watched no fewer than 5 swat teams with dogs pull up and enter the airport. No one knew what was happening, but those who had been inside that we spoke to and those posting on Twitter swear there were 3 gunshots that afternoon.
The official story is that a convicted felon tried to bring a loaded gun through the security checkpoint. When the scanners picked it up, he lunged for it, thus causing it to “accidentally discharge.” He then fled the scene in the ensuing panic.
Maybe that’s how it happened. Maybe not. Maybe we’ll never know.
The total ordeal lasted four hours. Four hours from our arrival to the time we finally got inside the airport and met Baris at baggage claim.
The relief and joy we felt was like nothing else.
We made our way back to the car…just as everyone else did. The parking garage had become a parking lot. It took a full two hours to make our way to the exit. Handan and I were exhausted when we finally left the airport grounds. All that adrenaline had left us feeling worn and beaten. We both aged a few years last Saturday, but we had the best and most enjoyable evening when we returned to our Georgia home with Baris and our dogs.
Before that day, I never could have imagined that I or anyone in my family would be involved in something like that. Even though the threat turned out to be non-existent, the panic and terror were real.
Yup, this year’s Thanksgiving is a little different for me, and I’ll wager it is for Handan as well.
Sending a kid off to college is hard at the best of times.
Sending one off into tornados, chronic fevers and active shooter scenarios is an entirely different thing altogether!
My hope is that we and Baris have seen the worst and most terrifying this academic year has to offer. My hope is that it will be smoother sailing from here.
And I have to say, despite the hardships he has gone through with near-constant sickness, the kid is rocking his courses and is just a hair shy of a 4.0 GPA!
So this year, I’m thankful for my son.
I’m grateful for the joy he brings his mother and me.
And I’m awed by the man he’s become. He left us a boy and returned a much-matured young man.
He carries himself with confidence and grace, and I have no doubt he will do great things in life.
This year, I’m thankful for my family. Without Handan’s support and love, I’d be nothing. This blog would be nothing! I’m the one you hear from all the time, and mine are the hands that make the crafts, but my babes not only comes up with 99% of the project ideas, but she’s the one doing all the back-end tech work and keeping our Pinterest account rocking and rolling. There couldn’t be a Navage Patch without my babes!
And speaking of the blog, where would either of us be without you?
Look, I could make all the cutesy crafts on earth, and my babes could build a website more beautiful than any other, but if no one is there to see it, what would it matter?
Without you, madam (or 5% chance of being sir), we are nothing but two boisterous monkeys banging noisy cymbals into an uncaring void.
So while I am moved to share the events that have filled me with gratitude this Thanksgiving, Handan and I also want to commemorate our gratitude for you! And what better way to do that than to give away another Cricut Joy?
Yep, it’s our 3rd Joy giveaway of 2021, and you’ll be able to enter the drawing tomorrow. We’ll have some great Christmas SVGs for you!
We here at The Navage Patch wish all of you the Happiest Thanksgiving! Whether you celebrate the day or not, be sure to set a place for grace and gratitude at your table and in your heart.
Greg and Handan