Today I have Mark Berry on the blog. Mark is an airline captain with 30 years in cockpits. His debut novel was survivor’s guilt story: Pushing Leaves Towards the Sun. He followed that up with a memoir about TWA Flight 800 while earning an MFA in Creative Writing from Fairfield University. 13,760Feet—My Personal Hole in the Sky chronicles the loss of his fiancée Susanne on one of our nation’s worst airline disasters. Mark is a contributing editor for Airways magazine where more than two dozen of his aviation articles have been published. He’s also a former managing editor for Mason's Road literary journal. His essays and short stories have appeared in over a dozen publications. His second novel Street Justice is expected to be released later this year.
DW: Who was the person that died?
MB: In 1996 my fiancée Susanne boarded TWA flight 800 at JFK Int’l in New York. While climbing through 13,760 Feet on it’s way to Paris, France, her red and white Boeing 747 blew up and then rained down in 876 pieces. All 230 passengers and crew either died during the explosion, or fell three miles to their final fate.
DW: How old were you at the time?
MB: Susanne had just turned 31, and I was a few months behind her. She wasn’t bothered about turning 30 the year before. It was 30-Something that haunted her; probably because of the TV show by that name that was popular back then. At 31 she suddenly felt she was getting old.
DW: Did you and Susanne talk about death?
MB: Ironically, Susanne and I had just gone on a long bike ride the weekend before, and she showed me where her step-father was buried—the family plot where neither of us could imagine she’d soon end up. That Wednesday night, when she died on TWA Flight 800, I was working on my will with computer software because we were engaged, and I had what the program called a “life event” on the horizon. We were also nine days from closing on a house together and all the major subjects were part of our daily conversations. We talked about making children, when, and how many—if she’d continue to work, etc. We compared how she’d lost her stepfather to a long, protracted illness, versus the way I’d lost my mom to a sudden asthma attack. Was it harder to watch the deterioration and suffering, or harder not being able to say goodbye? We hadn’t reached a firm conclusion. We thought we could face the challenges of losing more loved ones in the years to come, as long as we had each other. Losing her was the one crisis I couldn’t imagine and wasn’t prepared for.