I'm wrecked by the James Kim story. It seems such an appalling caprice of fate: that these people made a simple mistake, one wrong turn, and that single choice spiraled into horror and tragedy. I don't pray, exactly, I am unconvinced that there is any particular higher power in charge...but for a week I followed this story, sent up a periodic silent supplication to what or whomever might be listening--mostly a litany of just please, please, please. Redoubled when the mother and girls were found on Monday...but there is no happy ending here.
A commenter on Seattlest nailed the excruciating familiarity of this story, I think--pointing out that the Kims are a scant few degrees from being "us." A cute, smart, young family of appealing tech nerds; James Kim a blogger, a technical editor--that detail particularly resonant in my mind. They came north for a Thanksgiving vacation, and on the way home Saturday they stopped for dinner at a Denny's, that road-trip staple of every family vacation I myself remember. Back in the car, they missed their turn, and consulted a map for another option. Probably James and his wife put their heads together over the Rand McNally road atlas, angling it under the dome light. Maybe as they headed into the woods, there was a little friendly ribbing: Honey, are you sure? This is the bucolic wilderness!
The first night was probably still an adventure, scary but a tiny bit thrilling. Tell the girls we're camping out for the night, and count on backtracking out of the snow by daybreak. How long did it take to become a nightmare, to realize they were well and truly trapped? They had a few snacks in the car, baby food and bottles of water, but they must have blown through that quickly. When it was gone, Kati Kim began nursing not only her infant daughter but her four-year-old, kept the girls hydrated and alive. When the gas ran out and the heat shut off, they started burning the tires. How, how did they make the decision that James would walk out for help? What must husband and wife have said to each other, after four days, five, seven, watching their babies grow visibly thinner? One report noted that the little girl had lost so much weight, when she stood up her pants fell off. Yes, that would drive me out into the snow in tennis shoes.
James Kim told them that if he couldn't retrace their path back to civilization, he'd be back in a few hours. Back by 1:00. I can't begin to imagine what Kati Kim went through at 2:00. At dusk. For two more days. Her husband left them to save them; he was a smart man, he knew, of course they both knew, that the lost should stick together, stay put, wait to be found. But it had been more than a week. He left desperate to save them, and he didn't come back.
Actually it shames me, that I can so easily imagine it, a lot of it...let my mind run down that narrow lane dense with snow and contemplate the full love and terror and anguish these people experienced. It's sickeningly easy, a glittering bleak fiction I can conjure out of the air. Except it's real, heaven help them. A holiday drive turned hellish, James Kim a geek with a cell phone who plunged out into the snow in sneakers in a heroic effort to save his family.
No, I don't pray. But I am thinking hard about the Kims tonight, pleading with the universe in my clumsy agnostic way to please please give them any small measure of peace.