5 years on, empty graves, full hearts for Gulf survivors
Published 10:03 am Monday, April 20, 2015
JONESVILLE, La. — Courtney Kemp was getting dressed for work when husband Wyatt walked in and sat down. He didn’t speak, but she could tell something was weighing on him.
She knew that things hadn’t been going well on the job, but Wyatt never wanted to trouble her with details. They’d talked often about the risks of working on an oil rig 41 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico; Wyatt had always insisted that the most dangerous part was the helicopter ride to the Deepwater Horizon. In just a few days, the 27-year-old derrickhand would be leaving for his next three-week hitch.
Courtney asked what was wrong.
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“I just want you to know that if something happened to me … I don’t want you to be by yourself,” he told her. “And I don’t want the girls to grow up without somebody to be their father.”
“If something did, I wouldn’t be able to get over it,” she insisted. “I don’t know how I would go on.”
Courtney began to cry, and Wyatt pulled her into a tight embrace.
“It’s all going to be OK,” he assured her.
In the five years since the Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank off the coast of Louisiana, the Gulf has shown remarkable resilience. So, too, have the families of the 11 men who lost their lives in the disaster.
But the shockwaves of April 20, 2010, continue to send out ripples across the gulf of time.
Children too young to have any real memories of their fathers ask to hear stories and make pilgrimages to empty graves. The family of one victim recently celebrated the birth of his first grandchild; the mother of another is still coming to grips with the bitter fact that her youngest son will never give her grandkids.
These survivors are doing their best to balance the memory of the men they loved and the reality that each of their own lives is an ongoing journey.
Consider the road traveled by a young widow named Courtney.
By the spring of 2010, Courtney and Wyatt had been together nearly half their lives.
Shortly after high school graduation, they married and moved away. But after just a couple of years, they were drawn back to Jonesville, and to their comfortable “home” church.
Wyatt found a job as a roustabout on a land-based oil rig, then made the jump to the Deepwater Horizon, the “pride of the Transocean fleet.” They built a home amid the ironing board-flat pastures and croplands outside town, and had two daughters — Kaylee and Maddison.
Church remained a constant in their lives.
The Sunday before he left for his last hitch on the rig, Wyatt answered the pastor’s invitation to approach the altar. When Courtney asked if everything was OK, he replied simply: “Everyone needs prayer at some time or another.”
He’d had just a few weeks with newborn Maddison before it was time to return to the Deepwater Horizon.
Around noon on April 20, Wyatt called from the Deepwater’s tower. It had been a rough hitch, and he was ready to come home.
“I’ll see y’all tomorrow,” he said.