The unrelenting squelch of the fire alarm ricochets at the speed of sound off the redwood paneling dotted with the portraits of a family I've only just met.
|Robert Allen Page|
Robert Allen Page, a solid man of farmer's stock, is crying deeply, as his wife Joy grasps his rough, creased, and calloused hand. Robert, emotionally naked in front of two television cameras, is about to share his most personal moment about his granddaughter, who recently died during a unreal, freak accident. As he prepares to share a tale about Nikki, the radiant heat from our studio lights trigger the alarm in his tiny living room.
"I'm sorry," I offer as photographer Mike DeBarnardo scurries to snatch off the light, and uses his ball cap to whisk away the heat from the white pod on the ceiling "It's. It's OK," Robert sniffles, as he drags his hardened paw across his face, self-consciously erasing the tears from his cheeks and blinking wildly as if he is trying to wake himself from a trance. As the piercing pollution finally relents, I awkwardly return to my line of questioning, "so you were saying how Nikki could light up a room?"
Robert's 11 year old granddaughter, Nikki Clark, died yesterday after a terrible accident. The girl is running up the stairs of her home, with a rod, used to adjust blinds, when she falls, plunging one end under her skin, just below her clavicle bone. As Robert tells it, the rod only enters about an inch into the girl's body, but it also partially severs an artery. As Nikki scurries to her father, she blurts with wide-eyed terror, "look what I did." she yanks the rod from her chest, and instantly begins to bleed out. hours later the little girl is declared brain dead, then later dies at a hospital in Ogden, Utah.
I meet Robert and his family at his home in Hyrum, Utah. The house is warm and inviting but also very small. As Mike zips open canvas bags filled with lights and light stands, Nikki's two sisters, and another little friend begin to perch themselves right behind me. The living room is about 10 feet by 10 feet, and decorated with several large chairs, and a room engulfing, billowing sofa, that likely swallows up a third of the space.
The body heat, and the warmth radiating from the blinding lights, is beginning to raise the physical temperature of the room exponentially. As Robert settles into his chair, the tiny space has the feel of a greenhouse.
A photographer from another station finds her head swiveling from left to right, as she surveys a room for a place to stand. There is none to be found, because every foot is occupied by cables, cameras, and bodies.
She clumsily gravitates to the only empty space in the room to my left, and I find her just a few inches from my shoulder, as Nikki's sisters hover behind me. They are so close, I can feel the air wisp past me when one of them moves her head or scratches her nose.
The room is like a fever, physically hot, and getting emotionally hotter as Robert, and his wife cry, claw, and search for answers to a tragedy that has none.
As Robert begins again after the uncomfortable interruption of the fire alarm, He speaks calmly for a few minutes, then the tears well, and stream down his face once more, and the quiver, again, takes hold of his lower lip, "She was our little "Red," he says of the redheaded little girl, "She was our every..." his heartfelt recollection, shutters to a stark end, as that alarm, that blasted alarm, screams at us once again. "That's been our luck," he says showing his exasperation. My throat is pulled towards my stomach, as I sigh, and close my eyes. I am mortified.
|Kevin Clark, Nikki's Father|
As the interview winds to a finish, the room squeezes tight with even more people, all of them draped in the pall of pain. Ten people total, now submerge themselves into the sweltering, and aching ocean that is filling the paneled room.
I prepare to signal to Mike that the interview is over, when Nikki's father Kevin, crushed by grief, darts into the room, grabs the grandmothers's hands and tells us, "there is nothing we could do!" His frantic sorrow, catches like a summer wildfire fueled by brittle cheat grass high in the Wasatch Mountains. Robert and Joy begin to weep loudly and openly, as the children at my back move in even closer, and the temperature, slowly ticks up a few more degrees.
I thank the family for sharing their story, then step outside into the brisk openness, unzip my coat, and flaunt it away from my body with both arms as if I have wings, as I invite the cool, almost frigid air to engulf me.