Apr. 25, 2021

ONE CRUISE WAS--ONE-TOO-MANY FOR ME

Everyone knows it’s impossible to re-kindle a fire---using DEAD ASHES. In the early seventies, a single guy named Bob lived near me  in a small--Little Rock--Condominium Complex called Hampton Court.   At some point we started dating and enjoyed each other’s company for several years. Needing more space for my daughters and me….I bought a house-- miles from my former condo and, before long, Bob and I were seeing less and less of each other.

There was a point when Bob, six years younger than me, asked me to marry him but, having never been married….Bob didn’t seem ready for the responsibility of a ready-made family.  My children were fond of Bob; Bob was a fun-kind-of-guy.... yet…Bob seemed too-casual about life…and I wasn’t ready to chance another marriage-mistake.

From time to time, I’d get a phone call from Bob.  He eventually moved to New Orleans and, occasionally, when he’d come back to Little Rock to visit family, we’d have dinner together. One day, Bob called to tell me he’d won a seven-day cruise...for two…on Norwegian Cruise Lines for being his company’s Top Salesman and.... he wanted me to join him for the trip.

His company would fly me from Little Rock to Miami where I would join Bob and, together, we’d climb aboard a Luxurious Cruise Ship and, for seven days, cruise the waters of The Caribbean. It was summertime, my daughters were out of school, and my parents agreed to “baby sit” so--I said “yes”.  I pictured myself swimming, jogging, writing, reading, and relaxing in the sun but never-once did I picture myself holding on to the ship’s railing, studying the choppy water far below, and contemplating a serious "jump"....overboard.

We’d been aboard the cruise ship for about two hours when everyone gathered for dinner.  That's when I realized… EATING is a major “activity” for cruise ship passengers.  In fact… EATING is every day’s… “Main Event”!!!!

When Bob and I were escorted to our table…I was stunned to learn that six people from his company had also won tickets for the cruise and would be our constant companions for the seven day trip. Okay, I took a few deep breaths…relaxed… and accepted that I was now part of a group rather than part of a couple. I also realized Bob’s personal and unmarried secretary-- seated on the other side of Bob--assumed I knew she and Bob had been somewhat of a “twosome”.   So….where did that leave me?!?!?

Bob’s explanation was simple: He thought we could renew our relationship during the cruise while his secretary----who was fun but not interesting-enough to marry---- would “get the message”-- find other cruise ”interests” and turn her back on Bob.  It was the craziest, most ridiculous situation I’d ever imagined and….I simply wanted to go home!

 So…over a period of 12 hours, I had ongoing discussions with the ship’s doctor, the ship’s purser, and every official on the ship. They needed to understand that I must be re-located and--- moved as far from Bob and his group--- as soon as possible. I never wanted to see them at meals, in the halls, or at any events. The ship was large and all I asked was to keep our paths from crossing--for the remainder of the cruise.

The room they assigned me was tiny, no window, and located near the ship’s enormous kitchen.   For two nights I struggled with sea sickness, noise all around me, and mounting claustrophobia.  On the third day, I visited the upper deck, desperate for fresh air and sunshine and… that’s when it hit me.  I must get off this ship!  We weren’t scheduled to visit a port for another day and, even then, it was some insignificant island for a brief refueling.  I knew me well; I had to get off this ship and back home, immediately.

I looked down at the water far below and thought about my only alternative.  Yes, it was either JUMP or try to endure another night from Hell.  Could I do it?!?!? Would I do it?!?!?!?

 I’d reached my limit.  It was time to present “my plan” to those in charge:  “Either pull into the nearest large port, drop anchor, and escort me to dry land or….I fully-intend to jump-off the ship.”  I’m not crazy or in need of attention.  I just can-not and will-not spend another night on this floating Merry-go-round from Hell.”

When the doctor (from Sweden) suggested they had the right to restrain me; to keep me from “harming” myself by placing me in a “locked” suite for the remainder of the trip, I advised him to “re-think” such a decision.  I had no history of mental illness and, I had zero-tolerance for most medications but….I did have a long history as both a Television and Radio Personality and was “well-connected” with The Media as well as people in “high places”. If they doubted me…then let me make some phone calls.

The ship’s purser quickly took control of the conversation and assured me that he would find a solution to my problem but….it would take many phone calls and asked me to be patient.  He allowed me to sit in his “command center” while he began initiating a plan.  Nearly two hours later, he directed me to hurry back to my room and pack my bags. He asked me not to say anything to anyone but be ready to leave the ship in 35 minutes.  The purser instructed me to wait in my room until his assistant came for me.

I had barely gathered my bags together when the assistant knocked at my door. Without a word, he tucked my bags under both his arms and ushered me out the door.  By this time, everyone on board was crowding the ship’s many decks, curious to see why we were stopping at an unscheduled port.

As I departed the ship, escorted by both the purser and the ship’s doctor-- I felt thousands of eyes staring at me, questioning who I was, and wondering why I was being removed from the cruise ship. One thing I’ve learned….after years of living….I don’t owe anyone an explanation for WHO I am,  WHY I make certain decisions, or HOW I choose to live life. I take full responsibility for my actions.

The first sign to greet me when I stepped on solid ground said “WELCOME TO ST. THOMAS”.   I learned the Cruise Line had a taxi waiting to take me to the nearest airport.  Thank goodness I had one-less-problem to worry about.  The Taxi Driver was happy to practice his English and proud he could list all three  of America's Airlines that provided service to and from St. Thomas.

But, most alarming was the fact that-- for the next three days-- there was only one flight scheduled to leave St. Thomas for the United States and that flight was today. In fact, it was a Delta Airlines Flight, scheduled to depart in one hour for Atlanta, Georgia.  Passengers were already standing in line to board the flight and….all the seats were full!!!! I ran from one ticket window to the next, desperate to be on stand-by, frantic to find someone to help me.  Surely…they could manage to squeeze me in…somewhere.  I must get home!

 Standing in that unfamiliar airport, surrounded by unfamiliar faces speaking an unfamiliar language and…suddenly….over the loud speaker I hear “Sally Miller, meet your Delta Pilot at gate number 3, immediately.” I was speechless.  People stopped talking to listen, and to wonder why a Pilot was speaking over the public announcement channel. Again, I heard:  “Sally Miller, Miss Arkansas, there’s no time to waste. Come to gate number 3.  Your Delta Pilot is waiting, impatiently.”  I grabbed my bags and started running. I knocked into people repeatedly as I pushed and shoved my way through the crowds. 

When I found Gate Number 3---there was a man, handsomely-dressed in a Delta Pilot’s uniform… blocking the main entrance and waiting….just for me.  He was someone from my far-away past; someone I hadn't seen since I was almost  nine years old!

We grabbed each other and yes, my eyes filled with tears when I realized this man---now all-grown-up--- was my brother’s childhood friend from Pine Bluff’s East Side.  Robert graduated from PB High School in the early fifties, then left to see the world.  Forty years later, Robert was a Delta Airlines Pilot…. hugging me in the St. Thomas Airport!

Robert took me under his wing….found me a seat on his flight…and flew me safely to Atlanta.  He also made arrangements for me to spend the night at Atlanta’s Airport Marriott so I’d make my early morning Delta flight--back home to Little Rock.

Before leaving me at my hotel, Robert explained how--through the years--he’d “kept” up with me; how he’d watched me on television the night I was in the Miss America Pageant. He said “You were like the little sister I never had.  When I recognized you in this far-away airport and heard your tale of woe…I knew I-- alone--must help you.”  Then, he kissed me on the check, said “I’ll always love you”…..and walked out of my life.

Thank you, Robert, for taking care of me. God made the arrangements...then placed his trust in you to “make it happen.”  Believe Me.  There are no coincidences in my life.

Sally Miller