06-25-2004 - Barbara Jean Arestegui '80: Marston Mills Man Mourns Girlfriend
Marston Mills Man Mourns Girlfriend
Barbara Jean Arestegui '80
He can see her clothes hung neatly in the closets. Her cats wander upstairs and back down to the kitchen, where one of her old passports lies on a table.
For a moment, he thinks Bobbi will call from Los Angeles to say everything is all right.
But it isn't. The answering machine fills with sympathetic voices. The refrigerator is stocked with food brought by friends. Television airs hourly reminders of loss.
His girlfriend of six years, Bobbi Arestegui, 38, was a flight attendant for American Airlines. She was on the first plane that crashed into the World Trade Center.
For two decades Wayne, 46, has been a psychotherapist, helping people touched by tragedy. He has counseled parents who lost children; wives who lost husbands.
As a consultant with the Coast Guard at Air Station Cape Cod, his job was to debrief traumatized workers, like those who sifted through the remains of the 1999 Egypt Air crash or who looked for a fallen president's son two summers ago in the Atlantic.
'My job is to pick up the pieces of lives that have been shattered, to help people through grieving and give them hope,' Wayne said, sitting in his living room Sunday.
But he had never analyzed his own grief. He had not walked those steps he spoke about so many times with his clients.
'The training does not make any difference. A surgeon can't do surgery on himself. I have an intellectual understanding of it, and I may know the territory, but I don't know it this way.'
Bobbi was not scheduled to work Flight 11 that day. But she had accepted extra flights; she was saving up her earned vacation to take a trip with Wayne at the end of September.
'She had been flying a lot. We had not seen each other much, and both of us had been talking about getting away,' Wayne said. 'We were going to go to Vermont.'
Instead, Wayne and Bobbi's mother and sister, who flew from California to Massachusetts Saturday to be with him, are arranging memorial services on both coasts.
The relationship, appropriately, began in the sky.
Seven years ago, Wayne was on an American Airlines flight, coming back to the Cape from his father's memorial service in the Caribbean.
'The first thing I noticed, of course, was that she is absolutely beautiful,' he said. 'We had a nice talk, probably for about 15 minutes. I asked her if it would be possible to get her phone number.'
She told him sternly: 'No, I don't give out my home number.'
Wayne shrugged his shoulders and walked away, thinking: I gave it my best shot. She stopped him with one word.
'But,' she said.
'I'll give it to you.'
It seemed an odd match.
He was a New Englander, having grown up on Martha's Vineyard and Newton, returning from graduate school in Maryland to practice psychotherapy in a small office at Barnstable Harbor.
She was living in Washington, D.C., the middle of five girls from a California family with Spanish Basque roots. Two of the girls would join the tight-knit community of flight attendants.
After countless telephone conversations between her apartment and his home in Marstons Mills, Bobbi agreed to visit. On Super Bowl Sunday, 1995, Wayne took her to Alberto's Ristorante in Hyannis.
'The weather was awful and there was nobody out. She asked me if people actually lived here.'
Cape Cod in winter was a world apart from the frenetic bustle of JFK and Dulles Airports in New York City and Washington. She liked it right away. Less than a year later, Bobbi moved up to be with Wayne; Boston's Logan International Airport became her home base.
Eventually the couple bought a new home in Marstons Mills, up the road from Wayne's old place. She got used to driving her car to Sagamore, where she caught the bus to Boston. Her typical schedule was three or four days on followed by three or four days home.
She turned their house into a cozy retreat with a garden out back. They made a habit of walking the cranberry bogs, picking blueberries and having breakfast at the Mills Restaurant. She loved to cook - she dreamed of attending culinary school.
Bobbi picked up three stray and abused cats: Olive, Bruiser and Pumpkin. She'd loved animals since she was a kid in Hawthorne, a suburb of Los Angeles.
'She was a gentle person, yet tough when she needed to be,' said Rosie Arestegui, who gave her daughter Barbara the nickname Bobbi. 'She knew her job so well. She could do two or three people's work, plus hers, and it would be done perfectly.'
Colleagues of Bobbi repeated that praise when Wayne met them in Boston on Friday. He talked with more than 50 people who knew his girlfriend through work. They remembered her as energetic; a huge heart in a 5-foot-3-inch frame.
'I was amazed at how many people had stories about her,' said Wayne, who stayed past midnight at the hotel where American Airlines held its gathering. 'She was extremely popular. I was blown away.'
Bobbi, I miss you. I hate it that you have to work so much, but I do understand. I can't wait to have a vacation with you. I need to see you more. I love you. Wayne.
The words are scrawled on a piece of yellow paper. He had left it on the table for her to see before she left the house on Tuesday morning, Sept. 11.
Later last week he pulled it from the trash and smoothed its edges.
She got up about 2:30 that morning and within a few hours was out the door.
'Usually she wakes me up when she leaves. She didn't wake me up this time,' he said.
But she did keep another of their rituals: At 6:45 a.m., he got a phone call from the airport.
'She told me that she was just about to board. She was waiting for them to finish cleaning the plane,' he said. 'She was in a wonderful mood, better than normal.'
A few hours later, Wayne flicked on a television at home. The image was on every channel: Something had crashed into the first World Trade Center tower.
'I did not think about her until they said it was a commercial jet that hit the building. When they said hijacked plane from Boston, I just started shaking and screaming.'
Wayne had been nervous about Bobbi's job, but those were thoughts he tucked in the back of his mind. She told him that she had been flying regularly for 13 years and nothing had happened, so there was no reason to be afraid.
Now he watched as his future was stolen in a single moment.
The phone started ringing Tuesday morning, and it has barely been silent since. Wayne initially told friends that he wanted to be alone, but they knew better. A good friend knocked at the door early in the day and refused to leave. After forcing Wayne to eat lunch, the friend said: 'You're going to have to make me leave, you know. I'm Irish.'
Wayne said he would not have made it through the past week without the support of his friends and family. And he runs. It centers his thoughts. A lifelong athlete, Wayne has been competing in triathlons for years. It was a sports metaphor that came to mind when he described his emotions.
'I've been in Ironman races where the pain is so great, but you endure because you can visualize the finish line,' he said. 'In this, I don't even know where the finish line is.'
But the grief counselor in Wayne knows this: The first days and weeks after a tragedy are the easiest. Support is at its peak and hours are filled with the necessity of official forms and memorial services.
The hardest time is yet to come, when the visits and phone calls slow down and the survivors are left alone.
'I don't know what I am going to do,' he said, sitting farther back on the living room couch. 'You can't shut down the thoughts. You can't get it out of your mind.'
He wonders how long it will take before he stops reaching out for her in the morning. And he grieves for the others who wake with that same instinct, crushed again and again by the empty spaces they find.