For families of rig workers who died, the pain endures
11 men on the Deepwater Horizon were killed on April 20, 2010
"I try to be as good as he was" one mother says of her son
Lacy Anderson cries at night and calls out for her mother.
Tell me about the day you and Dad got married.
How did Dad react the day I was born?
Tell the story about when Dad proposed to you.
Lacy was 5 when her father, Jason Anderson, died. He was 35 years old, one of 11 men killed when Deepwater Horizon exploded in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010. In the weeks and months immediately after her dad’s death, the little girl would hug her crying mother. “It’s OK,” she told her mom. “Daddy’s in heaven now.”
It’s mom who does the comforting now. “She always wants me to tell her stories about her daddy,” Shelley Anderson says.
Now 10, Lacy watches in awe the video of her mom and dad’s wedding day on July 27, 2002, when more than 1,000 people overflowed the pews at First Baptist Church in Bay City, Texas.
She relishes her role as big sister. She tries to preserve the memory of Dad for her brother Ryver, who was just over 1 when their father was killed.
Lacy tells 6-year-old Ryver about the way Daddy lost his fingers. He was fighting with his big sister over a bicycle when he was a boy, not much older than Ryver now. Big Sis pedaled off and he grabbed the chain, slicing off two fingertips. Doctors stitched one back on; grandpa told them to sew it on his right index finger so he could hunt.
The lesson there may be to always listen to your big sister.
Other times, Lacy retells the story of when Daddy proposed. He’d been cleaning guns and had them scattered all over the living room. Friends were coming over for a barbecue. He and mom gathered up the guns and put them in the gun closet. He handed her a bag from a jewelry store.
“Do you want this?” Jason said.
Not exactly romantic, but that’s the way Daddy was. He sure loved Mom.
It might be cliché to say a boy is the spitting image of his father, but that is the truth in this case. Put a picture of a young Jason next to one of Ryver and it’s nearly impossible to distinguish the two.
Ryver has piercing blue eyes and straight, reddish blond hair. The same woman who cut Jason’s hair cuts his boy’s. Ryver has the same crooked smile and can raise a quizzical eyebrow, just like his father.
Too young to remember anything about his dad, Ryver loves hearing stories. A favorite is about the time his father and mother floated on an inner tube down the Guadalupe River. Ryver was a souvenir from that trip, and so got his name.
Shelley stays busy rearing two children by herself. “I hope I’m doing OK,” she says.
Ryver is active in T-ball, and Lacy gets tutored an hour away once a week. In the fall, she will cheerlead. They are surrounded by family and friends who pitch in on a moment’s notice, “but I think I’ve just learned in a different way,” Shelley says. “It’s life, but not the life we planned.”
Jason prepared her well. On his last trip home, he made sure she knew how to charge the batteries to their motor home. He went over the combination of the family’s safe and wanted her to memorize it. He taught her other “man stuff,” too. On the way to the airport, he went over his will.
Shelley didn’t know it at the time, but Jason had confided in his father that Deepwater Horizon was having major problems and he felt “it was going to get somebody killed.”
Her grief has been insufferable. At one point, her blood pressure skyrocketed. But she bears no ill will toward those in charge of Deepwater. Harboring hatred, she says, would do no good.
“It doesn’t make you feel better,” she says, “and the people you’re hating, they don’t care.”
The family home in Midfield, Texas, was being renovated when Jason was killed. It has since been completed, and breathes of life with a young family. But his absence is omnipresent. Out back, his man-cave remains unfinished.
Shelley keeps his wedding band on a charm bracelet and runs her finger through it when she wants to feel his presence. When she longs to hear his deep baritone, she calls his cell phone and listens to the message. “…I’ll get back to ya…”
“I call it all the time,” she says.
On spring break, she took her two children to Houston to visit a memorial statue outside the offices of Transocean, which employed nine of the 11 men who died. Stopping there has become a family tradition. The children place flowers in water at the base of the statue.
The rest of the Gulf may have returned to living their lives, Shelley says, and that’s fine by her. She understands.
She places her hand on her heart: “Jason’s memory is here.”
Mother: ‘I feel like I’m losing more of him’
When BP commercials come on TV advertising a cleaned-up Gulf of Mexico, Arleen Weise reaches for her clicker. She presses the mute button. She suppresses her anger.
“I just want to throw something at my TV,” she says.
Arleen’s 24-year-old son, Adam, was the second youngest to die on the rig – and the only one who was not a father.
Immediately after the accident, Arleen moved into her son’s home, a man-cave in Yorktown, Texas, filled with hunting trophies. Adam lived for his souped-up F-250, and his mother dutifully kept it up.
His Redwing boots stood next to the back door. Mom placed plants inside to keep life sprouting.
But as the years passed, Arleen could no longer make the 50-mile commute to and from work. She sold her son’s home about 1½ years ago and moved to Victoria, where she cuts hair. The F-250 and its giant mud tires became too hard to maintain. She sold it to a young man she hoped would enjoy “The Big Nasty” as much as her youngest son; he was killed in a shooting accident months later.
A neighborhood dog walked off with one of her son’s boots and chewed it up. She never recovered it.
“Every time I turn around,” Arleen says, “I feel like I’m losing more of him.”
She clings to memories of her fun-loving son. He would hide in the bushes at the local golf club and blow an air horn when golfers hit midswing. When he was a boy, she kissed him on the school bus in front of his classmates. “That’s OK,” Adam said when they teased him, “because I love my momma.”
“When I think of him, it’s a good memory,” she says. “He was such a sensitive, good kid, and so sweet all the time. … Sometimes, it’s overwhelming and you cry. Sometimes, you just gotta laugh.”
Adam and his grandfather were especially close. His granddad died in October 2008.
“I’m at peace where my son is,” she says. “He’s up with my dad.”
On the first anniversary, she and other families were flown by helicopter to the site of the disaster. On the way out, the group – a mix of widows and bereaved mothers and fathers – exchanged small talk. Then, the chopper circled over where their loved ones perished.
There wasn’t much to see, except for open water.
“It was a very quiet ride back.”
There are no big plans to mark the fifth anniversary. Arleen will be taking a friend to get eye surgery in Austin, a distraction to keep her mind off the tragedy.
“I’ve lived that day many times over,” she says. “There’s no need to sit around and feel sorry for myself.”
Arleen is a hair stylist at Hair by Dianne and Company in Victoria, where she’s worked since 2008. Her sister made a wreath out of Adam’s favorite red plaid shirt.
It hangs on her door at work, where “I can see it all the time. You know, just look at it.”
In her new home, she has kept a shrine to Adam in one room: his pool table remains surrounded by deer heads, rattlesnake skins and bobcats.
Her mother, Nelda Winslette, recently celebrated her 81st birthday. The two drove over to Louisiana to meet with a woman working on a memorial in Port Fourchon to honor the 11 rig workers. Arleen and her mom lived it up, hitting a casino and feasting on crawfish.
Arleen’s mom knows the details of what happened. Yet, perhaps because no remains were found, the grandmother often looks toward the door.
“I just keep waiting for that boy to walk through,” Adam’s grandma says.
“It’s not going to happen, Mom,” Arleen responds.
Arleen keeps pressing on. The best way to honor her son, she believes, is to be a positive person and to love life.
“I try to be as good as he was …”
She pauses and searches for the right words. Instead, she leaves it at that.
The baseball player who pitched for his dad
Treavor Curtis spied home plate with his deep blue eyes. When he kicked his leg up and unleashed his fastball, it was a thing of beauty. Unhittable when he was in a groove.
Few people beyond his teammates knew what he was playing for. On the inside of his baseball cap the boy had written: “In honor of Dad.”
The Bulldogs of Georgetown High in Louisiana rode the strong arm of their ace to the state playoffs his junior season, just a year after the rig explosion.
Those who’d been around long enough swore the 5-foot-11 kid with jet black hair and a nasty heater was a spitting image of his father, Stephen Ray Curtis, a standout for the Bulldogs in his day. The only difference: the father was a southpaw.
That’s the way they still talk about Treavor on the mound. His fastball topped 85 mph, and he mixed it up with curveballs and a nice breaking ball.
But every pitch, every game, the absence of his father loomed. Maybe it motivated him to do better. To dig deeper. To make his father proud.
“He could’ve quit everything, but he chose to play harder,” says Sheila Reeder, who helped coach the team. “He was determined to be the best.”
For his mother, Sissy Curtis, it was a thrill to watch.
If she ever brought up his father, Treavor would hide his feelings.
“Do you want to talk to me about it?” she would ask.
Treavor was 14 and a sophomore in high school on April 20, 2010. Mom cut short her mail route that day when she heard something had happened on Deepwater Horizon. When she saw TV reports, her gut just knew. She called the school secretary and asked if the older kids were talking about the explosion. Yes, the mom was told.
She rushed to school and fetched Treavor. She sat her boy down. She had done the same a couple years before when Treavor’s uncle, Stephen’s brother, was killed in a wreck.
“It was like I was reliving it all over again,” she says. “I told him there’s been an explosion on his dad’s rig.”
The boy maintained hope. Sissy was divorced from Stephen, who lived right up the road. Treavor kept riding his four-wheeler back and forth between the homes.
He drove up on his four-wheeler shortly after authorities called off the search for the 11 missing men.
“It was horrible. Horrible,” his mom says.
The days, weeks and years since then – there’s no other way to put it – have been rough.
Beyond baseball, father and son loved deer season and turkey hunting. The boy who grew into a man had to do it all without his dad.
At low points, he’d scream at his mom for their divorce: “Why didn’t you love my daddy?”
“I did love your daddy,” she told him. “We just grew apart.”
She saved press clippings about his father and news reports explaining what went wrong on the rig. She keeps them tucked in a special spot at her home. “One day he might want to know.”
Treavor, now 19, declined to be interviewed. “He doesn’t like to discuss it,” his mom says of the explosion.
She believes “it’s something that could’ve been prevented. They knew what was taking place. They should’ve got those men off the rig.”
Treavor was one of 21 children to lose their fathers that day; one, born three weeks after the accident, never met his father. Confidential financial settlements have been reached over the years with families of those killed. A lawyer representing Treavor says he is believed to be the only one not compensated, the result of his parents being divorced and his father remarrying. “Treavor kind of fell between the cracks,” says attorney John W. Stevenson Jr. A wrongful death claim remains pending.
“I grieve because of my son,” Sissy says. “They say, ‘If you have children, you hurt because they hurt.’ It’s very true.”
Treavor missed having his father in the stands for his ball games. Beside him on deer hunts. At his high school graduation.
At times late at night, the boy dreams of his father returning home.
“I feel like that’s the way his dad is sending him messages or talking to him,” Sissy says.
She tells Treavor to cherish those dreams. To speak to his father.