Did you know that one of the first human responses in an emergency is to pretend that there isn’t one? So much could have been done to prevent the staggering loss of life in the wreck Titanic if only those in charge had been scared enough.
They kick around ice chunks on deck. They are not properly alarmed. They send the first few lifeboats barely half filled with drowsy women, because this is not a serious situation. This is merely a safety precaution. Go back to bed, the rest of you.
Sinking for hours, sinking for miles, the American scientist in the submersible sighs when the Russian asks him for the piss bottle again. When the light finally breaks through the silted darkness and shines on what he has been looking for, the American cannot breathe for joy. The wreck Titanic is broken in two just like he has surmised in his conjectures.
It must have been the moonless night that made it so the lookout did not see the iceberg in time. It would have been better had he not seen it at all. Had they hit it head on and only breached the very front of the hull, the water could have been contained by specially designed floodgates and the vessel would have stalled, but not sunk. It was the ship’s desperate turn at the last moment that made that long, lethal gash.
In the lifeboats, they hear the terrible sound of the ship rending itself. They hear the screams but do not row towards them, though they have room for more. Do you think that if they had been forced by the sun to see the faces of the dying bobbing in that frigid water, do you think it would have been different?
The American beams with pride that he is such a canny reader of the behavior of shattering structures. The Russian cannot contain his excitement at this new find, and asks for the piss bottle again. Then for a moment, they are quiet. They think of the invisible life that is eating the wreck Titanic. They know that one day, it will be digested away. Except for the propellers and the steering column—they are made of bronze, you see. Nothing down there eats bronze. And so the wreck Titanic will never quite finish dying.
I am the wreck Titanic, and I am telling you: listen to the sound of tearing metal. Do not go back to sleep. Do not send the first class passengers back to their plush rooms. Do not lock the third class passengers down below to maintain order. Let them save themselves if they can. I am the wreck Titanic sinking for hours, sinking for miles, and I am telling you: know when to be urgent. Know when to get your life jacket. Know when to brace yourself for a long wait in cold, cold water. Do not tell yourself you are built too well to be destroyed. But do—but do, on the way down—allow the violinists to fill the black night with music until the very last moment.