Andrea Phillips: Waiting in Vermont
Y: Somebody called you so you could hear it?
A: Alison stayed for the Mass, and she called Jonathan, who is also a representative, and he got on his phone said, “Here, you have to listen to this.” And we were sitting around the kitchen table listening, and as I was listening, it started to snow. Now, snow is a good thing for us up here in Vermont. To me it was a sign. I know it’s kind of an unbelievable thing to believe, but to all of us in that house we knew it–hearing that, the snow. It was our little miracle. We knew it was going to be okay, and a couple of hours later we got word.
Y: Tell me about when you got the official word that Richard had been rescued.
A: I had a houseful. I had my sister and two good friends. They were my pillars; they just flanked me on both sides and took control over what I could no longer control. Amber would be the one person who in [the] early morning I would confide in. I’d say, “Amber, what if this doesn’t work out?” She had my weakest moments.
So people are coming and going all the time on Sunday. Richard’s mother had arrived. She’s a very strong, religious woman, a firm believer, and she flew up from Florida; she needed to be here. She showed up Easter Sunday morning. I’m just drained. I’m going to go up [to] my room, which is kind of my safe haven. I just want to lie down for a while. This is close to noon. Even though I’m not supposed to turn on the TV, because we made the rule: no TV, because the constant 24/7, it could drive you crazy. I turned on the television just to see a movie and figured I’d fall asleep in a few moments. And as I did that, there’s a little ticker on the bottom: “Captain Phillips rescued…”
I don’t think I stopped on a step. I flew down the stairs and said to Jonathan, “Find out if this is true.” And he called his contacts; the company was all celebrating, and they kind of forgot to call me. They were waiting for the official word. I still don’t know how it came down from out there in the ocean to here at stateside, but there were tons of phone calls from that point. [Vermont senator] Patrick Leahy called me to tell me they were dancing in the parking lot.
My first phone call–because my girlfriends are holding onto the phone–my friend Paige says, “Who is this?” And I hear her scream: “Richard is on the phone!” It was just the moment of hearing his voice.
Y: What did he say to you?
A: First he said to me, “Is your husband home?” [laughs] I said, “No.” Then he said, “I’ll come right over.” It was just a little thing Richard and I always had; he’d call me at any hour, day or night, and in that little baritone voice of his, he’d say, “Is your husband home?” I teared up. I’m tearing up even now, remembering.
Y: From that moment to when he came home, he had no idea about the media response to this. Was there any way for you to prepare him?
A: I said, “Richard, you have no idea what’s going on on this side of the world; it’s absolutely crazy.” I told him about people camped out in the yard with satellites.
Y: Why do you think the nation got so caught up?
A: Well, it was everywhere in the news. You couldn’t help but hear about it. And the 24/7 news is usually something bad, you know, like the Tiger Woods thing, not usually a nice outcome, or as spiriting as this was. People will say, and even Richard has a hard time with the hero thing. I say, “You could have let them take control of the ship, you could have told them where the men were; you took a chance, having this play out differently, you did the right thing, Richard.” I said, “You did the right thing; you protected your ship, you protected your crew, you protected your cargo… You knew the odds were better if it was just you against them, and that’s a heroic moment.
So I can see why the public felt the same way; you don’t get everyday heroes. You don’t hear a lot about the everyday heroes. Look at the policemen and the firemen who put their lives on the line, and you don’t hear about them. And it went on for five days, and it was Easter, a religious holiday for so many in the world. It wasn’t just here in the United States. It was worldwide.
Y: When did you know you had your husband back, not the world hero back?
A: From the moment he got off that plane. I always had my husband, because in our house we are who we are. Even outside this house, we are who we are. I don’t want to say I wish it had never happened, but I’d be fine if it hadn’t. This has given us unbelievable opportunities to meet some unbelievable people [whom] we would never otherwise have [had] the opportunity to meet, and that’s the best part that came out of this: some of our U.S. military people; I had dinner with Madeleine Albright, who is kind of an amazing woman to me. And everyday people like us went to the Washington Opera. We toured the Queen Mary. I was never so impressed as I was meeting some of the military wives. I had a husband who had a job, went to work, who after three or four months came home, and until this pirate thing I never thought he had a dangerous job. But you take these young military wives, and they kiss their husbands goodbye not really knowing again if it’s going to be two or three months or 18 months, and are they going to make it home. I was more touched by them than I thought I should be touching their lives.
Y: When did life become more normal?
A: It took a while. We were so bombarded. People wanted us to get on TV. Larry King called us personally, and Jay Leno called us personally, wanting Richard to tell his story. It took pretty much until the end of May, when it started to die down a little bit. We joked and said, “Thank God for swine flu,” because that became the next media sensation.
Y: Did you have a refuge?
A: I think we did. We’d go out on the lake with a boat or just being with our close friends. People said, “We didn’t want to call you, didn’t want to bother you.” We said, “Are you kidding? Your calling us is our normal, asking us to come over for a beer.” Even our closest friends felt they wanted to give us time, but they were part of our real life. That’s my norm. That’s part of my everyday life.
Y: Richard has said that in his life he always had this pattern: home for certain months, then away. Now he faces a mysterious future. How does that affect you?
A: I’m not sure yet. Ask me if he never goes back. Rich and I get along really well. We had the routine where I wouldn’t see him for a while, and that kept everything new and fresh. Even my friends would joke: “Get my husband a job where he could go away.”
We’re in a different phase right now, the kids are away in college, and now it’s back to where it started, just the two of us. But I still do what I always do: I get up and go to work. My everyday routines are still my everyday routines. It’s different at this point having him home. He’s actually busier with planning events, which is odd for us, because Rich would come home and never have to do anything except fix the door handle or cut the lawn. We’re not used to having Richard sit in front of the computer or on the phone. I’m not sure how it will affect us; I’m hoping that it doesn’t. I don’t think it will. Through all of this, I’m proud that we’ve maintained who we are. We haven’t lost that.
Y: That’s hard to do.
A: He’s a very grounded man, and he grounds me, and it grounds our kids. We’ve just stayed focused on who we are and who we’ve always been, and I don’t want that to change, except [that] some of the opportunities to go places and meet people has been sort of wow! I sat in the Oval Office, I sat on the couch, and I couldn’t help but think of all the amazing people who have passed through these doors, and I’m one of them. Not that I’m amazing–but how did I get here? Why am I sitting here? That was an absolute wow.