Longform

The Life We're Handed

Page 6 of 7

Pittock was skeptical of the need for -- and the expense of -- the psychological treatments. His own employment insurance would arguably cover the expense of any necessary treatment. Why would trust fund monies go for such a thing, unless Alexander had social or psychological problems directly related to his injury?

In May this year, he confirmed his own suspicions by sending Alexander to a family counselor named Sanford Gunther. Gunther wrote that Alexander was basically well-adjusted but sometimes upset by the divorce and subsequent squabbles.

Nor did Pittock like the idea of the new school. He had always favored keeping Alexander in the mainstream.

By this time the judge in Broward family court had appointed a general master to deal with some of these issues; Marks concluded there was no compelling reason Alexander couldn't stay in public school. But to be on the safe side, he appointed a guardian ad litem to explore the question of schooling.

The guardian ad litem, John Jordan, noted in his report that "Alexander... says some of the teachers (one or two) said that when his work was not good he must have been with his father the night before. He took that as a slam on his father."

He added that Alexander "does not like going to a psychologist, because he feels there is nothing wrong with him. He would like his parents to stop fighting."

In the end Pittock agreed to allow his son to attend Nova but mailed a letter to Anita Fischler stating he never wanted her to see Alexander again. In addition he filed a formal complaint against her with the American Psychological Association. His attorney petitioned the Broward family court to bar Fischler from testifying in the custody matter; and Michael Fischler's firm withdrew as counsel in the dispute. Most recently Jean dropped her effort to regain custody of Alex and the other children.

It may have been a Pyrrhic victory for Pittock.
Sitting in his hot living room, he mulls the latest in overdue attorney's bills, this one for $4340.

"I have never permitted a client to be so far in arrears as your account reflects in 30 years of practice," the letter reads.

Anita Fischler declined to comment on Pittock's claim of a conflict of interest. Her husband calls the notion ridiculous. His firm never intended to call his wife as a witness in the custody dispute -- to do so, in fact, would have been strategically stupid because her testimony would have been easy to impeach. It simply happened that both he and his wife were acquaintances of Greg Silva and came to know Jean through him.

"His perceptions are his perceptions, and no one can change that," Fischler says of Robbin Pittock. "But there never was a conflict of interest."

Two Mondays ago Robbin Pittock packed a bag and drove to Atlanta. He checked into the Red Roof Inn on the north side of Hartsfield International and the next morning went in search of his copilot and flight engineer. The three men climbed into the cockpit of an L-1011 Tristar, a plane comparable in size and power to a 747 jumbo jet. It was Pittock's first time at the controls.

The appearance of the cockpit, even its smell, makes for an exact replica of the real thing -- but the cockpit never leaves the nondescript building that contains it. "You have jet noise, you have the virtual reality visuals outside the window," Pittock says of the multimillion-dollar flight simulator. "Let's say you land and smack the brakes on, it'll send the nose down and give you a forward sense of motion. When you take off and give it power, it actually tilts you back in your seat.

"I've seen others -- the newest simulators -- where you look out the window and see people walking around in the terminals," he adds. "There's one where a kid comes up to the window and waves at you. It's something they put in to sort of ease the tension. I mean, you're under the gun, stressed out. It's one emergency right after another, and you really can't tell you're not in a real airplane."

Within a few weeks, Pittock hopes to be back in the air for real, somewhere he hasn't been since the day of the Fine Air crash in Miami more than a year ago. Emotionally the simulator training represents his return to a normal work life.

On December 10, midway through the week of required simulator training in Atlanta, Pittock got permission to take the day off. He settled into a rented Nissan and powered south toward Tallahassee. He had embarked on an existential errand that only a sliver of citizens ever need to contemplate, and he made the trip alone, crossing the Florida line an hour after dawn.

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Sean Rowe