Written August 2011
This place is where my father grew up. No one else seems to remember that. We come to visit every year on the anniversary of his death. The family gathers at the house he grew up in. I can never understand why they gather there. This is where he grew up. Sure, he may have slept at the house. But this is where he lived. This is where he spent hours with his friends. This is where he got caught up in deep conversations. This is where he first found romance.
I’m glad that the rest of the family forgot this place. It means I can come out here alone. It’s a long walk to get here. All the better. The city disappears behind me and the woods open before me. It isn’t long before the burden of humidity is eased by the sound of a river. As the woods start to open, you get tiny glimpses of what you are approaching. A small river that flows into a small lake. Over the river are rocks that are perfect to jump from.
It’s the swimming hole. This place is usually teeming with people. It’s empty today. All the better. I lay my towel on rock out in the sun and strip off my shirt. The ledge is my first stop. Jumping is the only way to do it. This water is runoff. If you try to ease your way into it, you will recoil from the cold. You have to jump in all at once. It may hit you like a brick, but the exhilaration is more than worth it.
I stand at the edge and freeze. I hate this part. The freight and thrill of jumping is bundled so tightly within me that I am paralyzed. How do you move past that to experience the joy of pure adrenaline? As I try to count down from three, but that only creates a false start. I am frustrated with myself when a voice comes from behind me.
“Don’t think about it. Just jump.”
I look behind me. A boy about my age is there. Where did he come from? For a moment, I say nothing. I recognize the kid, but I cannot place him. I look back at the swimming hole and take a long breath out. I try to relax and count down from three again. I nearly jump. Then I nearly kill myself by stopping an inch from the edge and stumbling.
“You are thinking too much about it. Don’t count. Don’t even think about what it will be like when you hit the water. Just accept that you won’t be satisfied until you jump…then do it.” His voice is so steady and calm.
“Don’t think about it, huh?”
“That’s right. If you leave this place without this, you’ll kick yourself. Just a piece of advice, kid: Don’t let life pass you by without living it. Jump.” I laugh a little, staring into the void in front of me.
“Aren’t you my age?” I laugh again. Why is someone this young telling me not to let life pass me by? I don’t get a response, but I don’t care. I close my eyes and feel my legs push off the ledge. For the second or two I am airborne, I am alive. The cold water hits me like a brick. It goes in my nose as my whole body is submerged. When my feet hit the bottom, I kick off to come back to the surface.
I am alive. I swim back to the edge of the rocks as quickly as possible. I want only to tell the boy thank you. When I pull myself out of the river, however, I am alone. I run into the woods from where he came from. I am cold and dripping wet, but I couldn’t care less. I need to find him. I need to thank him.
I trip on the root of a tree. It isn’t until I hit the ground that I realize I am weeping. He is gone. I didn’t even get to say goodbye. He helped me more than he could ever know…because he left before I could tell him. Why did he have to leave? I breath in deeply—recovering the breathe I lost when I hit the water. I sit down on the cold ground and let the warm tears flow in silence.
“I miss you dad.”
“I miss you too, son.”