A while back, I met a boy. I didn’t mean to meet a boy. I had been going on dates mainly for free dinners in the wake of the divorce, my little attempt at having some semblance of control over my experience with relationships and the opposite sex. It worked for a while. I was showered with lovely meals, flowers, and gifts, all while I planned my escape route which usually consisted of simply never calling or texting them back. It was not a shining time in my life.
But in he walked, and he simply refused to see his way out when my normal methods of retreat failed. I went as far as telling him to never call, text, or come visit me again. I effectively eliminated all possible forms of communication from him.
And so I received a hand-written letter. Like, the kind with a stamp.
Yeah. He got the government involved.
If I am stubborn, he out-stubborned me. I’ll call him Bear.
We spent most weekends together, going to cookouts or the beach or the movies. Our interests were common, our senses of humor well-matched, our wits constantly at war. I reminded him regularly that I was not interested in a relationship, nor did I wish to be exclusive. He always just smiled and repeated a line from the one movie that makes all women swoon – “As you wish.”
And last weekend, we went boating.
We go boating most weekends on his modest pontoon boat on Black Creek. “It’s not much, but it’s mine,” he says. It was a Sunday and we’d been boating the day before as well. Most days we took the boat up the way to a little beach, lovingly nicknamed Redneck Riviera, and joined the 30 or so regulars who were already there playing cornhole, sipping margaritas, watching the dogs play or the kids build sandcastles. Because the pontoon was docked at his friend’s house on the creek, all we had to do was load up the cooler with Corona, fruit bowls, veggie trays, Publix chicken wings, mixed nuts, and a 24-pack of water. He grabbed the towels, I grabbed the sunscreen. It was any other Sunday.
Pulling away from the dock we shouted that we’d see our friends in a few minutes, as they’d be right behind us in their boats. I sat on the big, vinyl bench in front of the helm where Bear slowly navigated us through vines and old logs. It was the exact same route we took the day before, the weekend before, every time. He was incredibly careful on his boat, even driving his truck. He’d smile at me and say, “Precious cargo, you know.” I never felt safer than when he was in charge on that boat.
He pointed down in front of him on the bench where I sat; he pointed at some sunscreen, or maybe at a bag. I can’t remember which. I stood up to address whatever it was he was pointing at. It was that split second decision to stand up that actually saved my life.
No one can really answer the question of what happened next. We know that something caught the boat’s rudder and pulled it so hard, so fast, that Bear lost his grip on the steering wheel. In the hours, days since the accident, the very spot of impact has been investigated by the Sherif’s department and countless friends. Perhaps it was an animal that struck and swam away, or a floating log that wrapped the rudder in a vine? The hypotheses are endless. Whatever it was, our boat was only going about 12 miles per hour when it slammed into a perfectly placed low-hanging tree, ejecting me from the boat into the tree, which then actually swung me back into the boat. It happened so quickly that all I remember is seeing the tree coming at me with no warning, nothing standing between me and it. I heard him scream. I heard myself scream. And when I opened my eyes again, every was different.