What Happened That Day Part 1

by nielskunze on November 8, 2014

(Author-narrated version with musical accompaniment by Earth Trybe)


Jake stood there barefoot– always barefoot– in his shorts and t-shirt, with his back against the cliff. I stood facing him, a few feet away, with the river at my back. He had his sunglasses on, and from the tilt of his head it appeared that he was looking past me up into the sky. He started laughing– heartily, but I couldn’t hear it over the rush of the river.

For eleven months of the year it’s just a creek carrying the luscious emerald waters from the glacial runoff of the Dutch-Findley snowcaps. Towards the end of May and into June, however, our beautiful little creek turns into a raging monster of turbulent chocolate milk, carrying seasonal snowmelt and debris. It was May 30th, the height of the runoff.

I was fiddling with my backpack at my feet as it kept trying to scurry down the embankment to test the ferocity of the river that day. Had it managed to escape my vigilance it would have been swept away in an instant; the water was moving so fast. I plunked it down hard again, kind of grinding it into the gravel of a small ledge. It seemed content to stay put for the moment.

As I straightened up, returning my attention to Jake, he suddenly leveled his gaze on me. His laughter stopped abruptly. With his right hand he whipped the sunglasses aside. With his left he reached out and grabbed me. His fist held tightly a handful of my hair right on the top of my head. He pulled me close so that his face was only a few inches from mine. He stared into my eyes with such seriousness!

I was perplexed. Then, just as abruptly, he released me, leaned back against the cliff, donned his sunglasses again, and laughed. Now I was really perplexed. I wanted to ask him what the hell that was all about, but it didn’t seem like the time for words. I stood a moment, dumbfounded.

Then, Jake repeated the whole procedure. He grabbed me by the hair, pulling me close with his left hand as his sunglasses dangled again from his right. He stared into my eyes with such insistence… but honestly, the message escaped me. He was looking from a far-off place, yet he was only inches away. This time when he leaned back to laugh hysterically from behind his shades, I quietly sidled away.

Mitch was just a few meters downstream sitting on a wide ledge of the embankment, rolling a joint. “What was that all about?” he asked as I joined him.

“Not a clue.” We both looked back to where Jake had been standing up against the cliff. He was moving now, clawing his way in bare feet along a narrow ledge of the cliff, upstream. He was heading out to The Point.

We had each taken our turn already out on The Point, watching and feeling the chaos of the river as its full force slammed into the side of The Point. The Point was a unique feature where a portion of the cliff along the river jutted out sharply into the middle of the stream. There was a flattop platform on The Point where a person could comfortably stand to watch the incredible violence slamming into its upstream side. Entire trees mercilessly stripped of their limbs bobbed in the back-eddy pools no longer able to find their way to the current flowing around the tip of The Point.

To get to The Point, one has to first swing from the riverbank to the ledge on the cliff. For as long as I’ve been visiting this place there has always been a steel cable anchored part way up the cliff allowing adventurers to do just that. The thing is… that once you’ve swung yourself over to the ledge, if you don’t throw the cable back to the riverbank, no one can follow you. The cable stays on the ledge side instead, until you swing back. Jake had successfully maneuvered himself out onto The Point… and we couldn’t follow. He had the cable.

That’s okay. We were about to smoke a joint anyway. Mitch was just gathering the last of the crumbs of pot on his lap, dropping them into the rolling paper.

What happened next was incomprehensible– then, and still now. We heard a big sploosh from the direction of The Point like Jake might’ve tossed a boulder into the current. We immediately turned to look. It was no boulder; it was Jake. He was in the river!

In the matter of about a second and a half he surfaced right in front of us and quickly swept on by. I yelled “Jake!” but it was the oddest thing. He seemed stunned. He didn’t struggle. He made no effort to swim. His head and shoulders were well above the water, but he almost appeared to be unconscious. I took off at a balls-out run.

All three of us were trained and certified lifeguards, which just added to the surreality of the situation. “This can’t be happening!” I frantically thought. At that time, I had been hobbled by an ACL tear in my left knee; I had difficulty walking properly. But in that precise moment, I ran like the wind, dashing through a maze of river stones and over logs and trees. I sprinted to the next bend in the river to catch up.

That was the last time I saw Jake alive. I could see him in the middle of the current still. He disappeared behind a pile of logs and branches on the riverbank between us. And then, I never saw him again. Of course I kept running, up and down the riverbank, searching, but to no avail. He had disappeared.

Mitch caught up to me. “Did you get him?” I quickly explained how he had disappeared. “Shit!” said Mitch, and he took off downstream.

I went back to the pile of logs and branches on the riverbank where I’d last seen him, thinking that perhaps he had gotten hung up on a tree protruding into the current. Nothing.

My heart was racing, but my mind was absolutely flipping out. I’ve only really ever lost it once in my life; I mean, really lost it– that moment of total overwhelm, of unmitigated insanity. This was it. Both of my hands made knotted fists in my hair as I turned my face to the sky. I yelled some primal growling, howling, menacing curse in the language of utter disbelief for this moment. I literally stood screaming and tearing at my hair. For just a few seconds I was a complete madman.

That brought Mitch racing back. “Did you find him!” No, I hadn’t. And then we both knew that we weren’t going to see Jake alive again… not this day, not ever.

That’s a terrible moment, but once it passes, once the reality of it has been accepted, a strange calm settles in. You just go about doing the things that need to be done.

That night and over the course of the next few days I had a vision which kept repeating in my mind’s eye. It was like a short video tape loop had been inserted into my brain. I’m not usually one prone to visions, but this one was rather insistent. I kept seeing Jake on The Point, back to the river. His spirit flies out through the top of his head as his body falls like a stone into the river. It repeated over and over every time I closed my eyes.

It’s been twelve years now since that day, and although there’s yet a lot more to tell, I still wonder over and over again “What happened that day?”

Proceed to Part 2

Leave your comment


Required. Not published.

If you have one.