She drifted down the river toward the watering hole, her in a soft paddle and he floating on his back. It happened quickly, but gently. His bright blue eyes flashed, he took in a breath of air, and one of his arms reached for his chest, smoothly, and calmly “I’m having a heart attack” and then silence. She never knew it could happen like that, shouldn’t he be in distress? He was calm. He was otherwise young and healthy. Life was unpredictable and not fair, and the chill of the water infiltrated her skin and reminded her of that. She reacted with the grace of a dancer, diving for one of the items on the bank, a cell phone that now was the gate between life and death, and called the dispatcher. Where were there? Who was the man? He wasn’t hers to claim, but she had known him for years, is that okay? The dispatcher laughed in a thick New York, Puerto Rican accent. She knows how it is. They would be there soon.
She put the phone down and abandoned the remaining items on the bank. She had been watching him, and while he didn’t seem under distress, she wanted to get him out of the water. She swam briskly to grasp under one of his arms, and they floated down the rest of the river to the watering hole. In a time of distress, they found moments of peace. The end of the river ahead offered safety. There were people at the watering hole, and access to a road. She pulled him up onto the bank, and they waited.
The forest was calm, with an occasional drift of wind that ruffled the elegant trees. He looked up at her, a piercing gaze that took her back four years earlier. She didn’t know that someone would cross her path and leave a mark. She had become too familiar with her day to day life and had succumbed to routine. In that routine she found comfort, but it was devoid of richness. She started to daydream back to her days at the University. It was a hot, dry summer day - most students were taking it easy or taking time off, but she was fully immersed in her normal routine. Rushing out of the building ready to jump on her bike, she wanted to get away from people and escape back to her world of text and numbers. She was stopped in the hallway by a colleague, and requested to meet a visitor at the end of the hall. He was quietly working, too well dressed to be an American, and was somehow excited to meet her. She sat next to him, and over the next hour he told her ideas about people and the world that gave her pause. He was fascinating. He was the first person in a long time that was more interesting to her than computers. She had wanted him to stay - but he didn’t.
And so there they were, four years later, caught in that moment. He lifted his right arm, and motioned toward the bank. He had told her stories of lives being uprooted when personal information was lost, and he was worried about their wallets. She didn’t want to leave his side, but she wanted to oblige, and decided to make the short trip to run down the river to the start of their journey. And so she stood up, and ran. She wasn’t incredibly talented at swimming, but her body was built to run. Lighter than a breeze and swifter than a deer, she covered the distance in long strides, the water from her hair being thrown out from side to side. She stopped abruptly to encounter two tall men, hurredly shoving something in their pockets. A glimpse of blue and green and dark brown identified the items as their wallets, and she confronted them. She was ready to fight. They looked at her with sad eyes, as if they knew, glanced at one another, and presented the items to her. She took them cautiously, and turned back.
Sadness sometimes only comes after, because if it came during moments of hardship we would not be strong enough to survive it. She couldn’t tell if there was water from her hair or tears falling down her cheeks. The memory of the day came crashing back and then, what ifs. They had been joking earlier, joyfully and with a tickle of silly that you only feel when you forget about the responsibilities of being an adult. What if he had stayed at the University? Would she have gone off course, become social, and… fallen for him? What a funny idea, because she had grown into a talented engineer that was more a robot than anything else. Indeed, she wasn’t capable of that. Her lips widened into a smile, but under all of that was a pain around her heart. She responded to him in her head. How could he not know?
By the time she returned to the watering hole, he was gone. She followed the tire tracks of the ambulance, running mile after mile until she was back at the park entrance. The hospital was surprisingly just down the street - likely the small town and parks had grown around it. The outside was beautiful, with a grand ambulance bay, but the inside turned quickly into a disorganized maze of sandy hallways. She couldn’t tell if they really looked like that, or if she was receding into her mind to a place where crashing waves of dreams collide with reality. She thought she would know where to go, but was quickly disoriented and stopped a young nurse to ask for help. She motioned her toward a tall, dark haired man. Did he work at an information desk? Or was he a door man? He was dirty. He listened carefully and told her that he was in room 25219. He handed her a paper map that led her down another wing to a cluster of rooms, and she repeated the number in her head once, twice, and over again, as if letting it go would somehow lose him too. The rooms seemed to move in time and space, and each cluster expanded into a cavern. She couldn’t imagine that she was in a hospital at all. She couldn’t find him, and it was too much.
She woke up in a cold sweat. The bed sheet was entirely soaked through, and the blanket that previously gave her warmth felt cold like the water in the river. She was alone, and cried in anguish that she had lost the dream. The powerful memory, the feeling of the water, and the number 25219 still lingered in her thoughts. She held onto the memory and state of him as long as she could. Looking around the room, the numbing life that she was really living came back to her, and it slowly trickled back to replace the dreamy reality.
The daily routine of numbers and text felt like an empty shell, but she dove in to it anyway, knowing that it would soon distract her again. Although young, her life experience made her much older than her years. She was grateful for the things that she had. But every few years, she would remember that she once knew how to love. It was both tragic and lovely that she would spend the rest of her life in one reality, and briefly escaping into her own mind. It must be that she’ll find him again some day, he is waiting for her in Room 25219.