Tuesday, August 9, 2011
12. Today is the day the bad news announces itself on your lap. Like we said, we are sorry. We wish it could be otherwise.
13. Some boys are throwing rocks in the parking lot of Round Barn Camp site in Maine. You and Liz have the girls in the van; you're driving them a few miles away to spend the day building a mountain bike trail. As you all pull away, you gesture towards to the rock throwers. "Look! Boys!" The girls throw themselves against the windows, loudly. You say, "They look a little young for you." And Liz says, "Oh, how disappointing."
14. Liz is swerving between potholes the size of bathtubs and you sit talking in the passenger seat. "Those boys must have been really young, like 12 or 13. The boys at New River were so much bigger than that. They weren't boys, really, they were like....little men." Liz is listening, nodding. You feel a sudden wave of fondness for the boys you had at New River. Mischievous, enthusiastic, moody, sulky, funny boys. You think about them for a little while.
And at that moment- that very moment, it's funny how these things work- the phone on your lap vibrates and you look down to see that one of those boys has drowned.
15. It's absurd that you'd even get reception out there. You're 20 miles away from the nearest town, down a gutted muddy road that resembles a creek bed. You're a little startled to get a message at all. As it turns out, it's a very confusing message. Another teacher at New River wrote to say that Stephen Forster is missing. He swam on the North Fork of the Payette River at 4,400 CFS. A swim at that level means-
17. Like a bad novel, this is where the message cuts off. You need to press 'view' to read the rest of it. But Liz has just pulled the van behind a truck from Maine Huts and Trails and you've got to get out and get some directions. You're not sure you want to look at the message anyway. It's a little nebulous, but you don't have the greatest feeling about it. He's missing? You frown at the phone for a second. That doesn't mean he's dead, necessarily. When was this message sent, anyway?
18. You and Liz go out and talk to the trail people, two heavily accented Maine men wearing Carharts and filthy t-shirts. They call you Dear: hello dee-ah. They're saying things and pointing at a pile of trail tools, but you're not really paying attention. You start to think, You know what, this doesn't sound very good. You think, I should really go read the rest of that message.
You go back to the car and read the rest of the message.
A swim at that level means drowning.
19. Unfortunately, we are not able to provide you with the relative comfort of denial at this time. You understand perfectly what has happened. Stephen Forster drowned on the North Fork of the Payette River in Idaho. Yesterday, around lunch time in that part of the country. Around the time you reached for the cooler of food and froze. Stephen was a student at New River the whole time you worked there. You lived with him for a year in Chile, in West Virginia, on the Ottawa river.
20. Stephen was the boy who once filled the kettle with milk, which exploded on the stove and scalded your whole AP class. "Why on earth did you do that?" You asked, holding your dripping text book over the sink. "Well I wanted hot chocolate," he said, guilty and laughing, "It made sense to me."
21. Stephen was many things to many people. Older brother. Only son.
22. You step out of the car and into the woods nearby. Liz comes to ask what's going on. You cry all over her and leave a wet bite mark on her shoulder. She shepherds the girls off to the trail. Alone with this news, the only thing you can do is take a stick and write his name in the dirt. Keeping your hands busy is a good thing to do. Your brain is chasing its tail. The piece that cannot understand is saying I want to see Stephen now, I really really miss him. And the part that understands because this has happened twelve times before is saying you can't, sorry Kiddo, never again.