by Cara Grandle
The sun bore down on Erik Halverson’s back as he stood hip-deep in the cool Molalla River. People swam and sunbathed all around him on this mid-July scorcher.
Erik and Bobby, the neighbor boy, stopped to watch a man in denim cutoffs do a cannonball off the hardened lava bank on the opposite side of the river. The man plunged fifteen feet into the deep, splashing the sunbathers.
Erik and Bobby laughed at the squeals and complaints before returning to their game. His mother’s pink sunbathing float with the built-in pillow made a great bucking-bronco amusement ride when placed over the rough waters.
It was Bobby’s turn. Bobby clutched the lounge float to his chest while Erik held on to the back corners. From his place in the shallows, he could stretch the rectangle float past the smooth waters and hold on while it roiled and bounced over the rapids formed by the circular lava wall. The bowl shape earth forced the water to fight against itself before whipping downstream to an even bigger set of rapids.
Neither boy worried about falling off. Both were great swimmers. “My turn.”
“Whoa! Did you see that one? It almost bucked me off.”
“Yup.” Erik pulled him back, leaving Bobby no choice but to switch places.
Bobby splashed when he hopped off and took his place as an anchor.
“Ah. Cold.” Erik arched his back until the shock dissipated. The warm wind made short work drying his shoulders.
“Hurry. I want to go again.”
Erik stretched his lean fifth-grader body onto the float, balancing until he could skooch to the other end and hug the pillow.
He was in place with his chin resting on the headpiece when Bobby guided him toward the turbulent waves. Water droplets spit and jumped all around him. He braced himself for the rushing water. As he entered the spot of choice, the water caught the edge of the pillow, pounding it until it disappeared below the surface. Erik went with it, flipping the float.
Entertained more than irritated, Erik let go and began to doggy paddle his way to the surface. Several long seconds later he realized he wasn’t making any progress. The water pouring down over him was stronger than he was.
With his eyes open in the pale green water he could see he was slipping further and further from the surface.
He was in trouble. He knew it. Panic pressed his heart. Before he could do anything about it he felt a rubbery arm circle his waist and thrust him toward the surface. Erik’s head broke the top of the water. He gulped for air. The arms that pulled him to freedom thrust him up until he could grip the side of the rock bank.
His helper released him, but the force of the water sucked him back into its whirlpool. The rubbery arms were right there, lifting him again—higher. Erik clung to the rock and climbed until he was by his mom and dad. A man in a wetsuit with a face mask climbed out behind him.
Erik was still coughing and breathing hard when the man took off his goggles. “Jon?” What was his neighbor doing here? It was strange to see the man in his wet suit. He usually tended his herd of goats.
His mom and dad fussed over Erik and thanked Jon.
Jon sat on the rock beside him and poured the water out of his face mask. “Close run. Much further and you would’ve been sucked down to those rapids.” He pointed to the even bigger white waters thirty feet downriver. “When I wear my tanks, I float with the current through here. The force is so strong it keeps you until you’re on the other side of those.”
Jon looked at his parents, but Erik understood what he wasn’t saying. He wouldn’t have been able to hold his breath long enough.
“I barely caught him. I was working on unhooking a fishing lure over there when I saw him go under. Nearly got us both.”
“You saved me.” Erik meant those three words with every fiber of his being.
Erik is my brother.
“Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the Lord Jehovah is my strength and my song; he also is become my salvation.” ~ Isaiah 12:2 NKJ