That Day Back in 1982

June 9, 2008
By Laura Simula, Champion, MI

June 18, 1982
The river water lapped beneath her feet. She could feel the cool summer breeze brushing her neck, and the birds above her were singing sweet melodies.

Looking over to the far bank, she could see her brother, Kyle, playing with their Golden Retriever, Riley. She smiled at the two. Such a cute pair, she joked to herself. Kyle and Riley were like best friends.

“Sandy, come over here!” Kyle yelled. The overhead sun shone onto his short, light-brown hair, making it look blonde. His usual cream-colored skin was tanned thoroughly and he looked much older than nine-years-old.

Sandy started to make her way over to the boy, but was distracted by the icy water that was rushing past her ankles, going downstream. It made her shiver, and then she decided that maybe it was time to head home.

“Sand, look: Riley found a new friend!” Kyle’s voice was so pure, and starting to sound lower than it usually was.

She stared at the dog, who was starting to chase a frog down the river. A smile grazed her lips as she squatted next to her brother.

“Hey, Kyle, how about we gather Riley and head home. It’s starting to get dark, and we promised mom that we would be home for dinner—”

“Sand, no! Can’t we just stay for a little bit longer?” Kyle’s voice hit her eardrums like a lost puppy’s squeal in a snowstorm.

She pursed her lips and was about to shake her head when she noticed that Riley was still chasing after the frog. He was heading too far down the river, which soon elapsed into a waterfall.

“Kyle, just go and get Riley, please? We need to get home…”

Her brother’s eyes flew to the animal, and then he jumped up. Sandy watched as he raced toward the dog, calling him. She got up as well, and gently jogged after the two.

“Riley, come here, come here!” Kyle yelled. His tone was pleading and full of worry.

The Golden Retriever kept trailing after the frog, not bothering to respond to the little boy. Sandy’s stomach lurched, making her run faster.

“Riley!” Kyle screeched.

Sandy felt her foot jam into something, and then she tripped. Her right elbow struck a large rock, and she soon saw redness flood the water around her. Kyle didn’t notice that she fell, so she watched achingly as he kept running after their pet. Before long, Sandy could no longer see him.

“Kyle!” she cried. “Kyle!” She attempted to pick herself up, but her arms felt limp, her clothes were soaking, and her head was throbbing. Forcing herself up, she scampered through the water, trying to find her nine-year-old brother. The waterfall was coming up. She remembered going there with her dad when she was five. He told her to never go near the waterfall when she was swimming in the river.

It was then she spotted him. Kyle was near Riley, still yelling for him. Riley seemed to be frightened by the rapid pace of the water and was trying to turn back.

“Kyle,” she shouted, “come here! The current is too strong!”

The boy looked up, his eyes full of alarm. He groped for a nearby rock and soon was hugging it tightly.

Farther away, Riley was paddling frantically, but couldn’t fight the current. He yelped, trying to swim over to land.

“Riley!” Kyle screeched. “Sandy, help Riley!”

The water came up to her chin. Her breath was coming in short gasps and her hair was curling around her face, sticking to her skin. Her brother’s arm was stretching toward her. Sandy tried to reach the bottom of the river with her foot, but it was too deep. The stream was flowing fiercely, thrusting her further away from her brother.

Ramming into a large rock, Sandy was suddenly engulfed with relief as she was able to wrap her arms around it. Coughing, she tried to regain focus. She saw Kyle, still yelling to Riley, who was helplessly being carried down the river. The waterfall was only seconds away.

“Riley,” she moaned. Her lungs felt as if they were full of water. The dog was powerless; they weren’t able to save him. Sandy watched Kyle’s eyes as the dog plunged down the falls. The last thing they heard from him was a heartbreaking squeal. Her brother’s expression was filled with sadness.

“Kyle,” Sandy called abruptly, “try swimming over to that rock.” She pointed to a boulder that was closer to the riverbank. “You’ll probably be able to reach shore if you grab onto it.”

The boy nodded and then shifted his position so that he could push himself over to the boulder that was only ten feet away. That was the only rock left for him to clutch. Sandy took a deep breath as she watched Kyle shove himself forward, diving toward the only thing that could keep him from being thrown down a rocky fall of twisted water. His little arms feebly weaved a path, acting against a burly stream of liquid. Just as he threw a hand forward to curl on the uneven surface of the stone, he was heaved backward. He gulped a tremendous amount of water, causing him to choke. Sandy shrieked a high-pitched scream.

“Sandy!” the little boy cried. His arms flailed above him, not strong enough to fight the current.

Sandy tried to reach him. She rammed her arm toward Kyle, trying to grab his petite hand. His eyes shone with tears as Sandy just barely touched the tip of his fingers, but could not capture hold of his hand.

“Kyle—” Sandy bawled. She watched impotently as her nine-year-old brother tumbled down the waterfall and onto the stony death bed below.

July 1, 1990

“Mom, I’m fine. My plane just got delayed.”

Twenty-three-year-old Sandy Ryan hummed impatiently into the payphone receiver. She was just about on her last nerve with her mother. She always worried.

“Sandy, I’m sorry,” Ellie Harper apologized. “It’s just—Adam misses you so much…”

“I’ll get there as soon as I can,” Sandy said, her voice quivering as she slammed down the phone. Her throat felt parched and her mind was racing. She was supposed to be in New York two hours ago, but from the excessive snowfall, that hadn’t happened.

Oh Adam, she thought tiredly. Adam was her son. He was only four-years-old, but caught on quick. She couldn’t help but smile when a picture of the boy swirled in her head—his pale blue eyes, sandy-blonde hair, and cheerful smile.

“Excuse me, could I use this phone?” A tall man was standing next to her, acknowledging her wry expression.

Sandy swept her head around, meeting the man’s gaze. He had striking black hair, hazel eyes, and tanned skin. His teeth were glossy-white and his nose pointed at the tip.


“Oh, yes, I’m sorry.” Sandy smiled lamely. She could feel her face turning scarlet. She attempted to dart away, but he stopped her.

“Are you from the area?” he asked.

Sandy took a deep breath. “No—I’m heading home. I was just here on a business trip.”

He nodded and then pulled the receiver off its hook. “Maybe I’ll see you around,” he uttered, and then was drowned in his call.

Sandy swallowed. She could feel beads of perspiration forming on her forehead. I have to get out of here, her thoughts screamed.

“Mom!” Adam Ryan leaped across the cheery living room to greet his mother.

“Adam.” Sandy dropped her bags as she wrapped her arms around her son.

“So, you’re back,” Ellie said as she walked into the room. “We’ve missed you.”

Sandy could feel the tears welling in her eyes, but she pushed them away. “I’ve missed you guys, too.”

The smell of pie permeated the room, filling her nostrils. Her stomach grumbled at the tang of food, so she decided to bring it up.

“Mom, did you make a pie?” she asked.

“I always do.” Ellie Harper treaded across the room toward the kitchen.

Moments later, the woman brought out a steaming pan filled with a cherry-pie. Adam hurdled toward her.

“Gram, gram, could I have some?” he begged. A laugh peeled at Sandy’s throat.

“Ask your mom,” Ellie prodded.

“Mom, could I?”

“Of course.”

The three sat down at the little dining room table and began exchanging conversation. Sandy always felt as though a large chunk of her life was taken away when she was gone on a business trip. Hearing of her son’s recent activities almost made her cry. His eyes lit up when he spoke.

“I can’t wait to start school,” he said. “It will be so much fun.”

Sandy forced a nod; she wasn’t ready for her son to start school. Her mother, across the table, knew that, too. She quickly turned the discussion away from the topic by saying, “Adam, why don’t you go and get the drawings you made for your mother.”

He hopped up and quickly ran for the staircase. Ellie turned toward her daughter.

“Hun, you’ll be okay.”

“Mom, I don’t know if I will...”

Ellie sighed. “I know you’re thinking about Kyle.”

Sandy sucked her breath in quickly. Tears swelled in her gullet, making her cough. They soon fell down her cheeks in a rhythmic pattern.

“It’s alright,” Sandy’s mother told her. “I miss him, too.”

That night Sandy had to pull herself home from the river, telling her mother what had happened, everything had just fallen apart—her mother’s shriek; the look on her face; the police cars; going back to the river to identify Kyle and Riley’s bodies…

One day last year, Adam had asked Sandy if they could get a dog. As soon as the question had been asked, Sandy wanted to burst out in tears. Her heart had literally been thrown at her feet. She had to tell Adam no.

“But mom,” was his retort.

“Mom?” Adam was standing next to her.

“What? Oh, Adam, I’m sorry.” She tried to pull him onto her lap, but he retreated from her.

“Look at what I drew,” he said as he pushed the picture toward her.

Across the table, Ellie smiled lightly, tears still glistening in her eyes.

“It’s beautiful, Adam,” Sandy acknowledged. He grinned at the compliment. The picture was of a little boy at the river. He was holding a fishing rod.

“Wait a second.” Sandy stared. “Who’s that?” She pointed at the boy.

Adam cleared his throat. “That’s supposed to be me, but I’ve never been to the river. Grandma Ellie told me a story about a boy that used to go to the river near here with a fishing rod, trying to catch fish for dinner. I want to learn how to do that, mom.”

Sandy looked to her mother, who was wiping her eyes with a tissue.

“I think I’ve heard that story before,” Sandy stated, trying to fight the tears that were burning her eyes.

July 2, 1920
“My, what a pretty day,” Ellie Harper recognized. She abruptly looked over to her daughter, who was staring ahead, grasping Adam’s hand tightly.

“It’s gorgeous,” Adam heaved, showing off his vocabulary.

Sandy could feel her emotions thriving again. Ever since the day before when Adam had showed her that picture, all she could think about was when her brother used to pick up his fishing rod and go to the river.

“How about we go for a picnic today?” Ellie asked.

Adam jumped up-and-down. “Oh yes, oh yes. Can we, mom?” His large eyes pleaded for him.

“That would be nice,” she replied. Ten minutes later they were off.

“Grandma, where are we going to go?” Adam asked Ellie.

“You’ll see,” she told him in response.

Sandy held her son’s hand firmly as they walked across the hills. The familiar territory soon nipped at her soul. They were going down the same path that took them to the river.

“Mom, could we picnic over there?” Sandy beseeched quickly, pointing over to the hills on the other side of the field.

“Sandy, your son told me he wanted to go to the river. I figured that’s where we could go now.” Ellie kept walking. Sandy had to practically run to keep up with her.

“Mom, please—you know I can’t go back there—”

“We’re going to the river? That’s awesome!” Adam screeched, his pace becoming faster. Sandy felt her heart dropping again. She never went near water again after that one afternoon in 1982; the memories were too strong.

Ellie pushed aside a few stray branches. In that moment, the sound of running water pierced their ears.

“It’s as great as I remember,” Ellie admitted. “I can’t believe I’ve stayed away from it for so long.”

Sandy shielded her eyes. Tears fell down her cheeks and she started to sob.

“Mommy, what’s wrong?” Adam inquired. He tugged at her pant leg.

“Adam, why don’t you go and lay down the blanket?” Ellie nudged.

“No, mom, don’t let him go!” Sandy shrieked. She grabbed her son and held him close.

The stream looked so delicate and so harmless; Sandy knew better. She didn’t want her son to go near it.

“Sandy, let him go,” Ellie said decisively. Pulling the boy out of the girl’s arms, she handed him the red-and-white-checkered blanket. He scuttled away.

“Mom, I can’t lose him,” Sandy cried. “I can’t lose him, too…”

“You need to face this, Sandy,” her mother told her strictly. “When we walked through these branches and saw the river—oh, I loved it. We had so many memories here.”

“And one very bad memory, mom,” Sandy concluded. “We lost Kyle—”

“I know, but that was eight years ago. We all loved this river, and I know Kyle would hate us for giving it up just because it reminds us of him.”

Sandy looked over to Adam who was spreading the blanket on the grass. His little arms—Kyle’s little arms, reaching for her, waiting for her to pull him out of the rapid flowing water; her fingers skimming the tips of his; her not being able to grasp them; watching him go over the falls…

“I’m done.” Adam came toward them, his smile gleaming. “Could I play in the water?” he asked.

Ellie nodded unsurely, looking to Sandy.

“Could I, mom?”

Sandy swallowed the lump in her throat and then forced herself to bob her head. “Of course you can,” she replied.

He ran toward the water, quickly taking off his shoes. He then stepped into the stream, splashing the water around. Soon he was playing with the rocks.

“He’s adorable,” Ellie stated. “Just like Kyle.”

“Just like Kyle,” Sandy agreed. She then looked to the sky, seeing that little boy that used to play in the water looking for new rocks, and the boy that used to go fishing every day. Sandy missed Kyle deeply, but in a way, it was like having Adam gave her that same joy she used to share with her brother.

As she made her way over to Adam, Sandy realized that even though coming to the river reminded her of that day back in 1982, it would also remind her of every happy memory she ever had with Kyle; and in a way, she was confident that the boy that used to hold the fishing rod and play with the Golden Retriever would always be there, waiting for them to come back.

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