An excerpt from an upcoming new book by Jerry Brotherton ‘Small Stories from a Tiny Town’
How in the hell the news got to us so quickly is still a mystery. One minute, we’re in the middle of the street playing our childish games then, what seemed like only a moment later, we’re standing at the water’s edge. Red lights slashing through the early evening dusk.
We watched as Sheriff Rankin and his brother Will maneuvered their boat around the middle of the lake. Casting a snagging line out like it was just another evening of spoonbill fishing.
Everybody from town was standing around in little groups whispering to each other. Speculating on what, then how, it happened. It seemed that seventeen year old Terry Bowman had tried to swim across the lake by himself. He didn’t make it.
All us guys were standing a few yards away from the somber faces of the adults. We were jabbing each other in the ribs and joking with one another like we had just come out of the movie theatre. Even there in the face of death, our youthful immortality poked its head out. We knew one thing for certain, whatever hand fate had dealt to Terry, it had nothing to do with us.
But the moment they lifted Terry’s body from the boat and laid him gently onto the shore, his blue lips highlighted against his pasty whiteness, his eyes wide open and staring toward the night sky. His mother kneeling over his wrinkled body and crying for God to give him back. That’s when I knew death for the first time in my life. And my youthful naiveté abandoned me.
As I stared into his face, I strange curiosity overtook me. I wondered what thoughts went through Terry’s mind the moment he realized that he was never going to make it to the other side of the lake. As he looked back and saw his friends, highlighted against the setting sun, dancing, singing and making out; when did panic set in?
Was it when his arms turned to rubber and he struggled to just stay afloat that he started looking for some miracle to get him out? Or later when his first gasp for air brought him nothing but a mouth full of water? At what point did he stop fighting and just accept that death was going to take him. Or did he struggle to the very end, never giving up hope?
So as I stood there in silence, watching his mother cradle her son. Her tears dripping into his unblinking eyes and her sobs choking out any words she tried to give to him, my knees buckled and I fell to the ground. I watched her gently rock her baby in her arms and I suddenly hated God for taking him away from her.
That evening, those flashing red lights slicing into the stillness and the sobbing moans of Terry’s mom burned a memory deep into my innocents that I was sure I would never forget.
But the next morning found us all gathered at the ball park laughing and joking like any other summer day. Like nothing out of the ordinary had happened. Except choosing up side was just a little harder now that Terry was gone… but hey, the game must go on.