Admittedly, I should have never gone swimming there. Warning signs were all over and the park office reminded everyone of the possibility of flashfloods in the canyon. But I didn’t care. If anything, the persistent advice not to dive into the river got me more and more convinced that I had to. After all, I had ignored such advice many times before, and nothing had ever happened. Maybe warnings were necessary for other people, but not for me. Certain men knew how to take care of themselves. Of course, I considered myself to be one of them. So, I did dive into the water one morning. And almost drowned.
I don’t even know if the currents suddenly got much stronger, or if I had just underestimated them from the start, but, in any case, I found myself pulled along by the stream, my head half above and half below the water, hitting rocks and boulders here and there without even the slightest chance of holding on to their slippery surface for support. I suppose time gets a different dimension if you suddenly fear for your life, so I have no idea how long I was struggling it out with the elements, but it seemed like an eternity. In any case, long enough for me to reach a state in which I don’t think I really understood anymore what was going on. Like, I have no recollection of how I got a hold of that rope. But somehow I did. And then I pressed my legs against some rocks and managed to tie that rope around my wrists while still holding on to it as firmly as I could. And then I got pulled out. Slowly, but steadily. All I did was hold on to that rope and not let go. Again, I have no idea how long that rescue mission took. I only remember suddenly being out of the water, lying on some rock, gasping for air, and throwing up what seemed like gallons of water. Someone got the rope off my wrists and pressed down on my stomach. Finally, I only coughed, rolled sideways, and slowly started to breathe normally again. Someone threw a blanket over my wet body.
Eventually, I opened my eyes and looked up. Some tall, muscular white guy with a baseball hat kneeled over me. When he saw me blinking, he smiled. “Boy, you almost drowned in there!” I didn’t say anything. I just lay there. The guy got up, and I watched him walk over to a pick-up truck. He got another blanket, and a couple of jackets. He turned the jackets into a pillow to lay my head on, pulled one blanket underneath me, and wrapped me up in the other. Then he sat down on a rock. “You’re okay?”
“I guess so,” was all I could come up with. I remember being happy that I could still talk.
“Man, when I saw you down in that river, I almost thought you wouldn’t make it. I was up there driving my truck. I thought I had to get down here somewhere, before you’d get past. I know this spot. Me and my buddies come down here sometimes for a few beers. In the evening, you know, we make a fire and all. Anyway, it’s the closest you can get the vehicles to the water for a few miles. I sped up and tried to make it. I just did. Even had time to tie the rope to the truck before throwing it in. Otherwise, it would have been much harder to get you out. This way it was no problem, really.”
I glanced at the pick-up. The rope was still tied to the hitch. It was soaked.
“I was only worried you wouldn’t get the rope. But you were basically thrown into it. I don’t know if you just grabbed it by instinct, or if you heard me yell. In any case, you did a good job. Made it easy to pull you out!” The guy laughed. I managed a faint smile. He popped open a can of beer. He took a long sip. “Ahhhh! … I’d offer you one, but you might wanna wait for a while.”
“Ya, I think so,” I said, trying to smile again.
He took another long sip. “My name’s Bob, by the way.”
“Alexander, that’s me. I mean, Alex. Call me Alex.” I felt stupid.
“Alright, Alex. Hope you’ll be better soon.”
“Oh, yes, better already, I think.”
“Good. I mean, I can run you down to town to the hospital, if you want. But, actually, you look okay to me.
“Yes, I think I should be fine,” I said.
“Good. I don’t trust hospitals anyway. Have some more rest, then I’ll take you to my place and get you back on track. Then I’ll get you back to your car … wherever it is.”
“At the lookout point.”
“Okay, no problem.” Another long sip.
“Well, Bob … thank you!”
“Hey, don’t mention it. I’m glad I got you outta there. … Hope your girlfriend’s happy, too!” He laughed. I managed another faint smile. I didn’t bother telling him I had no girlfriend.
He got up, emptied his can, crushed it in his hand, and threw it behind a rock. “Hey, you think you’re ready to get up?”
I still felt weak, but I figured I could make it to the car. “Sure,” I said.
Bob went to the truck and grabbed a pair of shorts and a T-shirt. “Here, throw these on.”
It took me a little while, but I managed. I made it to the truck too. I was ready to go. Bob seemed content. “Let’s roll!” he said.
“So, where are you from, Alex?” We were driving down the dirtroad along the edge of the canyon. The river lay down to the left of us. From a distance, it looked as harmless as could be. Bob was a fast driver.
“California. Orange County. But I’ve been living in Utah for a while now. … What about yourself?”
“Born and raised in Texas. But I got my family up here five years ago. Our own piece of land, you know.”
“That sounds great,” I said.
I slowly started to recover. Riding in the pick-up with Bob having a casual conversation, my morning river escapade seemed like a bad dream. But I knew it wasn’t. And while looking down into the canyon again it dawned on me that I could have died there this morning. Worse, that I had been really close to doing so, and that I would have, hadn’t it been for this man, appearing completely content running his old Dodge over rocks and gravel. I looked at him. He always seemed to smile. He looked like a happy man. Probably he had a happy family. Might have worked hard to provide for them most of his life, saving up for their “own piece of land”, probably making dreams come true. Always having had nothing but contempt for family and plans and security, I suddenly thought what a beautiful thing this was. And what a great person Bob was. And, goddamn, how he had saved my fucking life! I felt suddenly overwhelmed with gratitude, I’m tempted to say: love, for this man without whom I might have been dead by now. I wanted to tell him how great he was, how I’ll always be in his debt, how I would give him anything to reward him, how my mother would love him till the end of the world – I was looking for the right words, but they didn’t come. And then it was him who spoke.
“Texas is a good place,” he said, “but now those fucking Mexicans are ruining it. … Well, you know what I’m talking about, you’re from Southern California. Where, Orange County? Well, that’s not even too bad, I hear. I mean, imagine living in L.A. The fucking niggers rule the city is what I hear. Remember that Rodney King video? If you ask me, they should give every one of those monkeys a hiding like that, maybe that way they’d beat some sense into them. Only way they’d ever understand anything, I’d say. If at all. A bunch of uncivilized baboons is what they are. Why not send them back to Africa?”
I was lost for words now even more than before. Bob, on the other hand, wasn’t.
“But no one will do that. Definitely not the government. Liberal pussies. Fuck that. The government is bringing down a great country. A great people, too. At least, that’s what Americans once were. Now every chink’s got an American passport. That’s why I don’t even want one. I burned mine. Burned my license, too. No cops are out here, anyway. And if one comes my way, I’ll bust his ass. These will do me good.”
Bob motioned his head backwards. I turned around. I hadn’t even noticed the gun-rack at the back of the cabin before. It held three rifles. “These are good broads. All loaded. You shoot?”
Bob looked at me. I just shook my head, my mouth open.
“Na, I didn’t think so,” Bob laughed. “But, see, out here that’s a necessity. That’s all we got. All my boys shoot really well. And my daughters, too.”
“How many kids you got?” A question that came easily. I felt some relief.
“Five. Three boys, two girls. See, that’s mainly why we moved out here. I don’t want them to grow up in that liberal nigger-world. They gotta be prepared for when it’s all gonna come down. And it will. And we’re not even far from it.”
Bob was quiet for awhile. I stared out the windshield.
Then Bob turned into what could hardly even be recognized as a tiny track across the mesa. After a couple of minutes we reached a gate. Bob jumped out to unlock it, drove the pick-up through, and locked it again behind us. “You never know,” he said.
Another couple of minutes later we reached a small wooden house with a tin roof, next to it two trailers, two more old pick-ups, and a boiled-out Ford, a motorcycle, a watertank, and a few viciously barking dogs. “Don’t worry,” Bob said, “if you’re with me they won’t bite.”
Two boys and a girl came out of the house to greet us. We got out of the truck. “Kids, say hi to Alex!” I was introduced to Scott, Brett, and Alice.
Then we went inside. There were two more kids, John and Mary, sitting over some notebooks, and Bob’s wife, Mary-Anne. Lunch was ready, she said, with a big winning smile. We sat down at the table. Bob popped open two cans of beer and put one in front of me. “I guess you’re ready now.” He smiled again.
“Yes, thank you,” I said.
Then Mary-Anne put some boiled ham, potatoes and cabbage on the table. She seemed to always smile, too. She looked like a really nice woman. “So, what gives us the pleasure to have you here with us, Alex?” she asked with a heavy Texan drawl.
Bob told the story. The family listened attentively. Bob made it sound as if he had saved a cat that had fallen into a barrel. The family still liked his account.
“Oh, you poor thing,” Mary-Anne finally said, running her hand gently over my hair. “Are you alright now?”
“Yes,” I said, “thank you,” and: “mam.” I finally had the guts to speak. Maybe it was the food.
“Actually, Bob is way too modest. What he forgot to point out was that he has saved my life today. Without him, I’d be dead. And, honestly speaking, I have no idea what I could do to show you how grateful I am. I mean, I’d get you anything you want, but I could still never repay what you’ve done for me. I mean…”
I was looking for more words, but Mary-Anne jumped in instantly. “But, no, son, don’t even think about that. Of course Bob did what he did. That’s what we are here for. Help each other out. Especially out here. Right, hon’?” She lay her hand on Bob’s.
“But…” I tried one more time.
“Of course Mary-Anne is right!” Bob didn’t give me a chance. “Of course that’s what we are here for, Alex. You would have done the same for me. No big deal. I’m just glad you got a hold of that rope. Like I said, you did a good job. You saved yourself, boy!”
He laughed, and Mary-Anne laughed, and the kids laughed, and I laughed.
“See, son, I appreciate what you said, but, again, this was no big deal. This is what you do as an American. A true American, I mean. I’m just glad to spare your mother and father some grief.”
“Oh, yes, your parents!” Mary-Anne suddenly seemed worried. “You probably want to call them! Sorry, we only have a radio out here.” She looked at Bob, appearing a bit troubled.
“No, no,” I said, “don’t worry. They don’t know of anything, and it might be better that way. I’m fine now, regardless. I’ll tell them the story soon enough. Thanks!”
Mary-Anne seemed pleased.
“Okay,” Bob said, “enough of that now. Eat up your ham, and finish your beer. You still look a bit weak!” Once again, everyone laughed.
I stayed for another hour or so. The children had warmed up after a while and told stories about the dogs and who had won which games they had played. Mary-Anne told me about home schooling. Bob continued making people laugh. I answered politely questions about my family, non-existent girlfriends, and supposed jobs.
It was two-thirty. Bob asked me if I wanted to go back to my car. I said I probably should. He asked whether I was okay driving. I said I felt really fine.
I thanked Mary-Anne for lunch. “Oh,” she just said, and waved it off. I think I embarrassed her.
The boys shook my hand, the girls and Mary-Anne gave me hugs. “Take care, Alex!” Mary-Anne said. She seemed to mean it.
On the way to the pick-up, Bob took me aside to a little shack I hadn’t even noticed driving onto the property. It was tucked away behind the trailers. Bob removed a heavy padlock and switched on battery-powered lights. There were weapons everywhere. Rifles, pistols, hand-grenades, even what looked like a bazooka to me. “See, Alex, this is what I’m talking about. We are prepared. Did you see what a beautiful family I have? I won’t let no commie government take my kids’ lives away. This is their land, and they are born free on it. And they will defend their freedom if they have to.” He looked at me: “And you gotta defend your freedom, too, Alex. Think about it. You’re a good kid. You got courage. Otherwise you would have never been in that river in the first place. You’re an American, Alex. There’s nothing in this world to be more proud of. It’s the land of the free, son. Remember that. The land of the free!” He put his hand on my shoulder and grasped it firmly. We left the shack.
It took about forty-five minutes to get back to my car. It was only five hours that I had left it. It now seemed like it was a lifetime.
Not much had been spoken during the drive. All Bob did was point out a few coyotes and tell me about water holes here and there. We both got out at the lookout point’s parking lot. No one was around. This was still a long way from anywhere. One more time I was looking for the right thing to say. Bob just grabbed my hand and shook it hard. “You’re sure you’re okay by yourself from here on?”
“Yes, absolutely. I’m really fine, thanks.”
“Okay then, take care, Alex. And watch out for those currents!” One last time I saw Bob laugh. He still looked like a great guy.
“I will,” I said, one last time forcing a smile.
“Good,” Bob said and let go off my hand. He was on his way back to the pick-up.
He just turned around and smiled, got in the car, threw on the engine, waved, and was on his rocky way back to his own piece of land and his family.
I stood on the parking lot by myself. I didn’t even know Bob’s last name. I was, however, still wearing his clothes.