The tail end of our second date we ended up in a smokey bar across from Mike’s apartment complex called Rick and Mo’s. It’s a dive bar by all accounts, and extremely homogenous in the clientele. We were sitting at a high top along with one of his friends who was in Montgomery for SOS (squadron officer school) and they were talking about their plans to float the Coosa river with the others in his friend’s class. Soon Mike turned to me, grinning and asked if I would like to go too. Turned out his friend suggested to invite me. Regardless, I was elated to be invited because I had no friends at the time in Montgomery and was probably going to spend my Saturday watching hours of trashy reality TV in my apartment with no furniture. Fuck that moving company for holding my livelihood hostage for 7 weeks. And floating the river sounded like the epitome of living in the South. Our third date was set up and I couldn’t wait.
Mike picked me up early Saturday morning and we stopped at Dunkin Donuts, there I learned Mike likes his coffee– how can I put this nicely– incredibly sweetened. Thats when Mike learned I like my coffee with a side of motor oil and blacker than Satan’s soul. Ying to my yang for sure.
We carpool with his friend and the adventure to the river begins. Of course there’s a few snags with directions on how to get there, because, well, men.
We strip down in a dirt covered parking lot and jump in the back of a beat up pick up truck with stacks of black rubber tubes, something you would see at a junk yard. The truck was being operated by a boy not much older than 14 years old. We all for some reason recognized this to be a great idea to jump in the back of the truck with little protection. No seat belts, too many to sit comfortably in the bed of the truck so some sitting along the edges. But we made it and headed down toward the river. The other Airmen were being chatty and as I was tethering my flip-flops to my tube, Mike was tying our tubes together by a bright yellow string. I thought it was cute.
Floating the river is nothing too cryptic, you sit on a tube in the river and the current floats you. Your feet are dangling off, and your arms are perched along the tube to hold yourself up. But if you’re small in stature like me you’re always pulling yourself upwards from the pike position because the tube looks like it’s trying to devour your entire body. The sun beating down, cool river on your tooshie, beer in hand, beetles humming and feet splashing, it’s a peaceful way to spend an afternoon.
I remember at one point, Mike was talking and telling a pretty funny story and he was floating backwards down the river. I was facing towards him and in the distances there was a little bit of commotion.
There were rapids.
The current begins to strengthen as we approach and Mike tries to paddle facing forward but it was too late. The rocks begin to surface and you can see the white tops of the water rushing around them. We both begin to accelerate and we hear someone ahead of us call out that it’s about a 3 foot drop. I pull my body up and clench my core, no parts of me were touching the water, but for Mike it was too late. He was leading our two-person trolly and he couldn’t swing his body forward. He’s going to encounter the rapids head first. His tube was unbalanced and he tipped. But what looked like to be a faucet on full strength the water continuously rushed over him, however an arm stayed above water clenching a bright blue Bud Light can. Like a skipping rock on water, I just hopped along the rapids unscathed. Mike popped up holding onto his tube, gleefully showing his triumph. The beer survived the rapids.
My heart swelled with so much pride and we continued down the river. I didn’t have the heart to tell him he had a hanger in his nose and take away from his moment. So I kept quiet and unapologetically stared at it while he talked until his friend, the one who suggested I float on the river too, mentioned he had something showing. Mike in disbelief turned to me and exclaimed, “And you didn’t tell me?”
I smiled and watched him wipe it away. A few months later he would leave me squirming in embarrassment for the infamous 1-2-3 count in his car. Karma really is a bitch.
But, I recall that moment fondly, where he sacrificed himself on the rapids. And I knew then this blooming romance had a lot of potential, because if he can do that for a beer, what other forms of selfless acts can he be riddled with. We had our first kiss that evening after the river when he dropped me off. As summer approaches I miss those sticky humid Alabama evenings where he walks me to the entryway and I turn and look up at his brown eyes and big smile. But I have a treasure trove of memories to get me through this deployment, and remembering them reconnects me even though he’s thousands of miles away in a desert.