The Rowboat

The sun is setting.

From my tiny little rowboat, I stare up at the pinks and purples and oranges that color the sky. A few wispy clouds add some texture to the otherwise smooth canvas.

I lower my head to look toward the horizon. I stare at the world that runs ahead of me, eventually curving out of sight. The expansion. The possibilities.

The boat rocks ever so slightly from side to side; I hug my knees into my chest. Waiting.

A splash breaks me out of my reverie.

My lips curl upward into the smallest smile; my back straightens, my chin lifts.

It’s them.

I scan the water for the source of the splash; I quickly spot them playing and splashing and jumping out of the water.

My smile widens. I roll onto my knees and shimmy to the side of the boat in anticipation.

As they approach from afar, my mind’s eye replays the moments we’ve had together over the years, this friend of old and I.

The shock of the cool water invigorates me, and in jest, I feign annoyance as I wipe off my face. They tease me right back, spraying me again with the cool ocean water. I stand up so fast I nearly tip the boat and fall into the sea, but it doesn’t matter – I’m going in anyways. I manage to find my balance for a mere instant before pushing myself off the boat and diving in for the chase. My arms and legs push me through the water after them as they swim ahead of me; when I finally come up for air, they greet me with yet another spit in the face. I splash them back, both of us laughing with mouthfuls of water.

The reel ends, and another begins.

I lay in the boat, staring up at the clear night sky above me – millions of stars touch my eyes, and yet I know I can see but a fraction of them. They rest their head up against the boat as we marvel at the universe together. I glance over at them, staring up at the sky in wonder. The air is warm and still, and I feel at peace. I feel grateful. I look back towards the stars.

And another.

The storm bellows heavily as the waves swell and rain pounds the surface. I have lost my oars and any sense of direction. Terror numbs my entire body. Suddenly I feel a hard tug on the boat – they are pulling me, to where, I know not, but I know they are right there with me, and they can see something I can’t. I trust them. I say nothing and let them steer.

The film in my mind plays clips of us together, on loop, sometimes even multiple at the same time. I see happy times and sad times, from the beginning of our friendship through recent encounters. My excitement builds as they grow closer, knowing that I’ll soon be adding a new memory clip to the reel.

Their splashes get louder, I hear their laughter. Never in my life do I remember seeing them this happy – they must be just as excited to see me as I am to see them.

Brimming with eagerness, I wait.

And I wait.

And I wait a little more.

The exhilaration grows, until the moment is just about upon us: the next time they break the water, I plan to call out. I ready myself on the side of my boat, ready to greet them.

I hear the splash as I open my mouth, but my throat catches; where is my dear friend?

Their laughter turns me around quickly enough to catch a glimpse of not one, but two silhouettes, floating in midair, before they both dive back into the water.

I stare for a moment after they disappear, dumbstruck, then deflate. Heartbroken.

The glimmer of hope in my heart convinces me to wait, that perhaps they’ll come back.

They break the surface again, this time further out. They still do not seem to notice my presence.

The glimmer fades.

Tension begins to fill my chest. I feel the anger. The hurt. The disappointment. The worthlessness. I thought I meant more to them than this.

I want to call out, I want to shout at them, to make them come back. To scream in self-righteousness all the ways that they have wronged and hurt me.

How could they do this to me?

How was I so easily replaced?

How had they not seen me?

My boat fills with the stale air of anger and indignity. The evening has suddenly lost its beauty as I sit in the stew of self-righteousness.

I am their friend. I am the one who’s always been there. I am the one who sat waiting around for them all day.

I stare at them resentfully as they swim away, listening to their continued laughter while hot tears run down my cheeks.

I cried.

And I cried.

And I cried a little more.

Until my tears dried up and I had nothing left.

The sunset had long passed, and I was left with a hot face and the light of the moon on my little boat. The laughter of two continued to ring in my ears.

I sit in silence, numb, hugging my knees to my chest and feeling the gentle rocking of the boat.

What was I going to do now? I needed my friend.

Yet, they didn’t seem to need me.

And then the reality I had so desperately tried to avoid hit me like an 80-foot wave.

The day had come – the day that our friendship finally changed. I knew this day was imminent, but I had never actually considered what it would be like when it actually happened. It hurts more than I ever imagined it could; I feel left behind. Forgotten.

Yet I can’t deny how happy they were – happier than I’d ever seen them before. And although it hurts, although I’d been the one waiting all day for them, they had moved forward. What kind of friend would I be if I demanded that they stay back with me?

I find one final tear left in my reservoir, which falls softly down my cheek.

I’m not ready.

But that doesn’t matter.

I lower my head and close my eyes, taking three deep breaths.

On the third exhale, I open my eyes.

I grab my oars.

I turn around and begin paddling, towards the rising sun, watching the sky paint itself in the yellows and golds and oranges of the new day.

… … …

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