The current lapped at the rounded edge of the drift boat as he tried to make his eyes adjust to the morning light. He wasn't sure why he had agreed to this crap. It seemed so useless in the grand scheme of things. He moved slowly to the river's edge, moving as if in one of those dreams where your feet grow heavier the closer you get to your objective.
Dreams have been a major part of his life for the last year. Reality had been too harsh and ugly, full of pain and scars. At least in the dreams there had been some measure of escape, some hope of a different ending.
Mornings had once been a favorite time of day for him. That was when he was young and naive about the ways of the world, when each dawn brought endless possibilities. A chance to catch a bass, flush a pheasant, or maybe even kiss a girl. But that was before he discovered that evil never slept. Before evil visited his own shores and changed his life forever.
He, like many others answered the call of his country that day. The day innocence died along with 2,974 people in smoldering buildings and in a lonely field. The day his mother cried. The day his resolve was steeled.
That day seemed so long ago now. He now knew how to survive in a desert, and how to survive a fire fight. He learned what it was like to watch a friend die. He knew what it was like to believe he was going to die; maybe even to wish for it.
Yet here he stood, on the banks of a murmuring stream, on a morning with endless possibilities...few of which he cared anything about.
It had been the first sergeant who talked him into this. He didn't want to be here...to see pity in the eyes of others. He didn't want...didn't need it. Just came to get the sergeant off his back. Some nonsense about going fly fishing with a guide. No cost, just go enjoy it, they said. Sure...whatever.
The guide seemed nice enough. He had a slight limp, barely noticeable. Just a regular guy; maybe a little too old to be a guide. The tattoo on his forearm hinted that he had spent time on larger watercraft with a martial mission.
After a little small talk the guide asked if he had ever fly fished...he hadn't. Brief casting lessons followed. He was then shown to his seat in the front of the drift boat and they were off, pulled in by the main current, becoming part of it rather than simply riding on it. The landing slid silently away.
It had been a lifetime ago since he had been on a river. The concept that there could be a cool wet place left on earth was foreign to someone who had lived the last two years in the desert. Almost as foreign as being somewhere that IED's were not a daily occurrence.
"Might try a cast over here", his thoughts were interrupted by the guide. "We usually are able to pull one or two from this run, and that little midge pattern has been good to me this week".
Half heartedly he cast, and cast again. No luck. On the third drift, the indicator went upstream and he set the hook on the first of several fish he would land that morning. He could feel the tension in his mind unwinding with each run the trout made. His back and legs were still tight though. The therapist said it would take more therapy before the scars would stretch. The wounds were mostly healed...at least on the outside.
As the day wore on, the sky turned brilliant blue and the catching slowed. It warmed up enough that the guide suggested they wet wade.
"You mean get in the water?", he asked.
"Yeah, there is some skinny water here but the run on the far side is good. Hard to reach from the boat though with all these boulders."
"You know, I think I'd like to do that, but how about you fish the run and let me just...well I want to just stand in the river."
"You're the boss".
So he eased over the side of the boat, the cold water a bit of a shock, especially to one who hadn't bathed in over a year. It's too chancy with skin grafts you know. The guide grabbed his rod and made his way over to the run, leaving the soldier to his thoughts for a while.
He faced upstream, and felt the current press against his legs. The water curled around his body, becoming a living thing and making him part of itself. The chortle of water over stone soothed his war-weary mind, as he absorbed the life-source of the stream through skin once ravaged by fire. The cool flow began to wash away the sand, the hate, and the pain. For the first time he cried.
Tomorrow morning, the possibilities would be endless.
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