We had only been on two dates before and I suddenly realized that maybe she didn't even know my last name. Would she know how to contact my parents? Would she cry? Would she mourn? Did she even like me enough to come to my funeral?
I've kayaked Class V rapids in the Snake River and rafted over thundering waterfalls in the Zambezi, so I figured the meandering Sandy River in Oregon would be ideal for a mellow picnic and third date. I didn't figure it would nearly end my life.
Starting out mid-day, we had loosely thrown a blanket, a cooler full of sandwiches and a couple bottles of wine into a flat bottom canoe. We were planning to float a lazy few miles, but less than 30 minutes into the trip, the river began to pick up speed as it carved around a sharp left-hand corner. The canoe twisted sideways. Not a boater, Susan (not her real name) turned around to look at me, and ask what to do. The boat tipped and gallons of water rushed in.
In slow motion, we went over. Giggling, Susan floated downstream. Foolishly, I decided to try to gather up the cooler and the tent--which were being pulled into a swift moving ribbon of water. To reach them, I had to swim straight into the rapids and toward a tree lying in the river, like a giant resting peacefully on his side.
Suddenly, a funky undertow grabbed at my ankles. It was like I was standing with my feet glued to an invisible, submerged conveyor belt. I rushed along completely weightless.
Within seconds, I was pinned against a thick tree branch. Water was rushing by, simultaneously pulling me under and body-slamming me against the tree trunk. Water crested up and over my shoulders.
By this time, Susan had reached the other shore. I could see her from where I was pinned against the tree, 50 meters away. Because I didn't know her very well and didn't want her to think that I was a grouch or a wimp, I caught her eyes and forced a smile. I couldn't wave. My hands were pinned to my sides as I was being folded over the trunk like a ragdoll.
I may have only been there for half-a-minute, but it was enough time to play through two dozen scenarios. Then the epiphany came in a snap. I had two choices: Stay put until exhaustion set in, or yank myself under the tree trunk and give in to the undertow. The tree's branches and limbs reached away from me and downriver. Who knew what lay beneath the surface? I would have to travel at least 20 feet through a bramble of tree limbs and hope to God that I wasn't snared by another branch and held under. I chose the latter.
In hindsight, I imagine this is what it would be like to parachute into a tree. I churned through the water and branches. It was a dark and murky. I could feel the tree's arms touch me as I rocketed past--sometimes a light, not unpleasant scratch; then, a moment later, hooking meanly into my flesh.
A few seconds later, I surfaced. I gulped for air--and nothing happened. The world was completely void of oxygen. My next gasping breath, the air tingled on my tongue. But when I tried to swim, my arm wouldn't move. Instead, cold, electrical pain forked deep into my shoulder. I dragged myself to shore, and the next day, I learned I had torn my rotary cuff.
I ended up dating Susan for another month. In part, I think I was attracted to her because I associated her with danger and tantalizing excitement. But, in truth, she was none of those things. She was Susan, and I was glad to be alive.