An orange sun casts its late afternoon rays upon the winding path of the Black Warrior River. It really is a dark river, looping its way through acres of strong oaks and tall pines.
Today there are no barges hauling coal or tugs parked along the banks. The water is still and quiet. It is not the first time that Michael stops here on his way home.
He gets off work at five o’clock each day and drives around for a few minutes until he comes to River Road Park. Here he sits for thirty minutes or more just looking out at the river. The dread of going home to his wife never goes away. He loves his daughter Olivia but his wife, Ruth is coming undone more with each passing day. She is bi-polar and no amount of antidepressants can combat the wrath she inflicts nightly. People often ask Michael what sets her off and he has gotten to the point he doesn’t try to explain because he doesn’t really have the answer.
As he sits by the river today, he thinks to himself about the man he used to be before he married Ruth. He was an executive at the local paper mill with the keys to company car. He was a trusted and valued employee with a twenty year service record. He looked forward to getting married and having children. He often imagined taking family vacations to the beach or having cook outs on the deck of their home. He would be a versatile husband and father by flipping the ribs on the grill and then settling into a lawn chair to play a song on his guitar. He used to love playing the guitar and at first Ruth even said she like it too. When they were dating, she would even go to the music store and buy extra strings or picks and begged him to play her a song. Now, his guitar is in the hall closet collecting dust.
“Dear Father in Heaven, why is this happening to me? This woman I have married is so hateful. She has caused me to lose everything! I lost my job at the mill and now barely make enough to pay our bills working at the mall. I can’t even play my guitar any more without her telling me how selfish I am. Why, Lord are you doing this to me? Why?” Michael looks up to the night sky with all its stars to address God. The sun is hidden now and a radiant moon has taken its place.
The only sound Michael hears in response to his plea is the croak of a bullfrog nearby. He moves from his spot on the bank and climbs the ladder that leads to the side rail of the bridge spanning the river. Once he gets to the top, he shimmies along the ledge until he is in the middle of the bridge. His fingers grip the chain link fence behind him as he leans over the water.
With his hanging down, he speaks to God, “Lord, I am ending this tonight. Please take care of Olivia. She deserves a father better than me. Please forgive me.”
With his last word, he lets go of the fence and free falls with his arms outstretched towards the river below. His tears are being blown from his face as he falls to the dark water. Seconds later Michael hits the water hard and sinks deep. His can feel the pain from slamming into the water and opens his eyes. He is alive. Instinctively he makes his way to the surface and takes a deep breath of air. His ribs are broken and it’s possible he has punctured a lung.
“Dear God, why won’t you let me die?” He looks around to see how far it is to the bank and starts to dog paddle to the shore.
As he gets closer to the grassy banks, he sees a bright light in the trees. Soon he is a foot from the river’s edge when the light reaches down and lifts him out of the water.
As he stands there dripping, the light speaks to him, “Do not complain for God has spared you. He has only good things in store for you.”
With those final words, Michael’s world becomes dark as the river and his heart as bright as the moon shining over it.
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