Our camp bus treads rising water from the Guadalupe River, as if it is a fortress on wheels. Eyes wide, we watch this brown wave come toward us. The bus jerks and stalls. I think this bus is a coffin!
Everyone stands at once. I try, but get pushed down. Planted! I've got a cast on my leg. Body's fall and press against me. I can't move.
"Everyone, listen up! We have to get out!" John our youth leader screams over the nervous cries, and gets our attention, especially, when the bus pivots, and shakes.
The director keeps all eyes moving forward, but mine. My eyes feel like steel balls, bouncing, crashing, and seeking any way out! Dirty water rushes on the floorboard. Anxious prayers can be heard over the roar of water. Silently I pray.
"Single file!" We form a chain, that's how it has to be!" John barks.
Floyd the bus driver eyes me hard. "What about Toby!" He yells over the sound of breaking water.
John looks at Floyd, and then me, as others link arms outside. John tells Floyd. "Okay you get the kids moving to shore, don't let the chain break. Go Now!"
I'm the weakest link. I watch the current grow, as everyone fights to stay together. My heart is pounding like a jackhammer!
John charges toward me. "Com'n Tobe. Let me help ya."
"Brother John, you're smaller than me."
The bus tilts and slides, as we lumber down the aisle, water gushing over our feet.
Suddenly, Bryan my friend sticks his smiling face in the door. He would smile in the eye of a twister. "I come ta getcha Tobe! Climb on for a ride!" I just pulled a couple gals over, I can get ya out!" His legs are tree trunks. He's an 18 year-old Texas football hero, with a heart the size of his biceps.
I shiver on his back, but he moves and grunts his way, and I think we might just make it. But another wave is coming for us! I see it's ugly brown swirl curling past Cypress trees.
The chain breaks everywhere! Screaming teenagers float down the river!
"Don't worry, I got ya bud!" Bryan shouts, as the river swells chest high. But he stumbles and grunts. With each final shifting stride, he screams, like a painted warrior!
I tumble over his head. I drink the mud. Dirty water packs my ears. I'm in a funnel of brown water. Somehow, I surface, sucking air. I didn't think I would float with a cast.
As I slide through mud like evil chocolate, I see the camp director in a tree. "Don't give up Toby! Grab a tree branch up ahead! See it!"
"It's a miracle I grab a branch. But where is Bryan? I yell over the rising water, spitting chunks of mud. "Bryan! Bryan!! All I hear or see our others in trees, trembling to hang on.
I scream for him until my throat burns like a torch inside. My arms burn like liquid fire, holding on. My cast bounces on the rippling water.
I look over to see two girls are hanging on tree branches. One girl, I see is Tracy. She tells her friend, "If I don't make it, tell... tell mom and daddy I love them."
Her friend looks down in anguish. "No Tracy, hang on!"
I yell. "Hang on! Help will come!"
She shakes her head with tears streaming down her face. "I can't hang on! I can't! If... if I die, I know I will see you in heaven." She slips away, tender as God's lamb.
When we got rescued, I asked if anyone saw Bryan, but he was never found. I sat on the bank, head hung between my knees sobbing, and shaking under a blanket. Later someone told me, he never made it. They thought the silt, and mud buried him for good.
There's a memorial by the river with his name on it, and sometimes when I close my eyes, I see his shinning face, waiting for me at Heaven's gate.
Some folk asked me how I felt, so I told them, "It don't matter how deep down in the mud ya are, cause the God who saved us, can raise us."
On the morning of July 17th, 1988, 43 children from the "Pot O Gold Youth Camp," were swept down the Guadalupe River. Of the ten who died, one body has never been recovered.
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