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The River Heals - revised (1 Viewer)

Shorty Dawkins

Senior Member
I have made some revisions.


By Shorty Dawkins

It wasn’t much of a waterfall, as waterfalls go, but it suited Trent Williams just fine. It was only four feet high, and it didn’t have much of a flow this time of year, but it was enough to put him in the trance-like state he searched for whenever he needed to think, or to clear his head of the daily garbage that cluttered his mind. There were no phone calls, and no radio or television to distract him. He couldn’t here the traffic that was always present outside his house, either. This little waterfall was his refuge; his sanctuary. It was peace and solitude he craved. He found it, sitting on a large boulder beside the small pool at the base of it, listening to the steady sounds it made, and watching the ever-present flow of the water. He never tired of it. He rejoiced in the tranquility of it. It was here, in this serene place, that nestled in a grove of white birch trees, with rocks, leaves and the small pool at the base of the waterfall, that he drew his inspiration.
Trent sat on the flat spot of his favorite rock and looked at the waterfall. It would take a while for the waterfall to take away the cares of the day. He knew it would, though, and stared at it, losing himself in its mesmerizing motion. His focus began to narrow down to this narrow world and the limited sounds around him. There was the sound of the waterfall, of course, but he could also hear the rustling of the leaves in the trees, and some birds were chattering away in a nearby tree. He could hear it all. Now, he began thinking about Laurie. Laurie Wycliffe had been his high school sweetheart. She was the only girl Trent had ever loved. A year after they had graduated from high school, Trent had asked her to marry him. Her reply was; Dear Trent, I love you truly, but I cannot marry you. I am not who you think I am. My demons possess me. I’m sorry, I never meant to hurt you.

That was the last time he had seen Laurie. He had tried to call her, but she wouldn’t come to the phone. He tried knocking at her door, but her parents said she would not see him. Trent was deeply hurt, but more than that, he was confused and lost. Demons? What demons? We all have our demons that we deal with, but she implied they were more and harsher demons, hadn’t she? She was a kind, loving, sweet person. What were her demons? He wanted to help her, but she wouldn’t see him. There was nothing for him to do.
A few months later, Laurie moved away. Her parents wouldn’t tell Trent where she had gone. For months after that Trent was in a deep funk. His writing stopped, and he took up wood-working and wood-carving. He was good at it, too. Before long he was selling his furniture pieces as fast as he could produce them. He still thought of Laurie daily, but she was gone. He buried himself in his work. Late at night, Trent could be found in the workshop he had built for himself. He built his own unique house, and furnished it with his own furniture pieces. He had money in the bank. Most of all, though, was what he didn’t have. He didn’t have Laurie. A day didn’t pass that he didn’t think of her. It wasn’t that he was obsessed with her; not really, he fooled himself. No, he missed her terribly, as a widower misses his beloved wife.
Two days ago, Trent had received a package and a letter. They were both from Laurie. Twelve years it had been since he last heard from her. Twelve long, lonely years. He stared at the package as it sat on his kitchen table. He was both eager to open it, and afraid. Twelve years of nothing, and then suddenly this. The letter was taped to the package. On it was written: Read this first. Trent didn’t know how long he stared at the package, but it was his cats wanting to get fed who pulled him out of his contemplation of the surprise package. He gave them their did-din and watched them eat for a moment or two. His four cats had been his friends for many years. He smiled at them and gave them each a petting. Laurie had liked cats, he remembered.
He sat at the table, plucked up his courage, and opened the letter.

My dear sweet Trent,

For twelve long years I have left you wondering what became of me. I am sorry for what I have put you through. It was never my intention to hurt you. Perhaps you don’t even care any more, but I have always loved you. Please know that I have.
When I left you I told you I was not the girl you thought I was; that my demons possessed me. I can now tell you about them; for I have faced them.
As you recall, my older sister, Ellen, died of leukemia when I was six. Tragedies such as that can do strange things to the mind of a six year old, Trent. At least it did to me. My demons were two-fold. I was consumed with guilt that it was somehow my fault Ellen died. It may seem ridiculous, but I felt I was to blame. I never said a word to anyone about my feeling of guilt for her death, Trent. I was ashamed and afraid. I was afraid my Mommy and my Daddy would stop loving me. And I was afraid it would happen to me. I was afraid that I would die as Ellen had.
Each night I cried myself to sleep. Whenever I was alone, the demons appeared. The longer I went without help, the worse it became. When I was with someone, I hid my thoughts behind a mask of smiles and sweetness. I became Mommy and Daddy’s Little Angel. I became the sweet girl who everyone liked.
Trent, it became an obsession with me to be liked; to be loved, yet I couldn’t accept the love that was offered. I knew it was for someone else, not me, for I was the terrified little girl who had caused her sister’s death. I was the girl who was afraid I would die the death Ellen had died. I was not the person everyone saw. I was someone else. I could not accept the love that was offered because I knew I was a lie.
When you asked me to marry you, I couldn’t accept it. I was, by then, completely in the control of my demons, though I knew they would destroy me. I ran from you, Trent. I ran from you and everyone who loved me. I hid myself. Not even my parents knew where I was. I wrote them an occasional letter to let them know I was alive, and “well”, but I didn’t let them know where I was.
For eight years I lived a phony, terrified existence. By day I was the girl everyone liked. At night, when I was alone, I cried and was possessed by my demons. Then, in the ninth year of my lonely terror, I met a man, a photographer, who asked if he could take pictures of me. You may have heard of him. His name is Will Stromberg. He is famous all around the world. He takes mood photographs. They are very intense and very moving. I couldn’t for the life of me think why he wanted to take pictures of me, but he was a nice man and he was willing to pay me very well, so I agreed. Over the course of the next three months he took, literally, hundreds of photographs of me. He chose what I should wear, and he asked me penetrating questions as he took the photos of me. He probed deep into my mind, and let the camera record what he was seeing.
One day, Will asked me if I would like to learn to make photographs the way he did.
“You have a wonderful sensitivity, and you have much pain inside you. You will be a good artist.” He said to me.
To be able to learn from one such as he! I was both flabbergasted and honored. I don’t know why, but I was very eager to learn photography, at least the way he did it.
Will is an amazing man. He is sensitive and patient, and he taught me some very remarkable things. I asked him why he was taking so much of his valuable time to teach an inexperienced photographer like me. His reply was: “I have looked for a number of years for a suitable student. You are the one I was looking for, Laurie.”
Inside the package are two books. One is by Will. The first is the book he will release in a week. It is his photographs of me. I was stunned when I first saw it. I couldn’t believe how he had revealed all my demons. And the strange thing is, that once they were revealed, they weren’t important any more. I can sleep without crying, now. I can sleep without waking up in a cold sweat. For the first time, I can feel the desire to be me, not the false me I had portrayed; that I had presented to the world. I could accept the love, the friendship, that Will offered me, and I suddenly knew I could accept your love.
The second book is my book. My first book of photographs. I hope you like it. I am very happy with it. So is Will. He wrote the introduction for it.

I want to see you, dear Trent. I have missed you, terribly. After twelve years, I realize you may not want to see me. I just hope you will at least give me a chance; a chance to show you I am ready to love you, and to be loved by you. What do I expect? I honestly am not sure. All I know is, I want to try to win back the man I love. It comes down to that. I love you and want to spend my life with you. I can’t put it any plainer than that. Beyond that simple plea and admission, I can only see what happens.
Will and I are coming to Madison on Friday to see my parents. I will come over to your house to see you in the afternoon. Please, don’t turn me away. I love you. I am ready to be loved by you.

All my love,

Tears were streaming down Trent’s face as he put the letter down onto the table. Laurie was coming back to him. He wiped the tears from his eyes and tore the package open. Inside were the books. One was titled: LAURIE. He quickly opened it and found the first photo. He would read the introduction later.
He gasped when he saw her face. There were tears streaming down her cheeks as she looked sadly out a window. He grasped the book in an embrace and held his dearest Laurie tight. Don’t cry, Laurie. I will protect you. I will love you. I always have. He sobbed aloud.
When, at last, Trent had cried until he thought he could cry no more, he opened up the book once more and began looking at the photographs once more. Each photo was difficult for him to endure. The pain she suffered was evident in each one. He forced himself to continue. Trent saw her for the first time, through the eyes of Will Stromberg. Will had a very special talent, he realized. His photographs were subtle, yet full of emotion. The light, the shadows, everything played its part. But it was the subject that interested him the most. Dear, sweet Laurie; the girl he loved, and had always loved. There she was before him, so alive and full of such pain. God, help me to endure this, he whispered.
The last photo was a surprise, for in it Laurie was smiling with an honest, sweet smile. There was a caption below this photograph: Free at last. Yes, it is in her eyes, she is free of her demons.
Trent stared at that last photo for a long time. She was beautiful when she smiled like that. Her long brown hair hung loose upon her shoulders, and her big, brown eyes sparkled with life. How he loved her. Suddenly Trent was very impatient to see her; to hold her. But he would have to wait.
He picked up Laurie’s book next. It was titled: Loving. He turned the pages slowly, studying and savoring each page as he went. This was the book Laurie had done.
The book had a dedication: To Trent, the man I love. I was foolish enough to not be able to receive his love. I did not understand that giving love and receiving love are the same. That’s very true, Trent realized, though he had never thought about it in that way, at least not consciously. He turned to the Introduction, which was by Will Stromberg.

Some of you may have seen my recent book of photographs titled “Laurie”. If you haven’t, I encourage you to do so, not because it is my book, but because it captures, I believe, the essence of a woman who overcame the demons that nearly destroyed her. She healed herself, and now takes wonderful photographs. I have worked side by side with her and witnessed her healing. I saw her blossom into an incredibly loving person, where before she was terrified of love. This book of remarkable photographs you are looking at is Laurie’s gift to you. It is a celebration of the love she feels now. She has a bright future ahead of her.

Trent slowly turned the pages, soaking in the love Laurie had to offer. Each photo was a remarkable example of the love people are capable of. The first photo was of a young Mother holding her newborn infant to her breast. Such warmth! Such love was evident! Laurie had captured it all. Each page held something special. There were lovers holding hands or kissing, or parents walking their toddlers by the hand. There were parents embracing, with their children about them. Grandparents were seen with the families, all smiling as they enjoyed each other’s company.
The girl who was capable of such love, was the girl he had fallen in love with. He had seen it within her. It was always there, but Laurie hadn’t known it; she hadn’t seen it in herself, but he had. Now she felt it, and he was overjoyed. And she wanted to come back to him! He was filled with an immense happiness. Laurie, his beautiful, sweet Laurie was coming back.

Trent watched the water falling. This was the early part of its long trip to the sea. From this small beginning, the brook would join with a larger stream, then with a river. The river would wind and twist its way to the sea. So like a human life it was. From a small babe, we become a toddler. From a toddler we become a child, all eager to learn. We experience the world through curious eyes. We wander here and there, as we grow into our teens, circumventing obstacles, finding our way to our adulthood. As a stream joins with a river, so does a man join with a woman. Soon another stream is added; a child. More streams join to become a family of streams; a river. The family winds its way through life, enjoying the sun, the rain, the trees it passes by, the open fields, even the rocks which change its path. It is the winding course of life, all headed to its destination, the sea, where the river comes to an end. It is death that awaits us, as the river must come to its end. It is the twists and turns of the stream, or river, that color our lives, that make each of us, and each family, unique, as each stream or river is unique.

Trent was suddenly eager to write. Laurie would be here tomorrow afternoon. He wanted to have something of his writing to show her. The thoughts were racing in his head. He needed to get them down on paper. With no more hesitation, Trent headed homeward. A river, he told himself. A river that gives life, and takes it away. Love, heartache, death; all are part of the great plan of the river. The river is the microcosm of life. It has its beginning, and it has its end. It has its seasons. It winds through fields and forests. It flows around rocks. It is the fountain of life. Yes, I see it all!
As he reached his front porch, Trent heard a car pull into his driveway behind him. Damn! Who has come to keep me from writing, he instantly thought? He turned and watched the car pull up, realizing it was Laurie’s Uncle Ted. What would Uncle Ted want with me? Trent watched him get out of his car and walk somberly up to him.
“Hello Mr. Strickland. What brings you here?” Trent asked.
“Hello, Trent.” Ted replied. “I think you should have a seat.” Trent didn’t like the sound of it, but he sat, as instructed, in a chair on the porch. Ted leaned against the porch railing, placing one hand on the railing. “Trent, there is no easy way to tell you what I have to tell you.” He took a deep breath. “Trent, there was an accident. It was a multi-car accident, up near Portland, Maine. Laurie ….. Laurie and her friend, Will Stromberg, were involved in it. Trent, …… Laurie ….. Laurie is dead. She died in the car crash. So did Will Stromberg. I’m ….. I’m very sorry. I know she was coming back to see you. I don’t know what else to say, The family is devastated. It is a great shock.”
Trent was staring off into space. His world had crumbled once more. This time, it was the final collapse.
“The river has reached the sea. It is no longer a river.”
“I beg your pardon?” Ted looked at Trent, who was in what appeared to be a trance.
“The river travels a winding path, until it reaches the sea. The sea swallows it. The river is no more.”
“Are you all right?” Ted asked.
Trent snapped out of his trance. “I appreciate you stopping by to tell me, Mr. Strickland. I know how hard it was on you. I will be fine. I wish to be alone now, if you don’t mind.”
“I understand.” Ted paused, as if he had something more to say, but changed his mind and turned to head back to his car.
Trent watched Ted Strickland drive off. When he was out of sight, he went inside. He knew what he must do. His river had reached the sea.

That night, the local police received a call from Bob Nester, who lived across the street from Trent. He had heard a gunshot coming from Trent’s house. When he went over to see if there was any trouble, he saw Trent lying in a pool of blood. He was dead. A revolver lay on the floor beside him. A note, in Trent’s hand was lying on his kitchen table, next to an open book. The book was Laurie’s book. The note said: I have loved only one woman, and I have lost her twice.

Shorty Dawkins

Senior Member
Old Soldiers

Old soldiers with bad gums find out too late whom they really served.”
- Steve Mason

Johnny Brown had seen the suffering his two Uncles, Fred and Dick Sturgis, had endured after they came home from World War II. They were his Mother's older brothers. He knew they had nightmares and flashbacks, and Dick sometimes had seizures from the shrapnel still embedded in his brain. Fred had a limp from the wound he had suffered in his leg. To relieve the mental anguish and pain they felt, they had become alcoholics. Johnny had heard them tell stories of the war they had fought in the Pacific. They would sometimes just stop their stories, for the pain of remembrance was too great. He had seen the pain in their eyes. He knew it was deep. Thank God they had Mom and Dad to look after them, Johnny thought on more than one occasion. It was Mom who made sure they ate something every day, and it was Dad who took them their beer and talked with them, if they were in the mood. Fred and Dick shared a shack at the back of the Brown property, out by the river. They preferred to remain apart from everyone. Johnny would often times see them sitting on benches overlooking the river. They were usually deep in thought, remembering the war they had fought; a war full of death, pain and suffering. They had lost more comrades than they could count. They were seeing snatches here and there of bodies blown apart, and they heard the sounds of the screams of the wounded and dying.

Sometimes they would see Johnny and wave to him. It was at those times Johnny would go and say hello. If they didn't wave, they didn't want to see him; they couldn't see him, for they were either too drunk, or the suffering of their memories was too much for them. He loved his Uncles, and he often wished there was something he could do to help them.

Give them a kind word.” His Mom had said. “Just give them a kind word and be ready to listen if they want to talk. It is all we can do. They are battling horrible demons in their minds. War is painful. It is painful for those who fight it and for those who love the sometimes empty shells of once vibrant men who cannot forget what they did and saw.”

It was the Autumn of 1967. The war in Vietnam was in full swing. Daily reports on the television told the gruesome story. There were body counts from both sides constantly issued. The Peace Movement had begun. There were demonstrations all across the Nation. Flower children had invaded Haight-Ashbury, in San Francisco. It was a time of tumult. It was also the time Johnny received his draft notice.

Johnny sat at the kitchen table, staring at the notice. His Mother busied herself with chores, trying to hide the tear that slipped from her eye. Looking at the notice, he could only think of Uncle Fred and Uncle Dick. Will I become as torn as they are, he wondered? Will I not be able to forget?

I'm going out to have a talk with Uncle Fred and Uncle Dick.” Johnny told his Mother.

He found them sitting beside the river. Uncle Dick was whittling a stick. Uncle Fred was smoking his pipe.

Hello, Johnny. What brings you out here on this fine day?” Uncle Fred asked as Johnny approached.

I just got my Draft Notice.” Johnny said.

Fred and Dick stared at him with sad eyes for a while before responding.

Hasn't this family suffered enough?” Fred said. “Hasn't your Mother suffered more than any woman deserves?”

Each generation of men must have their war to march off to.” Dick said. “The young men must be cut down in their prime, or their lives ruined with painful memories, to satisfy the power hungry Elite, who will reap big profits from this war, as they always have.”

Have a seat, Johnny.” Fred said. Johnny sat. Fred and Dick wanted to tell him some things that needed to be said. “You are going to hear a lot about duty, patriotism and saving America. It is always the same, with every war. You will hear about shared sacrifice. Don't believe a bit of it. Those people over there are having a Civil War, plain and simple. The truth will come out one day about how we screwed Ho Chi Minh, which drove him to ask for help from the Communists. It's our own damn fault what is happening over there. It is all about powerful countries wanting more power, nothing more, and as Dick said, the rich will get richer because of it. They glory in war because it fills their purses. The average man is nothing more than cannon fodder for the rich industrialists and bankers. The best he can hope for in war is to come out of it in one piece.”

What Fred says is the truth, Johnny. We want you to go into this with open eyes. War, for us, for you, and for your Dad, who has his memories of Korea, is all about survival. There is no glory. There is no honor. War is hell, nothing more.” Dick added. “Don't get too close to your buddies. It will only cause you more pain when they die. That was our mistake. Keep a little distance from them. Keep your focus on survival.” Uncle Dick poured the remainder of the beer he held in his hand out on the ground. “I make this vow to you, John. I will not take another drink until you return to us safe and sound. I will say a prayer for you each morning and each evening, too. May you return safely. It is my only desire. You will be always in my thoughts.”

I will do the same. We will pray together. I will not drink, and if there is any power in prayer, you will return to us.” Fred vowed. “When you return, we will sit by this river and dream of a world without war.”

I don't know what to say. Thank you.” Johnny said. “I will follow your advice. I love you both. I will think of you every day, as I will think of Mom and Dad.”

Olly Buckle

I had a quick look at this last night, but it was very late and I was tired, and I am afraid I am late again this morning. Generally it seemed well written, the first paragraph is somewhat long, descriptive and meandering with repetitive elements. Most people like to feel they are getting somewhere initially. This,
He couldn’t here/hear the traffic that was always present outside his house, either.

And the rapid repeat of "narrow" , "Narrowing" soon afte.


Senior Member
Old Soldiers was an easy read. The characters were believable. The message was to the point, and I didn't think it felt overdone.

As for the first, it struck me as very repetitive. It starts with "waterfall" in the first two paragraphs. The first few mentions is fine, but then it is too much. Similarly with "demons" throughout the rest of the work. If you could cut out half of them and find some other way to say it or at some points assume it doesn't need to be said at all, I think it would help the flow of the story, because it becomes increasingly distracting.

I have read several of your pieces at this point, and I only say this because I really like what you do, and I know that I learn a lot more from getting strong feedback, even if I don't agree...By the end of the river story, I was glad they were dead. It was very difficult to feel sympathetic to either of them. A big part of the problem was the letter. I realize it is a confessional situation, but it's too introspective and self-obsessed for what I would reasonably believe one person would say to another, even when confessing his or her love and explaining a twelve-year absence...

Please don't hate me. I'm probably going to get banned.

Shorty Dawkins

Senior Member
Old Soldiers was an easy read. The characters were believable. The message was to the point, and I didn't think it felt overdone.

As for the first, it struck me as very repetitive. It starts with "waterfall" in the first two paragraphs. The first few mentions is fine, but then it is too much. Similarly with "demons" throughout the rest of the work. If you could cut out half of them and find some other way to say it or at some points assume it doesn't need to be said at all, I think it would help the flow of the story, because it becomes increasingly distracting.

I have read several of your pieces at this point, and I only say this because I really like what you do, and I know that I learn a lot more from getting strong feedback, even if I don't agree...By the end of the river story, I was glad they were dead. It was very difficult to feel sympathetic to either of them. A big part of the problem was the letter. I realize it is a confessional situation, but it's too introspective and self-obsessed for what I would reasonably believe one person would say to another, even when confessing his or her love and explaining a twelve-year absence...

Please don't hate me. I'm probably going to get banned.

Thank you, Isabelle, for your kind words and constructive critique. It helped me. I have gone back to 'Laurie' and made more changes. And no, I don't hate you. Not at all. You were very helpful.

Olly Buckle: Thanks for your input, too.


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