The Water Treader by Adam Lennon

The young man awoke in the middle of the ocean, disoriented and confused. He wasn’t exactly sure how he managed to get there, but he didn’t have the luxury to dwell on it. Time was critical.

Upon the first few hours of his arrival, the young man was introduced to a variety of problems. He was desperately lost in unfamiliar territory, and hadn’t the slightest clue which direction to start swimming. He was completely alone, which rendered his cries for help utterly useless, and wasted what precious little energy he still had. He saw the same thing in every direction, miles and miles of isolation. His heart became frantic and his eyelids reached for the indifferent sun.

He might as well have been on another planet.

The young man was so preoccupied with the profusion of obstacles surrounding him, that he almost missed perhaps the most alarming problem of them all…he couldn’t feel the water.

Upon this realization, the young man began to sink. He looked up at the enormous blue ceiling through eyes with which the ocean water filtered. The sky, once smooth and sensible, was now distorted and unfamiliar.

His descent was acknowledged by all of his senses but one. What was happening? Why couldn’t he feel this? His perplexity was matched only by the suffocating cry from his lungs.

The young man’s Instinct responded by recruiting his limbs, and directed them to work in unison. When he finally broke the surface, his lungs ecstatically welcomed every last molecule of oxygen, and begged them not to leave again, like a desperate lover who anticipates a foreboding tomorrow.

The man’s inability to feel the very substance that encapsulated him suddenly made it impossible to swim. He looked around, as if this would somehow solve his crisis. Eventually, the man resigned to do the next best thing, and began to tread.

It was an unnatural sensation to move against the intangible. The man felt a bit like an inexperienced street performer who was attempting to pantomime for the first time.

Ultimately, the man had to rely on memory. He closed his eyes and tried to remember the sensation of water gliding between his fingertips and jutting through his legs.

The man peered deeper into his past through a myopic lens, and inhaled abruptly as he saw himself laughing in a pool with his three children clutched to him, as if they were extra appendages.

The man’s gaze into his previous life traveled even further, and he caught the tail end of his exhilarating drop from a 50 foot cliff, with his childhood friends laughing from above. He could feel the soft, forgiving lake floor absorb his feet as he pushed off, propelling him to the surface.

The man felt alive in those moments.

But the sentimental smile on his face slowly faded as he peeled away from the hypnotic grasp of his memories. It was all gone. His relationship with water was very different now that he could no longer feel it. So the man continued to tread, which was beginning to feel like a perpetual chore.

After weeks of struggling, the man realized that he was not alone. Small insects were now incessantly circling around his head, collectively whispering one message in many different ways: “You can’t keep going. Stop.”

Stop. Yes, it sounded insatiably appealing. His muscles had become numb due to exhaustion, and his will to keep moving lessened with every disappointing sunrise. It would be so nice to just rest for a bit, so much so that the thought of it almost made him happy again.

But the better part of him, the place inside of his mind that had been sculpted by evolution to keep him alive, the place in his heart that was home to the people who loved him – this part of him knew that if he were to stop moving, he would ultimately sink…and eventually drown.

So the man continued to tread, summoning the begrudging assistance of energy and motivation from the catacombs of his soul. He refused to placate exhaustion. The man tried his hardest to tune out the lethal declarations of his circling companions, and even managed to swipe them away on occasion.

Time began to become unfaithful to Its nature, and its infidelity was felt as the days slowed. The old man continued to tread. His memories became weary of combating the loneliness that had taken up residence in his heart, but he insisted on their company as he spent his days mechanically moving about.

When the old man dreamed, he was given a taste of what it felt like to feel again. The water was cold, refreshing, and full of life. It had been so long, and he had missed it so desperately. He was finally happy again.

That’s right, happiness…that’s what it felt like. The old man would never again take for granted the ability to feel the water around him. It was perfect…

The ambient hum of the circling insects rudely insisted that the old man step into reality. He didn’t want to oblige, but he knew he didn’t have a choice. The dream was simply a cruel joke, and while he resented it, he also looked forward to another nocturnal escape when the sun disappeared.

This unrelenting cycle had become the old man’s life, and he finally accepted it. Perhaps he had become a reluctant optimist, or maybe just a recovering pessimist. But somewhere deep within the shell of who he used to be, there was hope that his life would not always be one characterized by simply going through the motions in order to barely keep his head above water.

* * *

The dying man fought against gravity to keep his head up, but gravity was much stronger. “I don’t know if I can do this any longer,” the dying man said to no one. His arms had become as numb as his vision of the future, and the back of his neck ached as the beckoning of the horizon was ignored.

The dying man’s dreams and his reality had become interchangeable, giving birth to a persistent nightmare which he now recognized only as life.

He thought about all that he had loved, and the life that he could have had. A life that he had once replaced with complacency and neglect. A life that he clearly didn’t deserve.

The dying man was tired.

With his eyes now looking downward, the dying man caught a glimpse of his reflection for the first time since becoming stranded in his ocean. He was expecting to look the way that he felt. Long, stringy gray hair. Deep craters with dark orbs in the middle, for his eyes. Yes, this was the person with whom he would exchange glances.

The dying man saw the young man intently looking back at him. Once again, time hinted at its nefarious affair on nature by completely stopping. The two men said nothing. The bipolar opposites were separated only by the ocean water with which the men had become intimately familiar.

It was then that the wise man understood. Although he still couldn’t feel the water which he was submerged within, he began to swim in a specific direction anyway, with the mainland preparing a place for him to eventually rest.

Adam grew up in Utah under fairly “normal” and “happy” circumstances. He loves film, and his favorite movies are Pulp Fiction, Memento, and Talk to Her. He is also a die-hard New England Patriots fan.

Bipolar Disorder runs in his family, and his sister lost her life to it.

“I was never symptomatic until last year, when I took an ssri for a month without a stabilizer. This induced a severe hypomanic episode that lasted for 4 months, followed by a crippling bout of depression for 5 months. I’m now just trying to catch my balance from everything, and writing has really helped in the process.”