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SWOLLEN CREEK HURLS DREAMS INTO MAELSTROM

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Julie and Jake, though adopted six months apart, were exactly the same age, born the same day. You couldn't think of them as anything but twins. When Dick and Dee Routsong brought them to church, the two toddlers always drew the attention of the congregation with their rich Samoan features. They were grasping for the world with broad gestures and hungry with wonder.

Which is what drew them to the edge of the swollen creek - the sound of its rushing water, the intrigue of its movement in the shade of a meadow the neighbors call Grassy Green.The moment he noticed they were not on the lawn, Dick's thoughts turned to the creek. Looking around the corner of the house, his unease turned quickly to panic; within seconds he was running madly past the huge willow, down the hill and along the path to the meadow.

Across the way he saw the tiny figure of Julie standing by the edge of the water, where the creek curves past a cluster of river birch.

"Where's Jake?" he cried as he bent toward her. But her eyes told it all. With her tiny hand she pointed to the rushing water.

By this time, Dee had arrived at the creek bank. Dick plunged into the raging current, and as Dee swept Julie into her arms, the family entered a maelstrom of anxiety that still continues, weeks later.

Being Saturday, there were a lot of neighbors nearby and within minutes the stream bank was thick with them. Carmen, standing on Hadlock's bridge, was first to see him - just an arm - swirling in the current.

Elvin Braman, an Alpine/-High-land police officer who had just arrived, lunged into the water below the bridge, though he could see no sign of the child, and immediately felt Jake against him. He almost lost his balance, but Matt Hicken was close enough to take hold, and, together, they got him ashore.

Matt, a registered lifeguard, had been playing basketball with several other teenagers in our driveway. He applied CPR until paramedics arrived. Soon the ambulance was on its way. But there were few sighs of relief. Everyone knew Jake had been in the icy water a long time.

When I saw Jake at Primary Children's Medical Center, he was lying spread-eagled and lifeless, his bronze-colored skin in stark contrast to the white sheets under him.

He floated on the bed like a tiny astronaut lost in space, connected to reality by fragile plastic umbilicals. The figures of his parents created an invisible wall of spirit around his bed. Clutching his hand, they too floated in unreality. There was nothing to do but wait.

It has been three weeks now, and still they wait.

In the more relaxed atmosphere of a private room, Jake struggles in a mysterious space between heaven and earth. In a bed with collapsible sides, like a treehouse of sorts with stainless steel rungs, Jake lies sleeping peacefully in yellow-figured pajamas.

From time to time he awakens, more or less, his eyes fixated on no particular point. Dee, sleeping on a cot in the corner, prays for the moment when his gaze might focus on her face, or a twitch of recognition break across his lips.

Often, in the first two weeks after the accident, Julie would want to go back down by the water. Finally they took her.

She looked downstream for a minute or two and said, "bye, bye." It was then they realized how important it was that she be able to see Jake, so they took her to the hospital.

The moment she saw him she became ecstatic, kicking her feet up and down. She wanted to wake him so he would play. They told her Jake didn't feel good, that he was sleeping so he could get better. It was a difficult moment, though better than having her left not knowing, with his image swept away in the pretty water.

They were to have moved by now, to Puget Sound. But all that is incidental now, as foreign as a dream one might have had one time.

In the middle of the night Jake lies in a deep and mysterious sleep, curled up in his pajamas with a single feeding tube. Near his bedside, Dee lies and listens to his breathing, suspended by his stupor, knowing somehow, somewhere the nightmare will end, but knowing, too, that it will not be a sudden or immediate thing.

For now, everything is taken a day at a time.

The room at Primary Children's is like a capsule insulated from the rest of the world. Dick and Dee whisper words of love into Jake's night that they hope will help him climb back into the world of reality. Every touch of the hand is a tiny anchor in the dark; every breath is drawn with an unspoken prayer for the gradual light of an unpromised dawn.

Dennis Smith is an artist and writer living in Highland, Utah County.