“So, what have you been doing with yourself Matt, since, well, you know?”
“Since Cecilia died?”
“Yea – that. I was so sorry to hear that she passed. How is it going?”
Matt paused walking and just stared out across the waves before answering. “I took some time off work, just to let my mind settle. She loved this beach and walking barefooted across the sand helps so, I’ve been coming out here daily and now think I can see the end of this tunnel. Life can be so bizarre, Diana. I should have been the one to go first. I – I almost was.”
She put her hand on his shoulder and just maintained contact without saying anything.
“It’s just so damned ironic. She was fine one day, and the next day, her heart. . .”
He reached up to cover her hand with his own. “Thanks for coming down. Just being able to talk to a friend helps.”
“She was a great woman Matt. Feel like walking anymore?”
“Yea – I think I do. It’s calming.”
They walked casually with their feet sinking into the late morning sand, saying little until. . .
“Oh my! Look at that,” said Matt. “It’s almost identical.”
Photo Credit: KL Caley
“What is? What am I supposed to be looking at?”
“That bucket. It’s almost too ironic to come across one now.”
“Um, you’re going to have to explain. Is there something special about it?”
“Only because it is so similar to one I used many years ago which, um, wow. Are you sure you want to hear this? I haven’t told this to anyone and don’t know where to start.”
“Would it help to tell me?”
“I don’t know, but I’d like to.”
“Then let’s sit by that bucket and you talk.”
Matt nodded and they sat down.
“It was just a day at the beach near a swanky resort. I was nine or ten years old. My older sister and I had gone down to the beach. I was digging a deep hole with my hands trying to find treasure when a girl, about my age, walks up holding two buckets just like that one. I said, “Hello.” But she didn’t answer. Instead, she smiled and offered me one of her buckets.
“Okay, I thought. My sister only wants to lay on her towel and work on her tan. There’s no one else my age to play with so maybe this girl would be fun. She also had two shovels and so she joined me in the hole, and we started digging. Soon we were finding shells and laughing at how the sand would stay put on the hole walls until suddenly it would collapse and cover our feet. It felt cool and refreshing.
“She never spoke, but she had a great smile and laugh. So we had a great time. After a bit, a woman who was watching us came over and said, “Hello young man, I’m Ana’s mom and would like to know who’s playing with her and why you’re here?”
I answered, “Ah – her name is Ana. She won’t talk to me, but I’m Matt; Matt Fitzgerald. My parents are at a conference at the resort.”
“Got it. It has to be the same conference my husband is at.” Then she started moving her hands in ways that I didn’t understand, but she kept talking. “Well, Matt Fitzgerald, I’m pleased to meet you and thank you for playing with Ana. She doesn’t talk because she can’t hear, but she understands a lot especially from someone who is being friendly to her. I’m using sign language now, so she knows what I’m saying to you.”
“I recalled seeing something on TV about sign language but had never seen it up close.”
“Ana,” her mom signed and translated.” I’ll be right over there if you need me. Have a good time playing with Matt.”
“Ana smiled and signed something back before her mom walked back to her umbrella and beach chair and picked up a book.
“Ana and I went back to digging and our hole got deeper. Standing inside, we could see her mom and my sister, but if we knelt, we could hide from everyone up on the beach. Ana just kept smiling bigger and bigger as the hold got deeper.
“I couldn’t tell how much she understood, but I just talked to her, pointed at things and she did the same. We seemed to get along pretty well. She could point and laugh, and her smile said all kinds of things I was beginning to understand. It was also getting very warm and the hole had a shady side so we sat down with our backs to that cool wall.
“We were out there for hours and stopped only for lunch. I got mine from my sister and sat with Ana and her mom. Her mom translated as Ana told about our hole and how much fun we were having finding buried things just like they were real treasures. I didn’t know any sign language but wished I did so Ana and I could talk.
“We played together for the next three days on the beach and on the last day we dug another hole for shade and again sat with our backs to the cool wall, but we made a mistake and the wall fell in on us both.
“I was able to push the sand off of my face and begin to wiggle out but quickly saw that Ana was gone – buried beneath the sand so I panicked. There was no motion beneath the sand where she’d been sitting so I scrambled free and grabbed a bucket to begin digging while yelling for help. Her mom arrived within seconds and stayed clear of the wall so she wouldn’t knock more sand down.
“Matt! I never knew this. My gosh – were you able to dig her out?”
“My sister arrived, and she also panicked. Her mom came around the other side and jumped into the hole and began digging with me. We suddenly saw her hair and then her face. Her eyes were huge as we cleared away the sand. She took a deep breath but had sand in her mouth and I didn’t know how to help with that because my hands were covered with wet sand. Her mom used her shirt to wipe away the sand, but I’ll never forget the look of fear in her eyes.
“Her mom helped me dig her free and we all got out of the hole. Ana clung to her mom, not quite crying but very scared. She understood what had almost happened. Her mom held her until she calmed down. When she was ready, Ana backed away from her mom and began signing. Her mom immediately translated how Ana was glad that her mom came to help her, but her mom answered that I, had called for her and that I had mostly dug Ana out by the time she got there.”
“Then Matt saved me,” Ana asked?
“Yes, if he’d not been so quick to call for help and start digging – well – I don’t want to think of what might have happened.” She reached out to me and included me in a hug with Ana. “ Matt, thank you for being such a fast-thinking good friend.”
“We talked about it for a while. Her mom swore she’d never let Ana dig any holes deeper that her knees ever again.
“Then Ana put her finger on mom’s lips to signal that she wanted to say something. With sand still clinging to her lips and eyebrows, her mom translated as Ana looked at me and signed, “Someday, I hope to save you.” “
“So, of course, that bucket reminded you of that day. Matt – that’s an amazing story. You had me scared that it wasn’t going to turn out so well.”
“That’s not the end though. We wrote each other a few times, but kids grow up and go their own way. She lived two states away, so we never saw each other again. Do you recall my mushroom poisoning last summer?”
“Um – yea! One doesn’t forget a near death experience of a best friend. If Cecilia hadn’t been here waving me off, I would have jumped on a plane to be here for your surgery, but what does that have to do with Ana?”
“You likely heard that my donor was in a terrible accident and was taken to a different hospital across town. That donor was a perfect match to replace my ruined kidneys.”
“I recall that well, it had to be a God thing because it was such a fluke and . . . wait! Are you going to tell me that . . . ?”
“Yes, I overheard one of the doctors say that my donor was a deaf woman almost exactly my age.. I wasn’t supposed to find my donor’s name, but I have a friend at that other hospital who would not tell me the victim’s name but was willing to confirm her first name was, Ana. That evening, Ana saved me and two others who were waiting for organs.”