I know, it’s now Wednesday, but I have to tell you something about Sunday, which came very close to being a really, really bad day.
See that memorial dogtag above? It means a lot to me. The engraving is a likeness of Army SPC Marc Paul Decoteau, a soldier from Waterville Valley who was killed in Afghanistan on Jan. 19 of this year. Less than a month later, his father Mark, the Waterville Valley Town Manager and an Army Veteran himself, gave that dogtag to me and told me he wants it back after we get to 1 million made foul shots. I told him I would, and I’ve been wearing it each day since.
There are certain times that it comes off, though, and one of those times happened Sunday in New London. Noah and Mason, a couple of their buddies and I had just kayaked and canoed from my mom and stepfather’s place across Pleasant Lake to Blueberry Island. We pulled the boats up onto the rocks on the south side and, knowing that we’d be doing some diving, I took the dogtag off and placed it on Noah’s lifejacket in the canoe … a place I’d be sure to see it when we returned.
Problem is, sometimes I’m not that bright, and when we returned, I handed Noah the lifejacket without paying much attention, so it wasn’t until we arrived back at the other side of the lake and I was inside the cottage that I realized the dogtag was missing.
I checked the canoe. Not there.
My heartbeat accelerated.
I jumped into a kayak, Noah jumped into another, and back across the lake to the island we paddled — about a 15-minute trip.
Now I’m not a particularly religious guy, but I’ll admit, I said a little prayer on the way over. I didn’t make any deals, mind you, but I did ask for this one, simple favor: “Please, let me find it. Please, let me find it. Please, let me find it.”
I pulled the kayak onto the rock almost precisely where the canoe had been a half-hour earlier, stepped into the ankle-deep water, and found … nothing.
The water is shallow, maybe six to eight inches, in the 20 square feet or so where I would have expected to find it, and there was still plenty of daylight, so visibility was not a problem. On the other hand, the wind had picked up a bit since we were last here, so the waves clapping against the rocks were a little more violent, leading me to believe that even if the necklace had landed here innocently enough, in the time we’d been away it would have been swept into the deeper waters, gone.
In any case, it was nowhere to be found. I expanded the search, looking toward rocks which were a little farther out, a little deeper. Still nothing. Then, after a minute or two, I saw what appeared to be a flicker of light a foot or so beneath the surface. I lunged. I grabbed. It was a small, white shell. It started sinking in: The dogtag was gone.
My whole body sagged, and in my mind I started putting the words together for my impending phone call to Mark Decoteau.
Then … Noah, who had fallen about five minutes behind on the trip over, was just now coming into voice range, and I was about to tell him to get ready to turn around when I noticed what appeared to be a crack where two of the large, flat rocks on which we’d landed came together. The one to the west overlapped the one to the east, forming a north-west ridge that looked like maybe, just maybe, would provide enough space.
So I readied myself for another disappointment, and reached my fingers in to what was about five inches of depth and a finger’s width. I worked my way down the ridge, and felt … something. A chain. The chain. I pulled it up, and the dogtag came with it.
I exhaled, sat down, and waited for Noah to arrive.
“You find it?”
I showed him where. He gave me a high-five.
We paddled back.
As I said, it’s Wednesday now, and the dogtag is now safely around my neck, just as it has been for every shot since I met the incredible Decoteau family. With 1,500 each of the last two mornings, we’re now at 354,007 down, 645,993 to go to 1 million made foul shots.
Thanks, Marc. As always.