River Baptism

First, you need to know that this is real. This is happening. Don’t panic. You know what to do if you just stay calm.

The water rushes over you, around you, tugging at you, you don’t know where your feet are, they aren’t your concern. Your head, that’s what you’re worried about.

Getting your footing secure is secondary to getting your head above the water. Breathing, that’s all you need in this moment. But you don’t think of that, because your head is all you know. You don’t even know you have feet.

So you force yourself to move. Up. Up seems right.

It is, but you find your head not breaking the water, instead, you are under your upturned boat.

Somehow, this is the most disconcerting part. You had mentally rehearsed what you could do if the kayak tipped over, and coming up under it into a pocket of air that you would breathe in quickly before righting yourself, that’s what you expected to happen.

Instead, under the boat is no pocket of air, only its full of water, more water than you thought the whole river could hold. So you quickly switch to plan B. You go back under and move yourself, to the right, aided by the rapid current, hoping to move far enough, but not too far, that you might come up out of the water a second time, knowing that you’re out of air, that you only get one more shot at this before you’ll be forced to inhale the riverwater that you know will provide no usable oxygen. One more shot.

You move backwards, knowing there’s a fallen tree somewhere that you might hit your head on. Again, its your head that’s important, not your feet. You aren’t even aware you have feet. You move your head backwards, aware that you have no idea where the boat is in relation to you, no idea which direction the kayak is facing, are you going to come up again in its waterfilled hollow, just a little further than where you were when you first tried to find Up?  Or bang your head against the hard plastic hull?  Is the tree going to be above you, instead, trapping you in its branches, or were those roots in the water that caught your little craft and tipped you wickedly into the water, a perfect trap for the beginner kayaker?

It occurs to you as completely useless to remember that you saw a snake slicing through the water a while back, further down the river, and that snapping turtles like the one you saw on a log by the bank fifteen minutes ago are also sharing this river with you. Its useless to remember that, to think on that. Getting air is more important than anything that might be treatable later. Nobody ever applied anti-venom to a corpse for snakebite, or treated a traumatic foot wound attached to the dead girl foolish enough to find herself attacked by an alligator snapping turtle in the Big Darby Creek.

All these thoughts flicker through your head, crowding out any Life-Flashing that might have been. Maybe that’s because you are bent on surviving, not resigned to fate. No thoughts of 7th birthday parties, or weddings, or childbirth scenes, you see no images of dumb decisions, or embraced life choices. A brief thought intrudes itself; it occurs to you that your partner will eternally hate herself if anything bad happens here, and you know you can’t let her carry the burden of your casualty and so you vow to break the surface and find air.

How much you’ve always taken air for granted. Ignored it, assuming it assured and constant. Always there’s been air before. Except that right now, it isn’t anywhere around you and you have to move yourself, propel backwards, hoping to escape the clutching branches of the tree, hoping the boat isn’t oriented above you, hoping the current hasn’t pushed it along with you to remain fixed between you and that oh-so-prosaic and precious air.

You move upward, not with your feet, which haven’t yet manifested themselves below you. You have no idea what feet are. They haven’t been invented yet. You use your arms to move backwards and allow the life jacket to move you to the surface. You are out of oxygen now, going back under if this doesn’t work isn’t an option. Your life depends entirely on the location of one boat, on the relativity of a single tree. On your judgment that you’ve moved yourself far enough out of the way, but not into the rapids that might drag you, injure you, on the rocks a short way downstream.

You move up. And break the surface and there’s air. Suddenly, you find you have feet, and they’re below you, and you can touch the rocks on the bottom of the river and still hold your head above the current of rushing water. And though you’re not completely safe yet, your friend and your partner are on the other side of the river and the current wants you so badly, that you think your legs will give out before anyone can reach you and help you cross, you know, too, that Arya Stark was right.

Not today.


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