I Almost Died This Past Weekend (How Was Yours?)

This past weekend I took a trip up to Maine to go rafting on the Penobscott River at Canada Falls.

I was slightly nervous, which is natural when you do something completely new and different. I’d never rafted before, but I was with all people who’d been rafting before, some of them pretty experienced (one of the guests actually a guide himself). I’d said to one of my friends jokingly, “You won’t let me die, right?” and he retorted, also joking, “Of course not. I might throw you in, but you won’t die.”

The first trip down was fun and perfect. I didn’t fall out. We had a few fall-ins, but they were brief little splashes, barely out of the boat and accompanied by laughs. Really, it was more just one guy falling out over and over, earning himself the title of “Butter Butt”. We jokingly named the rapids, “Smiley faces 1-4”, “Frowny-face”, “Frowny-face With a Tear”, “Pinball”, etc. The guide told stories and jokingly talked shit about the other raft and guide.

“There was this one woman who was like, no joke, three-hundred pounds. I told her strait to her face, because I was serious, if she fell in with what she weighed she’d probably die. I expected to balk, but she said with a big laugh and smile, ‘Oh, no, that’s fine.’ She was a sweet lady. She didn’t die.”

“There was this one guy who informed me at the start of the trip in a deep, firm voice that he ‘was not to going to get wet’ and it was my responsibility to see this through. I don’t know why he didn’t like to get wet or how he thought I was going to stop this from happening on a whitewater rafting trip. It actually went okay for most of the trip. Then we got to a place I figured he might get wet and warned him that sometimes rafts flip on this part. I had not flipped all season, so guess what happened? After flipping I came up under the raft and stayed there for a moment thinking how much I didn’t want to face this guy. Once I got my resolve back, I popped out looked for him, and pulled him up onto the raft, figuring if I got him on the raft first, maybe I didn’t have to kiss my whole tip goodbye. I asked him “Ya all right? Ya all right?” and he responded, “That. Was. Not. What. I. Wanted,” and that was the last time we spoke.”

We laughed and smiled like idiots the whole way down.

We put in, had a snack, and drove back to the landing to go again.

“Some guests will believe anything. One time after snack people asked if they should put their wetsuits on. I replied in a serious voice, “Oh, yeah. The water drops like thirty to forty degrees in under an hour this time of day.” I told them it was because of these underground springs in the river and they ate it up. By the time they were ready to suit up I decided I should probably tell them the truth and not let them die of heat stroke.”

The run was going well until we hit a rapid wrong. I knew we hit it wrong not because of the look, feel, angle of approach, etc. I could tell by the sudden amount of ‘oh-shit’ was in the voice of the guide as he yelled out commands. I held on, was jerked on way, another, and then fell victim to the sudden vertical nature of the raft. I knew I was going in, and even though I didn’t want to, I was okay with that. Next thing I knew I was under the water upside-down and my right foot was caught on something. I pulled once and nothing.

I knew no one could see or help me.

I pulled a second time.

That isn’t going anywhere.

So this is how it ends.

I wasn’t scared, just a little sad. I’m not done yet. I have a lot left to do, a lot left unfinished. I’m not quite ready.

This isn’t to say I gave up, I kept tugging, but abandoned the idea of getting the water-shoe free at some point. Somehow I eventually slipped my foot out of that shoe entirely.

I was free, but no where near in the clear. I stared going downstream fast and I was still under the water. I knew I needed to lean back, let my life jacket take me up but as the rocks came by, I felt like I wasn’t going up at all, just forward.

I don’t know how I was able to hold my breath so well. I don’t even go under water and swim without pinching my nose.

Finally I broke the surface and gulped air- but I couldn’t much. I needed to cough out all the water so I made myself slow down. Years of meditation breathing helped, but I was told later that I still looked like I was in full freak-out mode. The raft I’d fallen out of was nowhere in sight, but I heard yelling, turned around, and the current was taking me right into a paddle being held out from the other raft. I grabbed it and no less than three sets of hands pulled me into the center of the raft.

I sat there and breathed. I was surprised to be there. I was thankful to be there. I was trying hard not to hyperventilate. I soon realized I needed to still treat this like a rafting trip and hold the fuck on.

At some point I realized my Boy was there. He had been in the other raft, but it’s hard to stay in vertical things.

We stopped at a bank and waited for our raft. I was asked how I was doing. I was asked if I was okay. I honestly had no idea. I wasn’t dying anymore. That was huge. Then I realized my ankle that had been caught was probably sprained, though I admit it was registering as pretty insignificant, inexact, and far away. I was alive, after all, and did what just happened really happen? My whole leg hurt, but the exacts of a lot of details were coming through at their own snails pace. I realized my helmet was gone only when it was pointed out to me and I was given another. My hat was gone. My paddle was gone.

Someone handed me my shoe. How the hell did they find my water shoe? The insert for my high arches was even still in there.

I tried hard not to show any hard feelings to it as I put it back on.

Now, this isn’t like the movies or TV. A helicopter doesn’t come in and take you away even after you or someone else realizes you’re hurt and freaked. You continue down the river.

The Boy and I went back into our own raft. Two of us had no paddles. We had a few more higher class rapids to go, one notable big one. I was trying not to shake or cry or introvert completely inward away from my surroundings.

The same friend who’d jokingly talked about throwing me in now looked at me with the extreme worried “I’m so fucking sorry” look and comforted me.

I don’t know why this happens with boyfriends, but like moth to a flame, The Boy punctuated his concern and comforting with pats to the knee of the leg that was hurt. That’s when I started to realize the knee was worse off than the ankle.

So I went in and out of calm. Everyone was joking and smiling and getting a bit of a smile back on my own face.

Then we hit another rapid the wrong way. I was pushed into the raft and lost my grip on the rope, but hell if I was getting thrown in again (which I think I said aloud). I grabbed the rope again and get back to where I should be, at the edge with my paddle.

The guide was gone. The guest who was also a guide was gone. We pulled in one more person who fell, and there we were, four of us with paddles, two without, no guides for advice, and no steering (the guides steer at the back). The guides were far away, off to the side towards the opposite bank, when they come up. To add to matters, we were going the wrong way very, very quickly.

A few of us yelled ‘all back’ and were going all back to slow down best we could. ‘Throw in Friend’ meanwhile turned us sideways pushing on a rock by the shore, jamming us on a rock so we couldn’t move. We were far from the guides, but we were somewhere they could get to that wasn’t going to move. Also, a guide from the other raft (also had an additional guide on their’s) came and joined us via the shore. He calmed us down, praised us, and waited for the guides to make their way to us, which they did through the water. With our guide, I’m sure it was the experience that got him to our raft, our guest guide was much newer, but still got to us as skillfully.

They got as close as they could. We were still in the rapid, falls left to go. We were actually wedged in one. They were on a big rock we’d pass by once we were free. This was as close as they could get without being people in barrels going over the falls (without the barrels).

Our new guide told us the plan, to shove off when he said so. He yelled for the guides to then jump in the raft as it went by. It sounded like something that would only work a movie, not a real plan. I had no paddle to help, but as we went by them, I moved up and pushed The Boy up knowing when they were pulled in they’d need somewhere to go fast to get situated for the next rapid which was right there.

If they had not gotten in the raft before that, it would have been bad. Later I was told that we somehow did the exact right thing. I was the only n00b to rafting there, the others were experienced enough (or lucky enough, or both) to get us where we needed to be.

As much as an unlucky trip this sounds, in many ways we were exceedingly lucky.

Back at camp, there was no conscious decision that needed to be made: we were going to do some drinking after that adventure. We were rested from the couple hour ride, we showered, ate, and then prepared to drink.

Apparently you don’t need to buy yourself drinks when you almost die.

When this happens, people who didn’t think that they were going to die will be over-nice to you. However, some will be too completely too taken in their own adventure to pay yours mind. Apparently some people will feel damn one-upped.

You almost died? When I fell out of the raft, I could have kept going and went down that falls,” argued the guest who was also a guide. While drinking, ‘my almost death is better than your almost death’ seems like a logical discussion point.

“Dude, you’ve got training! What did I have? Instinct? I literally had resigned to dying. You said so yourself, you knew exactly what you had to do and had not to do to get out of this. Me? I said, ‘My foot is stuck, I’m fucked.’ I had no idea what to do.”

“Well, yeah you did. You get yourself uncaught!”

“Yeah, I didn’t know how. Now I know why you guys have the fancy knives on your life jackets.”

Meanwhile, our guide blamed himself for the whole thing. He brought me ice and I tried to tell him it wasn’t his fault. Apparently I was the first accident form he’d ever had to fill out in his three years if being a raft guide. He had always wanted to be a guide, hung out around this place since he was much younger, and became one as soon as he could. He had just turned twenty-one which shocked me.

“I never thought I’d have to fill one out. I always thought I wasn’t going to be one of those guides.”

I told him that’s why they were called accident forms. It was an accident. I told him I had a great time up to that point, and I really did. I’d go rafting again. I have another trip planned that hopefully the injury won’t interfere with, but it seems like it will.

“You are now a guide,” he told me several drinks later.

“Really? You know, that was my first time rafting.”

“I don’t care! Anyone that goes through that and comes through and is coming back… If you were taking the test right now, I’d sign off on it.”

Sure, I’ll be an unofficial guide. Honestly, I don’t know that I’d ever want to actually be one. That’s a lot of responsibility. It’s also a lot of trust, that those in the raft will do what you say, do it well, help each other, not freak out, and remember to do every tip you’re told. You have to be calm yourself, full of authority, and have enough of a charm and soft touch to calm people down, make them feel like a team, and lead them to lead themselves.

He was a great guide. I don’t blame him by any means.

Canada Falls is a recently opened, so the guides don’t (and can’t) know it as well as the other trips (since no one yet does). Even once they do know it well, it’s a technical, steep and aggressive part of the river. I knew that it had Class V whitewater rapids before I went. I’m hardcore, but so is that trip. I kicked ass, but only about as much as my ass was kicked.

My knee it turns out is sprained pretty badly. I have physical therapy next Wednesday and I should know more after my first appointment. The estimate given by the doctor is that I can expect to go back to Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu end of August or, more likely, the beginning of September. I was getting close to my six month mark, when your body is supposed to start to wake up to Jiu-Jitsu (as the owner of the school says). I was starting to feel that, but now there is this setback. It looks like as The Boy goes off the injury list soon, I’m joining it.

I’m not at all regretting the trip. Life is for living, friends. The living part involves calculated risks. With them you’ll get more from life, I think, and your last moments will be filled with less regrets. Carpe diem and goodnight.

Current Current

Closer we fall inward to forever clutching fleeting faces
touching the nape of my neck and holding tender too tight.
Your teasing whispers testing passions, telling me it’s all right
saying all the while by your stance and smile
as we get closer, we can fade- things can change.
People drift and people flail, I look for footing but know I will fail
and fall again, the wind whipping past, looking to the past and bidding it not repeat.
I stand on two feet, fearing the fall, knowing the fall, seeing the fall
tipping to the edge and facing your face and taking your embrace and tumble
caress, holding to my breast a place and a feeling- comforting touch caring outside of time,
sensual touch taring and taking what’s mine,
together touch, taking steps as two equals together in time
fairing well in the silent hope that the weather will hold as we hold tight together under night.
We fold our fears in tight so their small packages are tucked in each others’ arms
out of sight and out of mind as we mind nothing but he banter and the bubbling over
the falls splashing down, the excitement plummets into the base of my stomach, creeping to my fingers, extending to touch your lips as they laugh ideas and smile sentiments into my ears.
Rolling down the rapids, drifting down the steady trickle not knowing if the current will bring us closer or carry us apart.

Spring Means

Spring means change, but is also means a world of difference depending where in the world you are. When I lived in Maine, Spring had an uncertain start. You weren’t sure which window of warmth was ‘just another thaw’ and which one brought the final beginning. The top crust of the ice and snow would begin to melt. In false starts it refreezes that evening, making all the world a perilous sheet of ice- Winter’s way of giving us his swan song and saying he’d take us with him if he could. Each day is warm enough to chip at the almost perma-frost. The ice becomes a makeshift river, extra slick trickling down into still frozen grounds. Miniature lakes are made, and then finally, for which Mainers name their season, mud envelops the earth. The Spring rains add until the ground can hold no more.

Up north, I’m sure they’re enjoying Mudseason. Spring cleaning is ironic until the water finds some home in the air or beneath the ground.

Here in Southern Massachusetts, Spring is equally moody in her arrival. She brings us a cycle of days: rain, sun, cold, warm, rain, sun, cold… until finally, she decides to settle down for good. One day, when the snow has vanished and the yard is sprouting crocuses, you finally feel it is okay to open the windows.

I don’t like Spring very much, but this window, when I fist open my windows to breathe fresh air after being stuffed into indoors for so long, is my favorite. There is a window of time where the birds are barely beginning to wake up, and only a few may chirp in the morning. Besides the ladybugs who decided to hibernate in the cave of my apartment, the insects and arachnids are still safely skeptical and out of sight. Things are still very still and everything smells slightly of rain. The rivers and waterfalls make the bridges lively places to sit and stare and breathe it in, all coming down.

I feel the urge to walk about at night. Still and silent small towns that are finally enough to keep me warm as I explore my mind and the world. No one is out, not even a stray teen. It’s too early for mosquitoes. Nothing is open. Police are too busy patrolling the roads to take notice. To be the only thing moving…

All the worries of life will stay, but I will grace them with an asterisk* that if I were employed at this moment, I would likely be missing these moments. It doesn’t comfort everything, but it settles me a bit…

…into the season of spring.

Childhood in Uxbridge

It was Thanksgiving. After a morning of running around breakfast, putting on our showers, and gulping down our getting ready, we managed to get everyone packed in the car. Dad drove us around Uxbridge.

Uxbridge was an old mill town perpetually trying to stay an old mill town even as everything around it changed and grew. People lived in places parted by inched lawns nestled side by side, trimmed guardian bushes, and trees out back. Many lived in large houses at the end of winding dirt roads unseen by any neighbor. The only landmarks to their house would be trees and maybe a mailbox, probably camouflaged in green on a wooden post.

The town had the air of things passed. It had different areas, down town, north, south, but no one would refer to any part of Uxbridge by saying so without a slight sneer or bit of sarcasm. Saying Uxbridge had a down town was pointing out a gas station, a liquor store, and the bank and calling it the big center of it all.

Then there was the river and it’s canal that flowed through the town, including the down town, where it cascaded into a waterfall right outside of the liquor store waiting to catch those who would not wait to return to their homes. This valley clutched to the idea of people coming together around the river out of necessity. In more recent times it was a smelly, sewage line through the town with walkways along side it so people could walk their dogs and try to catch sight of the mutated frogs. Sometimes you’d catch a brave soul canoing. You’d stare like a redneck at the NASCAR race track, waiting for the boat to capsize so you could have something to say around the dinner table that night or chat about on the ride to Grandma’s house in this case. You could take turns predicting what terrible diseases they could get. My money’s on leukemia. Chris says cancer. I say leukemia is a type of cancer. Chris says it’s not. We are silenced by a twisted figure in the passenger seat pointing a finger dangerously.

“You better shut up, right now!” threatens my mother. We revert to arguing in glances.

“Would you relax, Ann?” my dad mutters. This only makes mom angrier.

“It’s awful to be saying things like that about people! The river is fine! All sorts of animals live by it. You remember Jeremy? He used to go canoeing in it all the time, and he’s fine. It’s not nice to joke about cancer! Would you rather we still lived in Whitinsville? Or Worcester?”

“Oh, they like it fine here, Ann,” said my dad as patient and cheerfully as he could muster, “They’re just joking around, right?”

“Sure,” me and my brother both intoned, surprised to find ourselves in agreement. I knew that wouldn’t do.

“It’s a bit isolated,” I admitted, daring my mother’s wrath, “We have to drive at least a half hour to get anywhere. There’s nothing to do really.”

“Nothing to do?” my mom asked incredulously, “What do you mean there’s nothing to do? I’m sick of you two always saying you’re bored.”

“I didn’t say anything,” said Chris.

“You just did,” I told Chris.

“Well you can travel where ever you want to and live where ever you want to live when you’re older,” said my dad, the diplomat, “You’ll come to realize that exciting places have bad things about them too.”

“Yeah, but I bet their schools don’t suck as much,” muttered my brother.

“Don’t swear!” screamed my mother, rounding on him with the finger.

“What? I didn’t swear! What swear did I use?”

“Yes, you did. You know you did. You said it sucks.”

Hating to side with my brother, but needing to be honest, I came to his defense, “Mom, sucks isn’t a swear.”

“It’s not a nice word! And I don’t want to hear it again!” yelled my mom resolving the matter, “Besides, you’d belly-ache about school no matter what school you went to.”

“Yeah, school sucks.”


“Oh, right. School blows.”

Nobody answered Chris that time. I was amazed my mother fumed silently. She did this very seldom.

Finally my dad pulled over at one of the nature preserves for the river and got out his camera. He wanted to let us run around a little and take some pictures. My dad was a carpenter and car guy, but underneath that with his manual 35mm Minolta in hand, he was an art-tist!

Late at night when he’d had a few beers in him he would take out boxes of pictures he had taken all over the country. He said they used to be in albums and packets, but my mother had unsorted them all on various occasions wanting to make new albums but never finishing. My dad would tell me of an ancient time before I was born.

“Here’s one of my hotrods,” he said, then going on to say what specific car it was and what it had to make it go so much better than other cars, “This one I crashed while I was tripping.”

“What happened to the other ones?” I asked, eyes scanning the shiny red machine.

“Kids. That’s what happened. I met your mom. I sold my hotrods.”

It was a sad tale. I bowed my head in respect, then thought of another question, “What happened to the camera that you took all of these pictures with?”

“Your mom. That’s what happened to it. Every time I take it out to go shooting she takes a bunch of crap pictures that are out of focus and over or under exposed. When I try to explain it to her, she gets mad at me. If I tell her she can’t use the camera, she gets mad at me. So, I keep it hidden away.”

It was a sad tale. My dad would continue on to other pictures.

Now he had a generic automatic Kodak camera that even my mom could take pictures with. You could still always tell which ones my dad took.

“C’mon, let’s get a group shot by the river.”

We all went off next to the Blackstone river, pretended to like each other enough to get closer, closer. Mom smelled like stale cigarettes, my brother like piss.

“Chris, put your hand down and stop being a wise ass. Now everyone smile!”