28 October 2018

Disappeared (Part 12)

“Too thick to drink, too thin to plow”. So Mark Twain supposedly said about the Missouri River. I cannot attest to Big Mo’s drinkability, never having attempted such a foolish feat. I can say, having dipped my hands in it, that it is definitely too thin to plow. In all my crossings of that river I cannot recall a single instance where the water ran clear. Clarity is not in its nature. Turbidity as a feature of swift moving water served as template and metaphor for my state of mind before arranging my uprooting.

The scramble began to navigate out of the figurative hole in which I found myself while finding a literal place in which to live. Slim resources, low energy, heavy obligations: a perfect storm. No longer welcome it what had been my home, the circumstances had me on the rack. Confusion and hurt became the order of the day. The river seemed to be all rapids and no calm water. The year dragged on, finally turning as I shivered my way through life.

There was nothing left to do but treat this river the same way one survives a rip current in the ocean. Don’t struggle against it. Go with it. Keep yourself parallel to the shore. Survival is predicated on waiting it out while keeping the head above the water. Much of the ensuing months are blurry to me. Thinking became a luxury, indulged in rarely. Survival in a practical sense, fulfilling the obligations of food and shelter, absorbed my existence. Work was meager, but treasured for its ability to distract. I moved into an apartment that was too big. It was there that I began to make my way back to shore.

It should be said that my float trip down this river was not in total isolation. There were life preservers in the form of good friends, in the heartland and on the coast, who bucked me up. Offers of material support, advice, and companionship were gratefully accepted. Without them the journey would have been truly unbearable. One of the best pieces of guidance I received as I was sorting through the wreckage was the observation that “You know where you need to be.” This was offered at a time where my heart was deciding where my home really existed. The answer was to back on the coast, closer to my daughter and to the waters that flowed in my veins.

Where to be? A simple problem statement illuminating a complicated, seemingly impossible solution. The days were haunted by the specter of the lack of money. Photography was barely getting me by but the burn rate was not slowing down. The situation was unstable. The coast was calling me, infiltrating my dreams, but most mornings were a slow awakening in front of a stone wall at the back of a dead end tunnel. My imagination was failing.

Current flows ever on. A ceaseless advance of muddy, roiling water throughout the day and night. Once the hapless swimmer learns enough to avoid drowning the mind turns to thoughts of endurance. Swim, swim, long enough to find some solid ground in whatever form it presents itself. This river is known for its formation of sandbars. Even a patch of that tremulous ground would be welcome to an exhausted soul. To the extent I could keep my head above the waterline I kept a lookout as far out as possible. Nothing could be done to rectify the lack of a crow’s nest from which to scout the water ahead. I had my fingers crossed my life would not end up like the steamboat Arabia in 1856, pierced through by a tree snag on the Missouri River, sunk, and buried in the mud for over a hundred years plus thirty two more. The metaphor was full of savor, though: fully loaded ship traveling at speed rams something lurking below the surface and goes down fast. Bitter laughter is its own meat.

If you try hard enough you might succeed at growing gills. Learn to breathe underwater, perhaps. Breathing to survive and searching for anything to halt the slow sinking to the bottom. I wondered if there might be a patron saint of Neutral Buoyancy. Even if no such being existed I prayed to it, as a salve for hopelessness on nights where the ceiling pressed down like the an inverted ocean canyon. This bought precious time. Time to sleep, when I could not act.

Opportunity knocked in one of those peaceful interludes. A good friend back east brought to my attention a possibility of employment. A chance to reenter a career edifice I had very nearly abandoned. All I had to do was consign myself to moving a thousand miles again and accepting a commission to Captain an office chair. This of course hinged on getting an offer, but the decision to fly out for a chat took no time to make. Some good friends offered up a room in their house so I would have a place to stay on the trip.

Flood water dropped below its crest with this slackening of the current. The river advertised new openings for those in the business of riverine cartography. New ground revealed itself as the meniscus shroud of water dropped from the shoulders of sand bars that did not exist before the storms. What this receding of the waters lacked in the red-hot drama that might be evinced by a submarine volcanic eruption, it made up for in with the formidable certitude of inevitable sedimentation. To the exhausted swimmer even a small convexity of drier land is gratefully received. I crawled. I grew new legs. Trembling they were, but grateful to stand on solid ground. I flew back east with something akin to hope flickering in my heart.

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"Let your laws come undone
Don't suffer your crimes
Let the love in your heart take control..."

-'The Hair Song', by Black Mountain

Tell me what is in your heart...