From Eden to Erie with Friends
We took the highway out of Cleveland towards Erie, PA the sign said, and nothing other than that, just after high school graduation, the summer after. We wanted to dive into the water after life and life coming at us like bugs to the windshield of our caravan heading to west Virginia for some rafting and worshiping of the river god.
But we were really going back to the beginning.
Go back five years to the timid me at twelve with my father and uncle and cousin falling out of the four manned raft at the first set of the river rapids, just my cousin falling out.
The river runs wild when the water is high.
My uncle was, incidentally, high I think though not on the highway with us, in no such terms because he hadn't come, but my uncle lost something in the sixties and never got it back: a watch, a timepiece, a piece of time. He always found it when high though.
So there were ten of us and though a few had graduated a year before the rest, my cousin, not knowing many of my high school friends, was to lead them down the throat of the god with me steering whitewater and gurgle, like backwash come splashing around.
We were young.
We were vibrant.
We were indestructible but our hearts could bruise so easy like fruit.
I played Once in A Lifetime by the talking heads on repeat for my car during the twenty minute trip from the hotel in W. Virginia, located near the university to the Yough, pronounced 'yuck', the Youghiogheny river.
Johnny says when I see him every few years, that it was completely subliminal. He thinks of rafting every time he hears the song.
We bopped and swam our heads in the car over hills of depravity and losslessness, nothing-to-lose and threw Kat into the river first, her lifejacket on. The hangover from all the drinking, fireworks, video games and drinking (again) left her then into the river. She woke up. She was bathed in the blood of the god and we knew it, such a good friend. I wonder how many times she's woken up since then?
And I hear her whisper in my ear now while I write that she is good.
So my cousin and I say, "You all have to jump in to get accustomed or accosted to the river."
And they did, giggling like babies.
Kris saw a snake run head first swimming towards the shore like he would've liked to and had doubts about the river, it's god and now our god, and the boy-man practically flipped out of the raft then and there. He wanted to kill it with the paddle. The river god takes many forms. It was a baby copperhead.
Coincidentally he'd a wound from crashing some rocks just before lunch on the midpoint stop where we ate sandwiches and watched people six or less strong try to take the hardest set or five star rapids, a five on a five scale. He asked me then what it was, that my dad was a doctor and what I thought of it. And I called it a wound.
Our hearts bruise so easy when young and I would tell him this if he'd return a call any night like tonight, the one I'm writing this on.
Then the six person raft tipped there at the mid and we watched all the paddles run downstream and the people in their lifejackets flail and laughed, we laughed because our god did not endorse them or like them; they looked like ants to us and him.
But we had run and survived the trip, the somber repainted school bus ride back to the outfitters from the end of the river run, the soggy, deteriorating hopelessness and tired trip back to Cleveland that night by caravan. How so quiet our spirits in close meditation and dance with the god, internally, spiritually, and how old we really had become driving from Eden past Erie and on home by highway.
words: Chris Bowen, Ohio (burning river)
image: Jeff Crouch, Texas (more)