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My toes are soaking up a slice of sunlight on our cute little balcony. The power is going on and off because of power company maintenance. So far, no one has gotten stuck in the elevator. Overall, it's a good day. My polka dot skirt and my Firefly-inspired T-shirt are on. I'm fed. I get to have a minor medical procedure next week, assuming I pass my COVID-19 test and insurance approves it again. They will likely approve it this time. They approved it the two times it got rescheduled due to circumstances outside my control and the time it got indefinitely postponed due to the lockdown. Fourth time is the charm, right?
My shirt features a stegosaurus addressing a tyrannosaurus rex in the following manner, "Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!" It's a quote from Firefly, a fun, if too short, sci-fi series that makes me really happy. The stegosaurus knew better than to trust the T. rex, and yet, here they are on my shirt.
I've never faced down a living T. rex. I'm pretty sure that goes for most of us. I've made some questionable, if fun, decisions, though, knowing full well that some sort danger or risk or even demise was likely. Sometimes, I barreled ahead knowing that danger was not only likely, but definite. I didn't mind it much if I was the only one I was risking, and if the payoff looked worth it. One example is a run in with the Russian River. It's been on my mind since I mentioned it briefly yesterday. Polka dots and dinosaurs seem like a good day to talk about it more.
There was a group of us floating down the Russian River when the water was lower than it should have been. This made for a very long, slow inner tubing trip. It also made a small rapid into something more like a waterfall at an angry angle. Everybody went over. Everybody lost their tube or raft or whatever they were floating on. Sunglasses and hats were dislodged. If there would have been time to breathe, most of us probably would have screamed. I think someone lost a shoe.
And then there was me.
I got stuck at the top, wedged on a bit of flat rock due to some poor steering choices. It didn't occur to me that my peeps would climb around on dry land to get me either unstuck and sent along or lifted up so I could climb down safely. I thought they were waiting for me to get myself out and down. I thought they wouldn't wait forever. Plan A was to lift myself out of the tube, let it go down while I clung to my rock and climbed out. That turned out to not be feasible because my right shoulder was a bit of a mess way back then. Plan B was to fling my body weight and use my leverage to get me floating again... and go over the edge like everyone else. They were all fine, it sounded like. How bad could it be?
As soon as my tube hit the water, it was sucked out from under me—zing! Splash! I was sucked under. There was just enough time for me to gasp in a lungful of air before I was totally submerged.
SLAM! My left hip/booty became one with a rock and my eyes popped open. It didn't matter. I couldn't see anything. Everything was darkness. I was upside down, water and currents ripping over me, arms thrust past my head, no idea where my right leg was, but certain of the location of my left leg, because dear god the pain.
My left leg was trapped between rocks above me. They were smooth, but not slimy. They were large and firmly lodged in place. I tried to force my leg free and felt my tibia—that bigger bone that makes the shin—bend. Joints bend. Bones should not bend, especially in the middle. I suddenly realized how people break bones in rivers, or, I guess, how rivers break people's bones. I had a brief flash of being airlifted out of the river with my friends standing around traumatized and mortified. I stopped trying to force my leg out, the bone bending stopped, and the pain went back to what it was. All of this probably took about half a second. It felt like a week.
I had to get free. Being dead would be worse for everyone, not just me, than being airlifted with a broken leg. What could I do?
Fish do this all the time. They don't get stuck in rocks. What do fish do? How do I do what fish do? How do I become a fish? I need to become a fish.
I closed my eyes and thought to myself, "Be a fish."
Suddenly, I was a torrent moving downward.
Then everything stopped. It wasn't a crash or a splash. It was a change in pressure that felt like I'd been body-slapped. I made it to the bottom of the rapids/fall. I was being pushed—no—pulled—drawn down deeper and deeper.
I tried to kick, but my legs were in a water-vise. I reached and pulled and dug up with my arms, but there wasn't enough strength in them to escape an inner tube, so how a plunge basin?
I opened my eyes again while I struggled against this thing that was stronger than me, bigger than me, older, more patient and more powerful. What I saw was the single most beautiful sight of my life. Even as I fought against the current and the darkness below me, as I watched this beauty and light cascade and swirl, refract and prism, bubble and sway, there was peace inside me. I had no control over what was happening to me or the river. I could control my mind and body, but not the result of my actions. I was not physically capable of escaping this with strength. My air supply was un-replenished. I calmly thought to myself, "If I die right now, in this moment, it's okay. It's okay because this is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. I can die happy now."
There is no way for me to fully depict or describe what I saw. I can only hint at it; the way the light danced down; the way the colors shifted; the temperature of the water, force of the current, changing the size of the bubbles. Were they even bubbles? Was I alive? Did I need air?
Fish do this every day. Fish don't get stuck in the plunge for eternity. How do fish do this?
"I am a fish."
Blackness. Rushing down down down down.
Like a geyser, I was flung up, flailing and sputtering to break through the surface of the river.
Instinctively, I was face up, coughing and gasping. I heard birds, my friends, the water. I saw some of my friends scaling the rocks to get me—but I wasn't there any more. They knew it. They didn't know where I was until I surfaced. They looked worried. I saw them start to come toward me. I tried to swim toward them. I turned over.
And the river was in charge of me again.
My foot caught the undercurrent when I turned and down I went, sucked to the rocks, dragged over the river stubble, grated.
Fish would not help me now. I needed something else.
Memories of nature programs from my childhood surfaced. A narrator droned, "If you find yourself out of your boat in a river, remember to point your back downstream and stay face up." They never explained why! This is why!
I turned over and popped up to the surface like a beach ball, coughing my lungs out. My friends were on me in a second with a tube in their collective hands and terror on their faces. I didn't turn over again until I was sure I had the tube securely. Then I called out, loud enough for the friggin' river to hear me.
"THAT WAS AWESOME!"
They laughed and relaxed. I kept coughing.
I was also laughing, in between coughs, and smiling. I was full of adrenaline and excitement. That experience was life defining. I've probably forgotten details of it, like the exact words I used when I yelled to my peeps, but I will always remember that vision under the water. It was too beautiful to fade or forget.
I had a bruise on my hip/booty that was about the size of a softball. It changed consistency and color for weeks. I'm not sure I walked the same afterward. My tibia that never should have bent, recovered well enough. It had a basic bruise and a bone bruise and a dent in it. The dent was visible for years. Now, I can still feel it if I try, but I have to try pretty hard. I also scored a massive sunburn, but aloe and patience took care of that, too. I lost my favorite hat, thought ahead enough to not bring my sunglasses, and didn't bother wearing shoes that day, anyway.
I remember that we rested a few moments on a sandy area to the side of the river. I caught my breath; we all did. I eyed the thing that almost killed me. We got back in the water.
All in all, it was a good day.