By A.S. Coomer
Rivers can take you anywhere. That’s what I used to think, staring down into the swirling, muddy water of the Ohio. It’s a truly ugly river, the Ohio. An ugly state, too, but I digress. I used to sit for hours on this bench just across the river, the state line separating Indiana from Kentucky. With a book in my lap, unread, and my glasses reflecting off of the hung sun, I watched.
I thought I wanted to run out and jump in. Just wade on out until I couldn’t touch the bottom anymore and let it take me. All Virginia Woolfish, I know. But, at the time, it made perfect sense to me. Ashes to ashes, and all that. Because, you see, I was crying a lot back then. I still don’t know where the half of it came from, the tears. They just poured forth like some broken down dam.
It didn’t matter where I was either. Work, home, the grocery store, the pharmacy—picking up all the antidepressants and antianxiety medications that were flung at me by the bagful, none of which worked—it really didn’t seem to matter.
No trigger warnings. Nothing really to set it off. Just life. And death and the constant thought that the two were really just different sides of the same coin. I was like that then. The always emotional navel-gazer. I couldn’t see past my own mortality and the time-stamp attached thereto.
Except when it came to the river.
It ran by with a consistency that was comforting. It called out to me: Look! I’m still here. Made of millions or billions or trillions of different water molecules—probably a corpse or two—but still here, still flowing, still moving on along to someplace else.
So, I’d go out there and sit. I’d walk there in the mornings on my days off or stumble down there after getting completely shit-faced at some redneck, soulless downtown bar.
Each drop, an escape. Each swirl, a beaconing.
I mean what else do you do when life has lost all meaning? Or maybe you’ve just discovered that it never had any to begin with?
You go and sit by the river and think about death and the constant rush of the shit-brown water. At least, that’s what I did. And I’m still here, for now anyway. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I haven’t made any plans. I haven’t made any plans to not have any plans either, though. So, there’s that, too.
Anyway, one late September afternoon, sitting there on my bench by the river, the Ohio, with an immense Robert Jordan novel sitting unopened in my lap, it happened.
Just like that, something was there. Some sense of self. All these, like, feelings came rushing up, from God knows where, and I thought I’d burst from all the pressure. I couldn’t just sit there anymore. I had to move.
And there was the utter face of motion, right there, before me. It’d rained the past several days and the thing, the Ohio, was up, out of its banks like some foraging bear in a farmyard. Just poking its nose around, seeing what smells good, seeing what was left unattended to, you know, what was available.
I was available.
I let the book, borrowed from the library just that afternoon, drop onto the patchy grass and stood. At that moment, I knew exactly what it was to be the moth in the night seeing the glorious light shining so bright, so beautifully into the stillness of the dark. I felt the strings that are always there, hooks waiting for just the hint of motion, and I pulled. I wanted the hook.
It came. I felt it and knew that there were some hooks that were soft, more lulling than stabbing, but piercing just the same.
I walked across the small greenery to the thick, blocky rocks and stared down at the lapping water. The line was taut, I could feel it. It could snap at any moment. Whoever was on the other end had to play it safe, give me a little space.
Let the fish tucker itself out, my dad would say. Let it run a little.
I stood there, swaying and suddenly sweat drenched. This metallic bite wouldn’t leave my throat, coating it in what I was sure would be rust-eaten silver if feelings could color. The immensity of the moment, the sheer knowledge that a step and a sucking in of several hundred water molecules would end it rocked me from my toes to my heels.
Have you ever wanted to feel absolutely nothing? I have. I still do, sometimes.
At that moment, I wanted nothing more. I wanted nothing.
My stomach squeezed sharply in on itself, my neck strained, veins bulging, and my hands, curled into tight fists, quaked. I shook. I thought for a second, the earth, the rocks under my feet, the Ohio before me, the universe itself, shook right along with me.
Then the sharp sprinkle of a child’s laughter.
That’s what brought me back.
Some six-year-old was throwing his legs behind him on the swing for all he was worth. I turned around and watched him, feeling a little testing tug at the line in my back. His eyes were squeezed shut, his head rocking on his little neck, swinging his legs forward on the outshoot, tucking ‘em tightly under on the swaying back.
His face was pure elation. The joy of motion. Of laughter. Of life. Of all the things ahead and behind, to the left and to the right, center and back, up and down.
I stepped away from the rocks, walked back to my borrowed book and the bench that suddenly appeared foreign to me, not caring that the tears were streaming down my face. That my stomach and chest shivered as if I were naked in January snows.
I scooped up my book and went out searching for that same joy.