Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Take Me To The River . . . Drop Me In The Water

I have been continuing on with my water workouts for the ol' back, and they are still providing MUCH pain relief. Last night, I stepped things up a bit and went to a water aerobics class.

My neighborhood pool hosts a free class on Monday nights for anyone that bothers to show up. I was in the delightful company of 2 gentlemen and 3 ladies, each of whom saw 60 quite a while ago. It was fun, and funny, and everyone complained with goodnatured humor. Actually, a couple of the women were in excellent shape, so they weren't complaining; they were churning water!

The instructor was positioned on the pool deck. Since this was my first time at the class, I thought that was normal. After a few snide remarks from the men in the pool that seemed to insinuate that the instructor was a "slacker", I realized that it was customary for the instructor to be in the pool, working out right along with us. Seems she injured her back pretty badly on a whitewater rafting trip a couple weeks earlier, and she was still on the mend.

The rest of the class, I was paying partial attention to the instructor and reliving a whitewater rafting trip I took; the ONE AND ONLY one I have ever taken, or ever will:

(cue wavy dream sequencing . . .)

I don't really know whose idea it was, but someone came up with the bright idea to take a whitewater rafting trip. I was still married to my ex-husband, and we had become good friends with our neighbors and another couple through his work. All 6 of us got along pretty well, and when we were all out for Mexican, someone suggested the trip, and the majority voted "Yea", so that was that.

Fast forward to late summer 1990. August, if memory serves. We make our way to the "putting-in" spot of the Chattooga. Never in my life had I seen such wild and beautiful water and woods. The air was so clean, it felt like you were breathing pure oxygen.

Now, for those of you in the know, the Chattooga was showcased in the Southern travelogue documentary known as "Deliverance". It was only years later, during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, that I began to hear jokes about the Chattooga and its indigenous people. In their wisdom, the Olympics organizers decided to stage a portion of the events on the Chattooga. This was followed by all manner of jokes, the best of which was, "If those inbred Chattooga butt-fuckers raped Ned Beatty, what chance does a frenchman in biker shorts have?" Yeah, and they didn't get much better than that.

But I digress. We began our river rafting trip full of energy and excitement. THIS, we decided, was what it felt like to be ALIVE. This is the stuff that exciting lives are made of! A sandal-wearing river rat gave us a 10 minute lecture on how to sit in the raft, how to paddle, where to place your feet, and with that, we were launched ceremoniously into the river with a young guide full of piss and vinegar to help us navigate the rapids. We cheered as we began our descent into hell.

The first 5 minutes were exhilarating! Little splashes of icy water stinging your cheeks, the swells of river rapid gently lifting and bouncing the raft along . . . It was then that the piss and vinegar began to swell up within our guide.

We were approaching somewhat of a fork in the river. Down the lefthand side was a docile, shady, meandering water trail. Down the right were jagged rocks repeatedly drenched with white swells of rapids. Since we were all rafting novices, the guide made an executive decision for us all: using his oar as a rudder, he steered us RIGHT INTO the worst of the rapids.

Its true, you know. When you are facing death, things move in slow motion. I remember feeling the horror as we steered toward the churning, swirling blender of rocks and rapids. I remember shoving my feet waaaaay under the seat in front of me, preparing for the impact. As our boat dipped nose-first into the swell, we were momentarily motionless, like when you reach the top of the rollercoaster before the plunge.

The front began to fill with water, and Brian, the guy sitting in the front of the boat, was sucked under and disappeared from our sight into the deafening sound of the crashing rapids. I heard screaming from the other women on the boat, a loud yell of "Don't panic!" from the guide, who was now panicking, and that was the last thing I heard.

As the boat began to fill rapidly with water, it began to list, and the left side dipped quicker than the right. Everyone fell left, and David and I were bounced out of the lefthand side of the boat and sent careening down the river faster than you could ever imagine that water could propel you. I was on my back flying headfirst down the river, desperately feeling for the riverbottom, thinking that if I could get a foothold, I could right myself. Meantime, the river current held my face just inches below the surface of the water - the force of the current was washing over my face, up my nose, and it was impossible to breathe. I saw glimpses of twinkling sunlight, and my lungs were screaming for air, and I began to lose consciousness . . .

Just then, I felt a tremendous SMACK on my head. I had been tossed against a gathering of rocks near the calmer left side of the shore. My friend David appeared there. I don't know if we traveled the same path, or he was trying to save me. Either way, he was ghostly white. As soon as I was able to stop throwing up water, I began to survey the damage: my shoes were gone, my feet were cut and bleeding, David's hands were cut badly.

As I glanced around, I saw our boat in calm water about 20 yards away. The guide and my husband were still aboard, and our friend Brian who was sucked under first was holding onto the side of the raft, scared and stripped of all clothing from the waist down. The dip he took dumped him into some kind of underwater rock tumbler, and he was flipped over and over, gashed and stripped until finally the guide grabbed hold of his shirt and pulled him to the surface.

As everyone made their way back to the boat, there was a mixture of reactions. The other women were crying, the men were supremely embarrassed, and the guide was full of false bravado, and attempted to joke his way out of the situation "Hey, everybody calm down, it was just a little tip . . ." Big mistake.

My anger propelled me toward the raft, and with one fluid, panther-like movement that belied the expectations one has of a woman my size, I easily scaled the side of the raft, jumped the back seating and lunged for that smug little bastard. He was perched on the back of the raft, nonchalantly, but when he saw me coming, terror washed over his face. I attempted to grab him, but ended up shoving him backward into the river, and I proceeded to do my VERY BEST to jump in after him, intent on drowning him (I am southern, white and I DO have the trash to go along with it, trust me. I have always been a helluva fighter.) My husband was restraining me, warning the guy to stay down. I jerked away from him and shrieked to the piece of shit now swimming away from us, "You MISERABLE cocksucker, you almost killed us! If you come near this fucking raft, I will give you a beating you won't forget, I swear to God!" I then turned to my husband and hissed, "And YOU!!!!!!!! . . . you sissy, pussy son of a bitch, you didn't even jump in after me?!?!" It kind of went on from there . . .

Now, I HAVE to add here that my ex-husband was/is a fireman, trained to save people from the most harrowing and dangerous situations. Is this hitting home for you now, dear reader?

After I stopped screaming and threatening, we carefully floated down the bank of the river and somewhere along the way, we saw Brian's shorts caught on a limb, much to his relief. We got out at the first "letting out" place, our guide paddling along a fair distance behind us, and got on the bus back to our cars. I sat alone, looking out the window, and not a soul spoke to me, for fear of the backlash, I am sure.

After loudly berating and cursing out the owner of the "adventure center", the snivelling granola cruncher gave us our money back. We all left in silence.

Now that I think of it, the marriage really never survived that.

Its an excellent acid test, by the way. If you find yourself drowning, and you notice that your husband doesn't come in after you - trust me - its over.

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