love child


{Nightswimming was Map’s first dark milk, and crafted from the first cocoa beans I truly fell in love with. and by in love I mean all-in, head-over-heels, and not looking back. can a chocolate be an ode to the wild love-and-friend-filled days beside a river? sure hope so. }

Here is what drowning feels like. You go under, the water a sudden hand-slap across your mouth that sticks; you cannot scream. It is dark. And quiet; in retrospect there is no sound, hearing evidently a tree falling in the hereafter forest. It is not like when you were a kid and you blew your breath out in a tornado of bubbles so you could plummet all sixty pounds of yourself to the pool bottom before your best pal Bobby Staub, cheeks puffed and pink lips pursed, his hair crazy-like waving above his very strangely white face. In the movies there is lots of thrashing and waving, cries of help; but that is so untrue, so the movies version with the drama that in real life is only apparent later. Later, when you close your eyes and you see how you wanted to breathe but could not, the way you wanted to scream Not now, not this day, but the brute river’s hand on your mouth. How it snuck up from behind before you could grab it, poke your fingers into the eyes of circumstance, bad luck, karma, wrong place at the right time, the big ticker in the sky hoisting your number up: in the movies, sometimes a tricky director's angle from below of feet kicking, or the silent icky version, like The Piano: unemotional, serene, postmodern drowning.


Personally I am not all that keen on the silent version.  While I’m under I am having a very loud conversation, me talking back to the river and in no uncertain terms. I learned early on it is an argument best won with my mouth shut. It usually starts with a simple What the heck. More than once You gotta be kidding as if the question some introspective delete key that can take it all back, erase the awful unedited truth or maybe spin it in a different and Please dear god less eventful direction, one without the paperwork and hand-wringing. I have heard myself, on occasion, think this: Not today. Maybe fate out there listening and me hoping for some existential Oops, sorry, wrong number, and not mine up after all. But then a resonating silence that follows the unanswered question, a whiteout of water and thought melded into one tiny whirling dervish swim for my life.


The first time I fell out of a boat I careened downriver with no clue how to get to shore. Let me say right now I was miles beyond clueless because I did not have even the teensiest inkling that I really and most definitely actually needed to get to shore, and that I should really and most definitely be doing everything I could to get to shore. I was the new kid on the rocky river block, naïve enough that it had simply not occurred to me, despite those helpful pre-trip safety talks by the hunky guides in their faded lifejackets when they told us how to float in the correct whitewater position (on our back feet first) that I could or even might, fall out of a boat, and if I did, just how serious that would be. We were there for the adventure! The thrill! The whitewater! We weren't there for some downer of an idea like going under and never coming back. What I knew about whitewater came from a Daniel Boone episode when I was maybe seven and the brave Boone washing down a creek and of course, he got out at the end and was fine. And no, it seems that the Frontier log ride at Disney does not count. What I knew was that I could swim, but I wasn't thinking that far merrily down the stream.  People were blah-blah-blahing about rapids and safety and I was looking at the trees, the strange piles of gear, those burly boys, and wondering how I could talk my way into a job.


It was raining, the kind of rain that makes a river rise and the guides giddy and nervous, sends the expedition manager to whistle up his trusty hound into the pickup's front seat and drive down to check the river gauge three times in a half hour, and the customers to grumble about being wet before the first rapid. We were all wearing rag wool and billowing mildewy school bus yellow ponchos, which, if we did end up in the river, would balloon around our face and entangle our arms and not hasten a speedy recovery. The river was deer tail flashes of white froth spinning foamy swirls, a churning, molten torrent licking the sky. It had the dirt smell that high water has, more mud and grit than river, and when I did eventually fall in that smell became everything the river was that day.


We were in the big Section IV boats, shiny black Rubbercrafters the guides called RC's. The boats held five or six paddlers plus a guide who sat on one side in the back, steering and calling commands. I was riding on the back left side opposite the guide, in the trainee’s seat, my feet cold stumps in stiff wool socks and the clear rubber fisherman’s sandals that river guides wore back in those pre-Teva days. Somebody was talking about Deliverance being filmed on the river and somebody else said Ain’t you got a purty mouth and I started reciting a James Dickey poem from my southern lit class and then it all went black.


I opened my eyes to a guide named Lamar with his hands up my shorts attempting to find, he assured me with a half-shy, half-the-better-to-eat-you-with-my-dear grin, the pulse of my femoral artery. Lamar was from South Carolina so when he said femoral it sounded more like female. He was a handsome old-timer of the river probably the ripe old age of thirty. When you are just shy of twenty-one thirty might as well be eighty: it is out there in the end zone of adulthood and parents, professors, people with jobs and checking accounts who give you a funny look when you tell them I want to be a river guide, who remind you about things like grad school and reality and student loan repayment plans. Lamar was wiry, blonde in a steely Nordic way, but mountain man in a plaid flannel-shirted crooked smile way. He was a wise and nimble kayaker with a soft laugh that slid the scales between hardscrabble Appalachian upbringing to the vague nether regions of river hippiedom: life as a river rat meant nobody was going to shove you off the front porch out of some inbred meanness, all the while your co-workers with their middle class nonchalance loading kayaks atop the hand-me-down family Volvo had no clue what it meant at age five if you wanted something to eat for breakfast you went outside and shot it out of a tree. He was safety kayaker on our trip and had yanked me out of the river, rescued me from being trapped under the boat that held me pinned underwater and smashed against a rock.


I fell in love with him that instant, which lasted the ride back to the outpost and possibly sometime during a long shower when the thought occurred to me that I had no clue about what had happened or why, only that I wasn’t scared or sorry and not about on down the road or how; and not a single thought of how long. It was love, of the pure, distilled, ever-clear kind that makes you crawling-on-your-hands-and-knees drunk yet somehow intensely sane, dizzily happy and then keeled headfirst into the depths of longing that only a dark well of desire holds: Desire, that impish and incestuous love child of Crave and Something Missing, and before you know it, you're chasing something that keeps slipping through your fingers, hoping to hang on to it and keep it pouring through your soul. 


Poor Lamar. He kissed me but all I tasted was river.