I think a lot about rivers because I grew up near one. Rivers are a recurring motif in my memoir.
Rivers are a recurring motif in my life.
Every man that I have loved has been connected to a river in some way.
What is love, and how do we define it?
People keep telling me that Caleb didn’t love me, that his love wasn’t love, yet I felt that he loved me.
I know that he loved me.
I know that I loved him too.
I have been sifting through my many emails with Caleb. He loved to lunch with me. To nap with me. We were both so kind and thoughtful to each other in the beginning.
I read our early emails back and forth, and they are loving, considerate of the other person’s feelings, needs, and desires.
The other night, I had a beer with a male friend, and I told him, “I will never again meet a man who writes to me in that way because guys just don’t usually do that.”
Maybe I have just not known enough men who have loved me.
There was a day when I was floating the river with River Guide. He was in his hardshell kayak, and I was in an inflatable.
I flipped and swam in a rapid. I dropped my paddle. It should have floated, but it was cracked and sunk. River Guide caught my boat, guided me to shore, and then, we had to calculate what to do.
I had no paddle.
He grabbed a big stick for me. He told me to use it as a rudder.
Then, he followed me as I floated along in that big, inflatable kayak. At one point, I floated into a rapid backwards. “Am I okay?” I asked.
He nodded yes.
He didn’t look like he believed it.
Caleb and I didn’t have engagement photos taken, but my friend, Jen, took some unofficial ones for us.
We were standing next to the river.
We were standing on a rock in a stream that flows into the river.
We were on the river in a driftboat. Me rowing, Caleb leaning back and drinking a beer.
Caleb once tried to throw our car keys into the river as a way of terrifying me. We were on a deserted highway with no other keys.
They landed on a rock instead.
He once stretched out on to ice to save our dog who was trapped in the river.
I thought that I was going to lose them both, but I didn’t.
When Reed was a baby, I used to fantasize about throwing myself into the river.
Once, there was a man who sat on the bridge in my hometown without his shoes on.
Who would try to kill themselves from that bridge? It wasn’t even that high. Maybe a hundred yards, max. He was sitting above the shallow end.
He jumped off.
He survived, but broke both legs.
I never threw myself into the river, but I, too, am broken.
I am broken, but I hide it well.
The man I am involved with says, “I am afraid of fucking things up with you,” and I say back to him that I am magnificently fucked up myself.
Still, we both know that I am not as fucked up as him because, though I am broken, I hide my fractures well, and like the rest of the men I have dated since I left Caleb, he does not read my writing (which is where the fractures are revealed).
When I was in high school, my male friend jumped off the bridge during high water. He challenged me to do the same, but I wasn’t a strong enough swimmer. I made it–almost–to the side, but I couldn’t quite get there. I grabbed on to a branch. My face surfaced, then slipped back under the water. I could see the fear in another friend eyes. She was standing on the shore and couldn’t help me.
I finally managed to pull myself in.
That branch was stronger than I was; it pulled me to shore.
Wait, no. I pulled myself to shore.
There is no branch that is stronger than I am.
I have been scared of the river ever since, have dreamed of drowning, of being swallowed by dark water.
This summer, I had another frightening experience in a river, mostly due to my own panic. A new friend calmed me and guided me to shore.
I have dreamed of being swallowed by dark water, and while some of those dreams are terror, others are fantasy.
At the end of my marriage, I fantasized about killing myself every, single day. I knew how I would do it. I am not going to tell you how I would have done it because I do not want you to get any ideas, but I did not kill myself because of Reed.
Last summer, things ended for real between River Guide and me, and it was hard. I could have loved him, but he did not feel the same way about me. Still, shortly after that end, I went backpacking with my father and brother. We climbed, and climbed, and climbed. The landscape was rugged, and beautiful, and it was the first time that I had climbed a mountain with my father and brother in years. I never dreamed that I would be nearing 40 and single, but in that moment, I was so grateful to be in those mountains–with my father and brother–with the same kind of freedom that I had in my twenties before I met Caleb.
And as I climbed that mountain, I thought, River Guide taught me so much. River Guide taught me how to not fall in love with someone.
Because in my twenties, I fell in love with everyone, you see?
I am no longer that woman who loves every man I get involved with. I like them, and I respect them, but I have not loved anyone since Caleb, and because of how that ended, I am going to be cautious with my love from now on.
I am a sentimental person, an open person. I wear my heart on the outside of my body, and I can love so hard, but I will never love as hard as I once did, and that is a good thing.
I have not given up on love, but I am trying to give up on loving those who are not good for me.
I no longer love everyone I get involved with.
The man I’m involved with tells me that he doesn’t see me as a hook-up. He sees me as serious relationship potential, but he’s not sure that he really wants that either.
I want to say, But what if I don’t see you as either? Isn’t there something in-between?
I should probably give up on him. He is not afraid of hurting me. He is afraid of getting hurt himself.
I am not afraid of getting hurt because both he and I know that I am more likely to hurt him.
Maybe I am naive.
All I know is that, the other night, while I was walking home, just after having run into the man I’m involved with, River Guide sent me a text.
He wrote, “How is your summer? How is the book?”
And I wrote back a pleasant response, and that was it. There was no more.
I could have loved him, but I did not love him.
Though many would say that I gave up on him too late, I think that I gave up at just the right time. Only I knew when I was ready to let that dream go.
When I think of him, I do not think of heartbreak. I think of walking towards him as he walked back up from the river, of how he smiled and held out his arms, of how he kissed me. I think of how I felt that kiss all the way into my toes.
It was not yet the right time to give up.
We both knew when it was time to give up.
And though I undoubtedly should have given up on Caleb sooner, there are other times in my life when my persistence saved me.
The time to give up was not when I wanted to throw myself into the river.
The time to give up was not when I wanted to kill myself.
I never fantasize about killing myself now.
I no longer want to be swallowed by dark water.
I now want to surface the dark water.