The River and the Imaginary Variable

I was raised on the banks of the Saline River in Benton, Arkansas. My “home” was a miniature distributary where the water was just calm and shallow enough to settle in cozily. My “food” was giant sycamore leaves I called fish.

It was where I learned to tread water. It was where I caught the winds of gusto on a rope swing. It was where moving water was the only thing that could be heard and all that seemed to pass; where time stood still. It was where my grandfather unearthed a 900-year-old Caddo tribe dugout canoe, a reminder of the sacred space the river represented to a people who no longer called it home. It was where the presence of God hovered over the waters throughout the suffocating heat and humidity of Arkansas summers. And it was the best entertainment that my 20-nothing-year-old hippy parents could offer three, restless children.

I’d wade into my belly button, and the shock of the cold would take my breath away. Like apple pie à la mode, the contrast was too delicious. The smell of grilling meat and Budweiser original, that raw, earthy smell of clay and weeds, and the sound of smooth rocks grinding underfoot still evoke nostalgic comforts to me to this day.

But as I got a little older, I began to feel pangs of resentment. I hated how all of my friends and their families swam at the country club pool while we were the rednecks at the river. I was embarrassed when friends would ask where we swam. I was desperate to be a country club girl, but I knew there was no cash for the frivolous, especially when we had our own swimming hole down the road. As I grew lanky and self-conscious, I began to notice things that made my experience seem even more deplorable, like how all of my swimsuits turned brownish and how we had to swim in old shoes to protect our feet from any glass debris that a tornado might have brought in the water. I tried my darnest to make my mother feel guilty for taking us to the river instead of the chlorinated square in concrete where all the upper crust belonged.

The river began to represent what I longed for, but didn’t realize I already had.

I had my first child on the outskirts of Tokyo, Japan five years ago. I was already a fish out of water in a very otherworldly culture, but becoming a mother miles away from my family with a husband gone half the time felt a lot like sink-or-swim. When the muggy Japanese summer rolled around, I caught myself in a full circle moment.

Read more of this story originally published at SheLoves Magazine

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