Life is a River in India: Part Six
By Brett Paesel
Brett Paesel is the author of the Los Angeles Times bestseller Mommies Who Drink: Sex, Drugs, and Other Distant Memories of an Ordinary Mom. She has been published in many national publications, including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Salon.com. She has also developed television shows for HBO, ABC, Fox, Comedy Central, Lifetime Television, WB Television Network and Nick at Nite. Brett blogs weekly at lastofthebohemians.blogspot.com.
This story is excerpted from the literary travel anthology Lights, Camera…Travel!, published by Lonely Planet.
I heard the water rushing up ahead, but this time I was so focused on Murphy that my body barely tensed. I was empty of any feeling but ache for the boy. Murphy was sitting behind me, bare-assed, and I could feel his humiliation burning through my life jacket. The whole experience had been ruined for him, I was sure. He wouldn’t remember the exhilaration of rafting, Spencer’s triumph, or standing with his family on a rock in India. He’d only remember that he soiled himself in front of everyone. I was stupid for having agreed to river rafting. If we had been back at the campsite, I could have rushed him to the bathroom or we would have had a clean pair of pants. The guide in front of me started rowing faster. We kept pace. I didn’t look back. We hit the rushing water and used the oars to steer between the rocks. We bobbed and I could hear Spencer whoop. Rowing took all my attention and that was a relief. Muscles moving. Pulling the oar. Pushing away from the rocks.
After a minute or so, there was calm.
‘Stop,’ said Vinod. Oars out of the water. Keir, Pat and Spencer smiled. I looked back at Murphy, his expression unreadable, his bare legs soaking wet and goose-bumped.
Vinod said, ‘Does Spencer want to go into the banana boat?’
I looked at Spencer, reflexively anticipating resistance. ‘Sure,’ he said, tentatively.
‘I want to go,’ interjected Murphy. I looked at Pat. Was he going to say it? ‘But you have no pants, son.’ Had Murphy forgotten already? What was he thinking? I glanced back at my young son. He was smiling, already imagining himself in the banana boat. Had his embarrassment already faded? Or was rowing in the banana boat like his brother simply more important than pantlessness?
‘Yes,’ Vinod pronounced. ‘Spencer, then Murphy.’
The banana boat pulled up beside us and one of the guides stepped onto our boat effortlessly. We bobbled slightly. Instead of feeling anxious, I felt my body give in to the rocking of the boat. Then Spencer stood stiffly. Conducted by two of the men, he made his way haltingly to the front of the raft and was lifted down to the smaller boat.
The many pictures I took of Spencer in the banana boat substantiate my zeal to capture his awkward grace and determination. When it became Murphy’s turn, however, I slid the camera into my pocket so he wouldn’t be self-conscious as he was lifted up – sunlight bouncing off his bare ass like a beacon to anyone who deems themselves incapable of surmounting obvious obstacles.
Spencer might never be able to articulate why he chose that particular moment in India to climb a boulder. I was even less likely to find out how Murphy decided that missing the adventure would be far worse than his momentary embarrassment. But it reminded me of what I knew already and had forgotten that year: like a river, what propels us forward is far more powerful than what holds us back.
But we must choose it and let go. Every day.
This story is excerpted from Lights, Camera…Travel!, edited by Andrew McCarthy and Don George, published by Lonely Planet. Copyright 2011 by Lonely Planet Publications. “Life is a River in India” excerpted with permission of the author and the publisher. To purchase a copy of the book, click here.
For further information: Adventure Collection members offer a variety of India adventure travel packages and guided tours.