Life is a River in India: Part Three
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.
From nowhere, the water started to rise and rush ahead, carrying the boat forward. There was no way we could stop now. The roaring river had a momentum that could not be tamed by our flimsy oars. Jagged rocks jutted out of the churning water. Waves slapped against every surface – boat, rock, oar. Water sprayed into our faces. I couldn’t see. We crashed up and down. Up and down. Oars struck rocks. How were we hanging on? I didn’t know. I couldn’t feel my ass. It had been the only point of contact between the boat and me. For all I knew, I was no longer sitting. I wanted desperately to bargain with God, but I couldn’t think of words. Up and down. Couldn’t form a thought. Up and down. Up and down. Thank you, Jesus – I was still in the boat. The children must be too, unless no-one wanted to scream bad news at me over the pounding current.
And soon. Very soon. Calm.
I held my breath and listened for more rushing water. My skin prickled. I could smell my own fear.
‘Stop,’ I heard Vinod say. We all lifted our oars out of the water, my pulse still pounding.
‘Whoo-hoo!’ whooped Spencer behind me. ‘That was fun! Let’s do some more!’
‘Yeah!’ shouted Murphy.
What? That was it? How did it get so quiet, so fast? The boat drifted. The two men in the banana boat up ahead smiled back at us. I turned around to see the kids beaming, barely damp from the spray. Pat and Keir smiled like they’d just finished a satisfying meal.
‘You see?’ said Vinod. ‘Difficulty, zero.’
Difficulty zero? What was a ‘one,’ I thought? Niagara Falls? I looked back at the water we had just navigated. I had to admit that it looked like a very wide babbling brook, a couple of birds perched comfortably on small rocks. How could I have so misjudged the experience? Had my inherent fear about anything more physically challenging than leaning over to pick up a dropped potato chip altered my perception that radically?
‘Row,’ I heard Vinod say. ‘We can stop on shore here.’
Thank God. Land was exactly what I needed. Time to pull myself together before the next rapids. I dipped my oar into the rippling water and reached and pulled with the others. I had known all along that I wasn’t the river-rafting type, I told myself. Maybe I should accept my limits rather than push past them. I didn’t have to be victimized by my limits like I was in the past. I simply needed to respect them. Make friends with them. After all, my lack of youth, height and glossy hair limited my ability to make a living as a supermodel. Sometimes recognizing your limits was healthy and reasonable.
We pulled the raft ashore and Vinod told us that we would find the ruins of a seventeenth-century hunting lodge at the top of the hill. We followed him up an overgrown path. The ground felt solid beneath my feet. I liked this. I knew this. History. Ruins. Dirt underfoot.
In barely ten minutes, we came upon a couple of turrets flanking a small room. There was a fire pit in front and a shrine to the Hindu god Rama off to one side, newly painted orange. Clearly the lodge was still occasionally used by campers or hunters. The shrine looked so matter of fact and I was impressed, afresh, by what I had noticed earlier in the trip – the Hindu blending of the quotidian with worship.
‘Up here!’ Vinod called down from what appeared to be a concrete or stone mound about ten feet high. ‘You can see the river.’
Murphy scrambled up to join him. I glanced at Spencer. Ever since he was a toddler, I had anticipated his fear of heights. He had difficulty even climbing a short slide on the playground.
Through the years, I had looked at play structures and immediately assessed, ’He’s never going to make that.’ I had watched him place a foot on the bottom rung, stare up at the monkey bars, and freeze. When we rode escalators, I had to lock eyes with him so that he didn’t accidentally look down. Each time, every time, he balked or gave up entirely, his head hung heavy with defeat. At every new challenge, my heart had skipped a protective beat as I struggled with how to soften his disappointment with himself. This is where I found myself. Poised to comfort, I stepped forward.
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.
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