Riding the Rapids

My friend, Jen, gave me an icy cold Squirt in a can, yesterday. I haven’t had a Squirt in years. Like I can’t remember when. It was so good, especially in this 111 degree heat. Squirt reminds me of my childhood, which I seem to have been avoiding. My dad used to call me Squirt. If we went to a restaurant, that’s what I would order. And Tab. Remember Tab in the pink can? My mom used to buy that. If we were fancy, we put a lemon wedge in it and had it on ice. We had those glasses that were like mason jars but they had a glass handle. I remember drinking Tab in the pink can on a raft, floating down the American River. Rafting used to be one of my mom’s favorite things to do in the summer. We would get up early, pack our lunches and ice chest full of Tab and maybe box of white Zinfandel, Franzia? The pinkish one? Or California Coolers. Maybe beer? Was it Budweiser? It was a party on the river. Usually someone would rent a big raft and then we would have to carry it to the river. Those things are heavier than you think. I remember the hot sand on my bare feet cuz I hated the feel of sand in my shoes. I remember the muscles in my arms and shoulders burning…just a little bit farther. We would meet various people, all my mom’s friends. I was usually the only kid. Or at least the oldest. I don’t remember other kids that regularly went rafting. I do think I remember when my mom took my Girl Scout troop down the river. See, mama tried. I remember hanging onto the raft while getting into the water to pee, in between our raft and her friends’. The ice chest had its own inner tube, tied to the raft. I was the Go-fer. They played music and drank and got wild on the river. In teeny tiny string bikinis. They were in their 20’s and early thirties, single, and beautiful and fun. They were doing what they were supposed to be doing, at that age, in that time. Most of them didn’t have kids in tow.

I liked those rafting trips. I loved the water. I was a fish. Part mermaid. When your head is underwater, you can’t hear anything. The noise stops. Try it, you will see what I mean. I would swim back and forth against the current, no life vest. Sink or swim. All by myself. Quiet. In my head. I was strong. But when we got to the rapids, I hated it. I hated the turmoil. I still do. I’m a run into the fire kind of person, but I don’t like it. Adrenaline feels like anxiety to me. We would put our life jackets on just before the rapids and my mom would make me paddle at the front. First into the rapids. She would shout directions at me from the back. “Paddle hard! Harder! Now on the left! Paddle! Paddle! Now right!” It felt so stressful to me, and I was afraid.

Nothing bad ever happened to us on those summer days. But, like the life we were living, the adrenaline catches up to you. Always feeling that fight or flight takes a toll. Just because someone can handle the weight of the world, slay their own dragons, and ride the rapids and survive to tell the story doesn’t mean they are unaffected. It doesn’t mean the turmoil didn’t happen. But it does mean you were taught how to steer a raft through the goddamn rapids and if you were ever on Naked and Afraid you just might survive because of that. Badass Bitch Club. Pros and Cons to being the daughter of a single mother. We are quite self-sufficient.

We don’t need anybody.

But that one 80% good day in the water gets drowned by the repeated bouts of turmoil. It’s like the whole Disneyland Dad thing. In my case, the Scandia Dad. Just because a trip to Disneyland or a day at Scandia is so much fun you forget all the bullshit for that beautiful day, for that moment with your face in the sun, waiting for your turn on the race cars, holding your daddy’s hand while he looks down on you and smiles and you know he loves you and you only have a couple more hours with him before he takes you home and oops, down the rabbit hole I go…

I remember a day at Scandia exactly like that. I remember how you got that black stuff in the corners of your eyes after you drove the cars, with the wind in your face. And my dad always smiled at me. Always. Even when he knew I was ashamed of him.

Where was I? Yeah. Disneyland Dad. That one day at Disneyland doesn’t make up for all the other days they weren’t there. Even when they love you. One 80% happy day on the river doesn’t make up for all the other days when shit didn’t go right. When the damage was done. Some damage can get swept under the rug and walked over and everyone moves on. Most families do this everyday. Everyone has dysfunction. Everyone. I’m not special. But some damage cannot be repaired. It can be set aside. You can let go of it. Give it to the wind. Close the door. Or leave it open so the air can move freely, in and out of your mind and it doesn’t hurt to keep it in anymore.

That’s what I’m trying to do.

Blathering my guts out. So I don’t have to carry the weight of it anymore.

Back to what brought me here. Beverages. So far you have learned, if you are following along that is, that I have a special spot for Tab, and Diet Dr. Pepper. And California Coolers. And Budweiser. But the real real bestest beverage of all time is the Shirley Temple. Sometimes a Roy Rogers. But with at least two cherries and made with the maraschino juice instead of grenadine and a tiny cocktail straw and a twist of lemon, just the peel, not the juice, just to make it pretty, while sitting up high on a barstool at your grandfather’s bar, playing dice with the old men.

And a pile of maraschino cherries on a cocktail napkin as a sidecar. And yes, I can tie the stem in a knot with my tongue.

Those were my childhood happy days. Partying on the river with my mom and her friends, swimming without a life vest, and sitting at the bar with the regulars.

Wonder what my kids’ would say their childhood happy days are.

I bet they are the same days as the happiest days of my life.

🖤

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