recollections of my father falling into the Capilano River when I was four
I can’t make it to the top without the pull from my sister. The round rocks slippery from the green stuff that floats in the river keep makin’ my sneakers stick between. Mucks them up. I gotta hold hard to her hand and keep upright. One. More. Tug. Up! We get steady on a high mound of clay and rock sprouting huckleberry bushes. We sneak peeks at the river. From here it gushes water towards a waterfall, spitting mad, froth spraying
to the tall trees on either side. No more Daddy and Ex (Daddy names his dogs by the alphabet). Ex is his favorite dog in the whole wide world. Got him special delivered from Germany. He stays in the kennel ’cause he’s a stud, that’s a dog that makes puppies that are police dogs one day. They put food on our table. He gets to come inside for pets by the fire sometimes. Today for sure ’cause it’s Thanksgiving and we eat Yorkshire pudding ’cause Mummy’s from England. I peak at the river again and it punches my tummy so hard, makes all my fingers and toes stone-cold. Freeze! I make the river stop moving in my head. I let the crows keep flying. They’re looking. I know.
My sister’s seven and I’m four and three quarters but she’s not telling me what to do. Her mouth wide open, squeezed shut and wide again. No words come out. Her glasses steam and plops of tears fall over her jacket collar. I zip up my K-way and somethin’ big and strong in my mind whizzes around the back of my head, holds my legs straight, pulls up my spine and back again into my mouth where it takes charge of my words.
WE ARE GOING TO STAY CALM AND FIND HELP
I don’t know now, but I’ll remember later that was the most grown-up I ever spoke. My sister knew it. I peaked at the stupid river once more and marched real fast through the bushes on the skinny trail. She followed behind like I knew something. I flew like those crows. I watched me overhead with my orange knapsack on my back, hair mussed up, sister behind, her red hair frizzing out her hood. I flew high over everything and saw the canyon and deep green water strong enough to steal people. Clouds hanging onto every tree where crows bounced on skinny branches and
They saw Daddy! I cawe back. Growl it out from behind my throat. I scared my sister ’cause she gulps a cry.
WE NOT GONNA CRY NOW, OKAY?
I’m the grown-up now and forever I’m gonna be her older sister. It’s gonna hurt us for a long time but we won’t know it’s born here. I stomp in the skinny trail with tall huckleberry bushes, ones I pick all summer and eat up their plump red berries and fill my tummy and now are only wet leaves that smack me in my face. The trail s-turns upwards to steadier ground and finally opens to that big path I run on fast sometimes passing other hikers with backpacks on too and say hi and tell them, it’s okay if Ex jumps up, he’s friendly.
I pull my hood over my head. Zip it up like Mummy said. Big raindrops plop on my head. I like that game when I pretend to have an egg over somebody’s head? WHACK! With my hand on top? And I move my fingers down the hair so it feels like the egg broke? And the yoke is leaking? I’m real good at that game. Everyone wants me to crack an egg over their head in the cabin at the lake at Osoyoos. My sister’s super good at french braiding. All of us hang in the cabin with braided hair and crack eggs. This one time I felt a spider crawl up my tummy and screamed and pinched it and was too scared to move my fingers and Daddy turned on the light and pulled off my nighty with my thumb and finger not letting go of a dark mound of squish. He tucked me in and promised me it was the only bug ever seen in the cabin and I know he’s telling the truth ’cause I’m three and a quarter and he’s all grown up.
And he’s gone now. Lost down that bad river.
I squish my eyes and like a movie in my head I see it rewind and start again at my brown house with my yellow door and the lion knocker, down the hall with green carpet to my room with the wallpaper with yellow flowers.
I pull a sweater over my head ’cause I gotta be warm or else I can’t go to the river. It’s itchy on my neck and tight and stuck.
I CAN DO IT
Mummy pulls it over my head and it’s really stuck. It’s funny. I can see her through the little holes and she squeezes me tight and thinks it’s funny too. She makes me promise I will keep my jacket zipped up all the way, stay clear of the water’s edge, and stay close to my sister. Daddy’s already in the car waiting at the top of the drive with Ex in the back. My sister’s annoyed ’cause she likes books and sits in the gold chair in the living room a lot. She’s seven and she’s always cold. She asks Mummy about the Yorkshire pudding and Mummy tells us the gravy will be hot and we can pull off the tops and she will pour it in and it will be like little pools. I ask if there’s peas ’cause I think peas floating in a pool is funny, bobbing about with no way out until I eat them. Mummy says there will be peas. She puts my little orange knapsack over my arms and tugs it closed. She says there are Peak Freans in wax paper and I get to eat them at the river. I wonder if they are the chocolate sandwiches or the ones with raspberry in the middle.
We scurry up the drive and open the heavy passenger door to the Pontiac. My hood is on too tight and I can’t see when I turn my head. I stop to fix but my sister tugs me. I push back. Get off me! Sister’s are dumb. The car’s on a hill and the door keeps closing, she manages to get in but it closes before my leg does. I’m not crying ’cause I didn’t do it right so I’m not supposed to cry.
Ex barks and Daddy tells him to shut up in German. I can’t slam the door shut properly and we slide into the back as Daddy puts on the parking brake and comes ‘round the front, he has words to say and slams the door. My sister’s quiet and looks out the window. I kneel beside and squeeze her thigh. She squeezes mine. We play the squeeze game ’cause it tickles and wanna see who’s gonna beg to stop first. The windows steam up. I draw a heart on the wet and stare through its shape out to the trees flying by. I wonder if I’ll ever remember this moment and decide I’ll think of pink elephants at this very time and when I’m all grown up, older than Mummy I can think back to that time I thought of pink elephants and remember.
We park at the top of Capilano River across from the Chinese Restaurant. I’m allowed to have a Shirly temple there because my Daddy’s friend with the same kind of dog as us comes and he makes sure. Daddy gets mad ’cause sugar is bad for us. He tells us if we finish our food we can drink it. I try not to finish my Shirley Temple so I won’t get in trouble for liking it so much.
We run over the dam to Daddy on the other side where the trail starts. I can’t see over the edges and I don’t want to ’cause I was lifted by my Uncle Phil once and cried. It’s very far down. I run to get ahead ’cause he’s fast and Daddy doesn’t want to stop for us as the trail turns to the skinny one. I hear Ex bark and follow the sound down over the sandy hill and onto the spot I get my rocks, oh! I remember I get to find a stick for Ex and start to look in the huckleberry bushes for one but my sister already found a good stick. I cry just a little because it’s not fair I don’t get to find one too and she didn’t tell me she got a good stick already. She throws it into the pool. Ha! Ha! It’s not a pool, I know but the green is smooth and I can see all the rocks at the bottom and in the summer I want to jump in so bad. I’m gonna learn to swim when I’m one whole hand. Ex is going crazy. My sister’s throw goes nowhere and I tell her. Daddy takes the stick and throws it further. Ex goes out way too far to the other side of the pool. Ha! Ha! I said pool again. Ex grabs the stick and swims back but he goes nowhere. He stays in the water, stick in his mouth, and floats fast past us.
DROP THE STICK!
Daddy steps in the water a little and a little more to grab Ex but Ex is going and Daddy tries one last time, whoops! In he goes. Fast like that. Up to his neck. I drop my skipping rocks and they
by my feet. I don’t look ’cause I can’t stop watching daddy’s head plop on the top of the water, his eyes turn on me. I never seen that look before. I don’t know now, but I’ll remember that look whenever I excuse his angry for the rest of my life. There he goes. Over the waterfall. Like that. Gone. And I go too. Away from myself. Floating. My innards decide on their very own to be solid. Wooden like a puppet, the strings pull me
to the sky, the crows are my friends and they pull the strings with their beaks, help me be strong, keep me moving. They chatter and circle and fly low and lower and brush my head with their feathers and scream in my ear
I run. My sister huffs and puffs behind me and says something I don’t hear because I’m not going to stop and I won’t ever stop, I’m gonna run forever, run to things, run from things, run out of houses and cities and in and out of people’s arms, run from hard stuff that boils up in my chest and if I can’t run my head will tuck the urge deep inside and I’ll run there, I’ll run in my brain, I’ll go into the squiggly bits and run about there and I’ll forget why I’m always running but when I’m quiet, laying in bed, in the middle of the night, scared of the monsters under my bed and I squeeze my eyes real tight I’m gonna know my running started now.
I hit right smack into a grown up’s legs. Her face looks as scared as — well I only ever seen two adult faces be scared before and they are both today. I say things a hundred miles a minute as my sister comes up from behind and she repeats everything so they understand. Some of my words are good but I’m still little so some of them aren’t. I see the raven haired pretty lady tell the other we have to go to the parking lot and get us warm. I tell her over and over I don’t care if I’m cold ’cause my daddy is colder. She looks at me in a way I don’t know yet but I think the crows talk to her too. She leans down and touches my shoulder and tells me again they will get us somewhere warm. Somewhere far inside my thoughts, I decide I will never deserve to be warm if someone else is cold.
I squeeze my eyes and make it dark. I fall into the heavy.
I’m in a big red blanket. I only see my sister’s red hair ’cause her face is tucked in her jacket. I tell my sister we aren’t supposed to be in a stranger’s car. She tells me it’s okay today. The windows steam. I draw a heart with my finger.
Another lady gets in the car and tells us we should fasten our seatbelts. I can’t find it and my tears make it hard to see and I am still scared that I will get in trouble for being in a strangers car. She drives past the Chinese Restaurant and past the fish hatchery. I tell her that’s where I saw big salmon through windows before.
The dark won’t let me go.
Big red fire trucks.
It swallows me up.
Sister and I stand across the river from a cliff with Daddy on the other end of a rope, he waves, they tug and tug on him until he makes it to the top.
I’m in it’s tummy and it swirls me about.
Ex looks funny in that harness thing.
I will go here lots, deep down its insides and forget to return.
Back in the raven haired lady’s car. She looks at me funny. Sees me. She’s not a stranger.
My eyes are heavy and it won’t let me see back.
The back of my daddy’s wet head in the passenger side, he has our blankets. Ex is squished in the back.
I smell wet Ex, wet Daddy, wet blankets and that little tree hanging on the mirror. I don’t know this now, but I will smell that when I’m old and cry like a baby.
Ex sounds grown-up. He’s been through lots too. I rub his chin. My sister tells me about floating peas in gravy and a fluffy boat of Yorkshire pudding. I tell her I want a Shirley temple and Daddy tells me I’ll get lots.
I yell out loud I forgot about my Peek Freans! Everyone laughs. I wish I could say it again. I don’t know this now, but I will spend my life trying to make people laugh. I don’t remember pulling in our drive, Mummy hugging us all tight or the best dinner I ever did have in my whole entire life.