Into This River I Drown - By Tj Klune
part i: grief
A man came to a river at the end of his life,
and there he met the River Crosser, who helped others to the far shore. The man asked the River Crosser why he had to leave so soon. The River Crosser told him it was because there was a design to all things. “Where is the design in grief?” cried the man at the end of his life. “What does it have to do with me? I still have family to care for! My son!” The River Crosser looked at him with a melancholic smile that did not reach his eyes. “You will see,” he said. “Soon, you will see all things clearly.”
you and i
To meet my father, you’d have to go for a bit of a drive.
The town I live in is not exactly the epicenter of the known universe. I can’t even say it’s on the outskirts. You know that type of place that you drive through on a road trip to more exciting places, the kind that you have to scour the map for just to find out where you’re at? You pass a worn sign on a highway (that you don’t know how you ended up on and you can’t seem to find a way off)—Roseland, Oregon Pop. 876. Established 1851. Elevation 2345 ft. Gateway to the Cascades!
Exit 235A will be up on your right, almost buried behind pine trees. If you don’t know it’s there, chances are you might just drive right on by, never the wiser of the town that lies a mile to the north.
From 235A, you’ll hit the only road into Roseland—Poplar Street. You’ll probably notice that the road feels a bit bumpy under the tires of your car. It hasn’t been repaved in God knows how long. The city council has said year after year that it’s just not in the town’s budget to have Poplar Street resurfaced. It’s more important that we keep the town afloat in these trying times. It’s hard to argue against covering pot holes as opposed to closing the library. In that, the council is always right.
“Council” makes it sound a lot more important than it actually is; really, it’s just Mayor Walken and Sheriff Griggs making the decisions. And by that, I mean it’s Sheriff Griggs; Walken hasn’t had an original thought since 1994, when it was said he decided to quit chewing tobacco and take up smoking instead, because it was a healthier choice, especially if you smoked the ultralights. Now, the cigarette companies can’t call cigarettes lights or ultralights anymore, as it seems they all still cause your lungs to turn black.
I tried a cigarette once, after asking my Aunt Christie for one when I was
seventeen. She told me to take it around the back of the house so I wouldn’t get caught. She slipped her bejeweled lighter into my hand with a smile and a wink. I hightailed it around to the back, put that cigarette between my lips filter first, and lit up, taking in the deepest drag I could. I swallowed the smoke with the intention of making it come back up and out my nose (because it would look so cool). But it only took a moment where my throat worked to push it down into my lungs, where the smoke hit my lungs, that I realized I was not destined to be addicted to nicotine. I started coughing painfully, smoke pouring out of my mouth in gray bursts. My eyes watered as I started to gag. I dropped the cigarette onto the grass with the intention of grinding it out with my heel, but my body had other plans, retribution for the poison I had put in me.
I threw up all over my shoes. The cigarette went out with a hiss.
Great gales of laughter poured down from above me.
I spit onto the ground, trying to rid my mouth of the excess saliva flooding my
teeth. I wiped my face with my sleeve and turned to look at the cackling loons above me. In the window, staring down, were four faces, all so very similar, lit up with delight. What was different was the way they laughed. Aunt Christie shook her head as she snorted, her curly blond hair hanging down in her face. Hers was a low, throaty chuckle. On her left were two of her sisters, the youngest of the group, my other aunts Nina and Mary. Theirs was a high-pitched giggle, a sound that should grate