Hungry River by Cyndy Cendagorta
I was born next to a hungry river. I was swaddled at St. Mary’s Hospital on the banks of the Truckee and bundled across the Virginia Street bridge on the ride home. My childhood best friend George was swaddled at the same hospital and bundled across the same bridge, to a house right down the street from mine. I cross there today, with children of my own, but George never returned from his last trip to the Truckee when we were in high school. He was a child who died in living water.
I never thought of our river as hungry until it swallowed George whole, until he breathed water instead of air. He and some friends doused themselves in Jim Beam and waded into its cold waters on a sun soaked June day in 1989, as blissfully unburdened by fear as they ever would be. We were only sixteen when George deflated like an accordion in our river, a whiskey drenched wisp of a boy riding a dollar store inflatable into the next life.
Since then, the Truckee has defined me, a liquid sundial marking the end of my childhood and the beginning of my adulthood. Within its banks I find the almost inconceivable permanence of death, and a passionate reverence for life, in the paradoxical way the indifference of nature nurtures our humanity. The Truckee my time scape and timekeeper, marking the passing of hours and years the only way it knows, in velocity and meters per second of flow. I now understand that for it to stop for George would have been as unnatural as young death, another loss. The loss of love for our beautiful river would be one loss too many, so I continue to hold on, and wade in.