The river of no return
The creek at the back of the lodge where I’m staying is swollen with flood. Dried leaves like brown stars fall onto the purling and curling currents, to be taken to a place called Away. I find myself embarking on a journey in my mind, to a place called the Past, far far away.
Rivers go to sea, never to return to their sources. Yet, once in a while, they do.
Born as a brook high in the Andes mountains of South America, the Amazon River gathers the waters of a thousand other streams as it makes its eastward journey across the vast belly of Brazil to the Atlantic. Despite its immense volume, the Amazon is a sluggish river. Along its middle and lower courses, the river channel descends a mere two millimeters per kilometer. This flat level bed, coupled with the river’s wide open mouth, renders the Amazon helpless against the inflow of tides from the open seas. Under the influence of the moon and the sun, high ocean tides known as pororocas override the Amazon’s current, barrel their way inland at top speed, and reverse the river’s flow as far as 1,450 kilometers upstream.
The past is such a river, flowing from yesterday to tomorrow. Yet, once in a while, through the power of memory and remembrance, we are brought back to places we’ve been to before, to people we’ve touched and been touched by.
Like mollusks cursed to carry their shells, like men damned to carry their crosses, we carry our histories with us wherever we go, wherever we are. The past is the river of no return.
My father died at the age of 83 when I was 40. Will he recognize the dear boy he loved to death if and when we meet again? Will he recognize me for the old man that young boy had become? Will I be able to do to him the two things I never did while he lived — hug him and tell him how much I loved him? How can my father’s love last this long and continue to shake and shiver me to my bones to this very day? How can the moon, so far away, do what my father’s love does to me even now, pulling on the waters of all the oceans on earth with such passion and such gravity? His love for me is the ink that never really stopped flowing, that never dries. When I am calm and collected, reflective and contemplative, I am this deep, deep lake, the direct imprint of my father.
I remember my mother for the many summers I spent as a boy in the lost Bangui of my affections, for the rivers wild and the mountains high she brought me to see. Who could have known that this strong-willed, beautiful woman would pass, just so, like a dry leaf, crumpled in my embrace, slowly getting cold? My mother’s love drives the gypsy and the vampire blood in me. When I am a waterfall, exploding and cascading in a spray of such wild orgasmic abandon and freedom, you’ll know I am indeed my mother’s son.
And how about you, my little one? How could this idjit have abandoned you to your fate just like that? You must be an old woman now, but I will always remember you as the fresh, just-opened flower you were when we were together. Even now, this far inland in the inner sanctum of my mind and 1,450 kilometers away from all points nowhere and everywhere, I can still smell the ocean scent of you. Memories of your love come to me at night, riding on the crest of a pororoca which inundates all the chambers of my porous and perforated heart. You must hate me as intensely as I hate myself for leaving you, and I must bring this sense of irreparable loss and insufferable grief to my gaping grave.
These countervailing forces shaped the person I had become — the reservoir and repository of all the waters I’ve hoarded in my long downward journey to the sea.
Even if rivers can sometimes flow backward, they cannot escape Destiny, the purpose for which we were conceived, for why we were created. I, too, cannot escape mine — the end of my river, the sea. Perhaps I’d be able to leave my footprints in the sands of time, bequeath some legacy of what I might have accomplished, in the form of deltas, sandbars, or islands. But I myself will have been lost forever, only to be found in a place not unlike the Sargasso Sea, its waters clear and blue, the skies bright and sunny, and the air so, so very still, an ensorcelled place where God is, to fulfill my final duty and destiny, to return to the love that made me.
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Antonio Calipjo Go, 70, is academic supervisor of Marian School of Quezon City.
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