On a River by Annie Weaver
One of my earliest memories was spent on my dad’s boat speeding down the Ohio River. Our babysitter Joanna asked me to pass her socks and, not understanding the laws of physics at that age, I tossed them back to her, the wind carrying them far above her head and into the water.
We would spend our weekends and evenings on that boat, the Jalapeño, watching the river go by, sipping a Coca Cola, and listening to the FM radio as my dad pointed out the houses of people he knew.
I grew up on that river. It taught me how to find a home in my own hometown, and a home wherever else I ended up calling home.
When my parents divorced, my dad bought a house on the banks of the Ohio. In the absence of any toys or games in that barren house, my siblings and I would spend our mornings counting the number of barges that floated by until our dad would wake up and make us breakfast.
Once a year on my high school rowing team, we’d leave the Muskingum River behind and row our way into the fast current of the Ohio to race the barges travelling south with beds full of coal. The captains would sound their horn and wave to us out the window, both parties enjoying a short diversion from the monotony of rowing practice, or captaining a barge.
I was 11 years old when Hurricane Ivan travelled up the country and brought enough rain to flood our town. I woke up on a weekend morning to the edge of the river creeping through the cracks in our back deck and starting to lap against the house. We packed up our stuff and returned a week later to find the traces of the 5 feet of water that had flooded the first floor.
Hurricane Sandy hit the city after only two months of calling New York my home. The morning after the storm, my new friends and I descended 14 floors from our powerless freshman dorm to find a flooded East River and a few East Village shops handing out free pizza and ice cream.
On my second night back in Paris, I joined two of my friends on the banks of the Seine with a bottle of wine. We watched the sun go down from Ile de la Cité and inadvertently witnessed a man drunkenly stumble off of Pont Neuf and into the Seine. His friends jumped after him and emergency services arrived with a team of divers who were able to save the friends, but not the original stumbler.
I always resented that my dad would make me wear a life jacket every time we went on the boat. But in reality, drowning has always been my greatest fear and often woke me up at night after experiencing nightmares of drowning in the river.
The most effortless friendships I’ve ever made were between me and the eight other young women with whom I spent nearly every free moment rowing together three hours after school, and sometimes an hour before the day even began.
A week into a fellowship program in Cairo, I was bitter that I had to spend my birthday making small talk with strangers in Arabic on a felucca in the middle of the Nile—I hate celebrating my birthday, I fear small talk, and I definitely did not know enough Arabic to lead conversations of consequence. Much to my delight, that hours’ worth of terrible mingling turned into a year of many more joyful felucca rides.
On the morning of my birthday—I must have been turning 9 or 10— my sister came into my room at daybreak to tell the news that dad’s boat had been stolen and burned in the middle of the river overnight. I lay in bed and cried for the remainder of the morning. How could some stranger take that important strand of my childhood away from me? I cried as the local TV station made news out of it— you’d think that even a small town could find something more interesting to broadcast.
I guess the police identified the suspects based on the jalapeno string lights they found in an apartment downtown.
Annie Weaver a translator of Arab and French literature into English and has published a selection of short stories by Naguib Mahfouz, Ghassan Kanafani, Ghada Al-Samman, and others on Jadaliyya and in print. Born and raised in Marietta Ohio, she currently resides in New York, where she works at the United Nations as a Communications, Outreach and Sustainable Development Goals Officer in the Office of the Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth.