Dead River was a small creek hidden away behind a rundown mill building. It was a shit-hole when we were kids and it had only gotten worse the older we got. Time was its worst enemy.
Vines grew between the mortar. Each one widening the foundation, creating spaces. Pushing the distance between each brick further apart until a portion of it had collapsed.
“The cycle of life heeds to no man,” he said, smiling.
The river had created a sandbar in the area in front of the mill. As if nature itself had molded a path to the other side. The water level remained waist deep no matter the conditions. Only our age had shrunk the water.
Just past the mill was a section of the river that owed its name. A small basin where the surrounding trees had died. The decay had kept them there, untouched. Complimenting the crumbling building.
We always kept clear of it. Our superstitions masked by humor. Daring each other, one day, to swim past it. Neither of us expecting to call each others bluff.
He sat on one of the fallen chunks of brick and began rolling another joint.
“Could you picture a more perfect spot?” he asked, cheerfully. “I love coming here.”
“I’ll never tire of this place,” I whispered to myself.
I found a comfortable seat on an adjacent pile of rubble. He passed the joint.
Even under the debris of a dying building, this place remained beautiful. I took a drag and handed it back. This went on until there was nothing left.
“You ready to swim?” I asked.
He paused, puffed out his last hit and shook his head.
“I suppose there is no time like now, my friend.”
The river was clear, cold and pure. A man could cleanse himself of the dirt on his feet, or the sin in his soul. A cold redemption, a sobering experience.
I began to shake. As if the frigid water had seeped into every fiber of my body. I had to shut everything out of my mind and focus on regulating myself.
“You know, shivering is a form of meditation,” he shouted from the mill.
His words cut my focus. I had to start all over again.
I said nothing. I stood there, waist deep with my arms crossed and eyes closed, shaking.
“This will pass,” I muttered to myself.
I was able to block my senses. The sound of the creek, the birds in the trees, even him. It all went quiet as I acclimated.The white silence.
My shivering began to fade. Soon after that, it stopped.
He reached into his pants pocket and pulled out two cigarettes for us. Then he walked in the water with ease. His reaction to the cold wasn’t nearly as reflective as mine.
“Here. Focus on the fire. Get a grip on yourself.”
The cigarette was warm. The smoke had filled my lungs and calmed me down. The nicotine comfort.
At this point, he began to shiver. He acknowledged it with humor.
“The temperature never changes. It’s always freezing, man. Shit,” he laughed. “Every time we come here, I think I’ll be ready for it, but I’m not.”
“Shivering is a form of meditation.”
He laughed as if I had caught him.
“Yeah, well at this point, we should be zen masters.”
I sunk myself into the water slowly. Every inch submerged felt like pins crawling further and further up. As if my body was waking up for the first time.
With the water now up to my neck, I could feel the ice-like headache rush up the back of my skull. Sharp at first, then numbing.
My ciggarette was out. Just an unlit filter held between my lips.
The wind began to gently rustle the leaves. A sense of clarity, peace, and silence had quelled the noise. It was no longer myself shutting out the world around me, the world, for a moment, was silent.
He turned to me.
“Well, friend. I think it’s time we catch up.”