two years ago, when nothing was settled and everything was unknown, i wrote this. the man had not committed. the old life lay in pieces at my feet, and i was facing an intense year of graduate school followed by… well, i had absolutely no idea what was coming next. all i knew is that the familiar was gone, there was nothing undergirding the risk i had chosen to take, and i stood accused of lying about everything i had ever thought i’d believed.
is a dream a lie if it don’t come true?
or is it something worse that sends me down to the river, though i know the river is dry?
“the river” is a song of regret, of longing, and of total resignation. things held so much promise once. but then, that one night down by the river, things changed forever, and our hero and his girl succumbed to their destiny. [for the sake of argument, we won't get into why getting mary pregnant was "all she wrote" when the song was written in a post-roe world, but that's a discussion we could have as well. but i digress.] and just like that [snap!], the dreams they concocted together evaporated, vanished right into the air. they’re sad, and they’re stunned, and they have no idea how to get around what happened to them.
it seems to me that the major thing that happens that transforms you from an adolescent to an adult is when you finally wake up one day and accept the limitations of reality. in other words, you really cross the threshold from kid to grown-up when you recognize that certain things can’t be undone. when it hits you that once some doors close behind you, they are closed for good, and no matter how hard you try, you can’t get them open again. and when those realizations don’t make you angry and petulant, you really know that you’ve arrived. when you realize that the die is cast and set about making your life happy and comfortable inside those parameters, that’s when you make it into the adult club.
this sounds kind of pessimistic, kind of doom-and-gloom. but i don’t think it has to be. people start getting into trouble when they don’t see things as they actually are. i mean, like i said once, i borrowed close to $200,000 to go to law school and become a tax lawyer. i can’t just blow it all off and go work at a bookstore now. i took radical steps to attain a certain type of professional life. my reality is set by those parameters now. it’s limiting, but a) it’s a self-selected limit and b) would that we all had the problem of being limited by having the job we set out to get.
now all them things that seemed so important
well, mister, they vanished right into the air
now i just act like i don’t remember
mary acts like she don’t care
sometimes i get the feeling that it’s already too late to do some things. y’all ever experience that? the sense that, in the words of steely dan, “the time of our time has come and gone”? part of this comes from the strange time horizon of the relationship between me and the man: the different things we’ve been to each other, the deep intensity and long duration of the bond we’ve had over our lives, and the complete paradigm shift that each of us has been to the other. when i wrote my first meditation on “the river,” a lot of questions had formed, but hadn’t even been asked yet. and a lot of life choices that i thought had been locked down were being dug back up and reexamined through a new, shaky and uncertain lens. experiences that seismic take awhile to settle down.
some things seem really important. some things ARE important. the man and i have a very real set of limiting parameters around our lives. we are no longer at the point in our lives where we can stand together, gaze into the future, and see neverending possibilities. our course has pretty much locked in for the next two or three decades, unless another seismic shift kicks in. and what keeps us from lapsing into despair over these limits is the fact that it doesn’t have to be a sad thing to say goodbye to the possibility of whatever. we can place priorities on all those things that seem so important. we can gather in what we can, create the future we want within the parameters that are available to us. and if it matters enough, we can make those things happen.
it’s not that the river is dry. the dreams that didn’t come true aren’t lies. they were choices that just weren’t made, and the time of those times really has come and gone. the river is just moving. that’s the thing about rivers: they move. and they carve new paths, and they change the places they run through. it’s on us to make sure that we make the absolute most of the course we’re all on. embrace the choice, accept the consequences. take action when you can. don’t tilt at windmills. and dream the dreams that won’t break your heart.
that’s how you know you’ll be okay.