Missouri – May 2015
*In Dante’s Inferno, the lowest circles of hell are frozen.
A couple months ago, Emily and I decided to meet up halfway between Dallas and Peoria. That meant southern Missouri, and Emily quickly suggested we bring more of our friends and have a Memorial Day Weekend float trip extravaganza. There were eight of us in total, and on Saturday morning we sat around the table in our rented cabin/one-bedroom-apartment checking our weather apps.
“It’s 55 degrees now,” Emily said, “but it’s supposed to get warmer as the day goes on. It’ll even get up to 80!”
“It’s raining,” Abby said, pointing at the window.
“It’s supposed to stop raining,” Emily assured us.
The other seven people had roadtripped together from Peoria, and I was told that there was a quiet car and a dance car. I chose the dance car, and we rocked out to “Shut Up and Dance,” “Billie Jean,” and “Awake My Soul.” I was pumped.
Emily was our business representative, so while she took care of money, I took care of getting people out of their coats.
“It’s cold,” Ashley said. “And raining.”
“But when we get on the water it’s going to be great! And you don’t want to have to worry about a coat. James, take it off. Joe, take it off.”
One other group of America-bedazzled twenty-somethings were going on a float trip at the same time. They had five coolers of gin and beer to our one filled with water and Gatorade. “Everyone pile into the short bus!” our driver insisted.
The back of the bus was already packed with frat guys, so I asked the girl with braids and a bandanna headband if I could sit next to her in the front with Abby. “Pack in tighter!” the driver said. Abby moved to sit on top of three of our friends so that David could fit next to me. We took off up the river pulling a trailer piled high with inner tubes. The girl next to me kept spinning around to shout at her boyfriend in the back, and David explained to me how, thankfully, the sun has a greater gravitational force than all the spiders in the world, and the driver sang along to, “Should I stay or should I go?” It was all a little surreal.
Five minutes later, we stood on the bank of the river, dragging our tubes close to the water. “Who wants to test it?” Daniel asked. Abby waded in, then shrieked and leaped back to dry land. We delicately and quickly got onto our tubes, trying to avoid the water as much as possible. Every time someone settled into their seat, letting their butt sink into the cold water, a mini cry of horror would erupt. We bungeed ourselves together and let the current take us slowly away from the river bank.
“Well, this is fun,” James remarked, already shivering.
“Anyone want something to drink?” Joe asked. Everyone shook their head vehemently, the thought of cold insides as well as cold outsides unbearable.
And then it started to rain again. Our spirits were flagging, and Daniel said, “Uh….”
“Did you drop your phone?” David asked. Everyone spun to see what was happening. Daniel leaped from his tube, and David followed, holding us all stationary so we didn’t float away.
“I’ll call it!” Abby said. Ashley and I climbed out of our rafts and tried to peer into the two feet of water, but the current made it almost impossible to see beneath the surface. The rain poured harder.
“It’s useless,” Daniel said several minutes later. He was right, but we tried to convince him otherwise. Eventually we all clambered back onto our tubes, thoroughly soaked by the river and the rain. James was shivering so intensely that he looked like he was vibrating. Abby was perched on one edge of the raft, crying silently into the river.
“We’ve only been out here for an hour,” Emily said. “There’s like, two more to go.”
We sank into sullen silence.
“This is miserable,” David admitted, “But if I have to be here, I wouldn’t want to be here with anyone else!”
This inspired a few cheers, though Abby continued to sob quietly.
“That’s it,” Joe said. “I’m pulling us down this river.” The other guys followed suit, and soon our little bungee-connected raft was moving quicker down the slow-moving river. This became our routine: when the water was shallow and the current moved quicker, everyone perched awkwardly on the rafts, straining ab muscles in a vain effort to avoid touching the river. When the water was deeper and slower, the guys braved the frigid current and pulled us along, shaving off 30-45 minutes of our interminable float trip.
“Would you rather!” Joe shouted during one break. “Would you rather…”
“Kill yourself now, or wait until later?” Abby asked.
We all laughed, and she cracked a smile. The rain had lessened, and despite the occasional breezes that made us all shiver, the worst was behind us.
“There’s this phenomenon I learned about in counseling,” I said, “called trauma bonding. People who go through something horrible are drawn closer together by the end of it.”
“We are so trauma bonded,” Abby agreed.
Finally, finally, we saw the bridge that meant we were close to the end. We all cheered, clambering out of our tubes and trudging onto dry land.
We mumbled lies, hurrying back to our cars and the towels waiting for us. I put on my jacket, sighing with happiness at being wrapped in something warm and dry. The car that had once been full of dancing and singing drove back to our cabin, this time sharing memories of the horror of our afternoon.
“I cancelled tomorrow’s float trip,” Emily said.