For Ashleigh

“Careful!” I shout. “Rapids ahead.”

I turn my boat around, striving to paddle upstream. The river here is dark and deep. The current, strong, rushes the unsuspecting, headlong toward violent water. I know. I passed this very spot not long ago. Here I would have drowned, if not . . . if not for help from others now downstream.

River-force drags at my craft and thrusts me back downstream. Where I belong, I think. I’ve gained no distance with her, and she doesn’t hear my cries to turn aside or stop. Or won’t.

“Pull right,” I shout and wave my arms. “Take the safe way. There!”

Still, she barrels toward that spot, with the stubborn determination of her eighteen years. Set upon her course, her mouth is a snarl of challenge to me or whatever else would change her self-imposed destiny.

Helplessly safe in eddies below, I watch her charge toward swirls of foam and rock. She’s going to hit, I think, and I can’t do anything but watch.

Her boat catapults into the sky, and she is plunged into the swirling depths. I strike out into the force again, and struggle to reach her. Please, G‑d. Please, G‑d…I see her head as she surfaces. Baruch Hashem (Thank G‑d)!

By the time I get to her, she hangs upon the hull of her capsized canoe. But she is strong and won’t let go. Somehow, we fight our individual ways toward the sandy security of the shore. Struggling to maintain my own balance, I haul her sodden body halfway into my canoe. With one hand she still clings to the tie-rope of her own boat. While quiet water laps against the hull, I am the one who is moaning, as I hold her close, rocking with the rhythm of the boat.

Her head is bleeding from a minor cut, but her wrist is surely broken. Defiant and proud, she looks up at me as if to say, “I did it, Mom.” I think of countless times she shot down silver slides, crying “Look at me!” And I think of the time she snuck away, sliding down forbidden metal, because she wouldn’t believe the slide was broken. Her thigh still bears that scar. The price of disobedience. Or perhaps, just the price of independence.

These scars will also remain, I imagine, and though I try today, I am powerless to kiss away her pain. Soon, in separate barks we both will go on, for neither journey will end here.

But for now, two hearts will rock together—for just a little while.