Necklace of Stars

Canoe 06 PNG 77%

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Her kayak leaked, so we swapped. I insisted. Dressed in Pertex and fibrepile I will not get as cold. I end up heavy and waterlogged but so what? Her shrieks of joy as she hits the bore are abundant reward. I haven’t seen her so happy in ages.

For a moment she’s lost in the surging wave; all I see are flashes of paddles in flying water.

Swamped, wallowing and overwhelmed by surf I head for the nearest riverbank. We had spoken to the locals, the veterans too, and gone exactly where they felt we would have fun and not be either disappointed or over-taxed by the tidal wave.

Jay is a competitive sprint canoeist. I’m nowhere near as good – never having put myself into the insane situations she’s prepared to tackle. She’s done the whole lurking by glaciers thing, waiting for tsunamis as thousands of tons of ice collapse into the sea only a couple of hundred metres away – and dodging crashing towers of ice roaring up around her.

Problem: Jay hates life, hates living and wants to die by misadventure. Her lifestyle is about setting up our family for the inevitable.

Problem: I’m not far behind her in wanting to get out of this bloody existence.

She has learning difficulties; life is an unbearable struggle for her and always has been. She wakes up wishing she hadn’t. I have an organic mental illness. There is no cure for my condition, only palliative treatment – a toxic medication which will eventually leave me brainless, speechless, dribbling and uncoordinated. Jay and I survive on our love for each other and the financial and practical support of our family. It’s a tragedy that we are both highly intelligent and adventurous … and considered unimportant and a burden by our own culture.

We have our little flat, our food, our electricity and can live OK. We have each other and share our wildness, successes and chronic despair.

I will never meet another person who is such wonderful company as Jay. She’s my sister and has always been the best person in my life. As a tiny child I looked up into the night sky and was filled with awe. Jay is one of those stars, or will be.

She doesn’t mind when I make a kayaking mess of everything and need to be rescued – sometimes half drowned. She doesn’t mind when she’s so desperate and I’m the only person who can keep her from razorblades and packets of pills. She shares her worst moments only with me, bursts through my bedroom door or sends panic texts when the world gets too much. When she finds my grass, and she always does because she can smell it, she puts it down the toilet before I end up depressed. I’m an unstable and shattered rock for her to cling to – but I’m a trusted rock who gets to her in time. For these reasons we are always very near each other and never lock doors or anything.

Her absolute trust was only gained by my promise never to stop her going into danger. I’ll lose her one day. Maybe in years, maybe in seconds. Every day we share is a jewel, a star, and I fight like mad for there to be another to add to our collection. But once she dies I can go too. I will never tell her that. She needs to die without yet another source of guilt or shame.

The momentary jewel right now is seeing her glance over to check I’m safe. I am safe, in a scrabbling sort of way, as I clutch tree roots and climb to safety while using a foot to stop my kayak wandering off in tidal entropy. I smile and wave like I’m happy but she’s not fooled. I can’t keep anything from her. She’ll come over soon and give me my medication – and a bit extra. Neither of us trust me to take it properly even on a normal day. It’s been high-octane activity all morning and afternoon – and my happy smile was a bit too desperate.

She’ll join me. When she’s checked with a finger in my mouth to see if I’ve swallowed my tablets properly – she’s the only person I allow to do that – we’ll carry the kayaks and our gear up to the road and walk to fetch the car.

After returning and loading everything up she’ll drive and I’ll struggle, through medication-hazed and sluggish thoughts, with navigation. We’ll end up dozing in a motorway service station.

Midnight will come with us nursing cold coffees. One of us will tap the other’s hand and say, “Another day, another victory, another brilliant set of jewelled moments to add to our lives. We’ve made it to another morning.”

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©Gary Bonn, 2017

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