We were boys, 16 maybe 17, and newly possessed of ancient desires. Our ill-defined hungers for something slippery, pulsing, and mysterious were poorly met by the confines of our asphalt and strip-mall world, confines erected by sensible elders to keep us in the navigable middle channel and away from the rapids. But being boys, and 16 or 17, we cared not for the sensible. We wanted what we wanted, and so we rebelled. In our rebellion we went to her.
She was older and infinitely more worldly. Lifetimes before accepting our infatuation, she’d born Charlottesville, raised it, and lain entwined with the cul-de-sac, and office park agents of our frustration. She’d opened her bed to our would-be corrallers. The city planner used her like chattel, and the captains of industry did dirty, dirty things with her. But to the lust-blind eye of teenaged need, she was unsullied sanctuary and clandestine confidant; she was our refuge, our river, our Rivanna.
Rods in hand, we visited her in stolen hours. We snuck past backdoors, hid behind hedges and, when necessary, strode with feigned propriety across open stretches of private property to meet her, whereupon we inevitably suffered a hic-up of uncertainty, palms sweating with suspected inadequacy, the tendency towards flight an artifact of recent childhood. But we were 16 or 17, no longer kids to our thinking, and so we pushed forward and down, surrendering to her embrace. She tugged at ratty sneakers and whispered behind bare thighs, spurring us to wade where we could, insisting that we give ourselves to the current where we must.
The whip cracks of impatient backcasts punctuated our come-ons. Wind knots ran rough shod through our sparse allowances. Riverside oaks and sycamores collected poppers and streamers like Christmas tree ornaments. Yet amid our naïve exuberance and tactless flailing she accepted us without condescension, and even – once in a great while – rewarded our efforts with smallmouth bass. And oh what a reward! For the wildness starved adolescent, the aspiring explorer fenced among the tame, what better gift than participation in the pounce of the predator? How better to ascend from a manufactured and sterile suburban universe than to cast a lifeless bit of string upon a pagan altar and watch it brought to life? In these transformative hours doing was swapped for being, thinking for sensing, conscience for consciousness. Hers was a fine bit of alchemy.
And so bewitched, perhaps we saw her not as she was but as we needed her to be. Discarded tires and half-buried shopping carts weren’t the scars of a checkered past; they were good structure. We wasted no time railing at residential deforestation and Chem-Lawn runoff. Rather we swam the dead stretches and tallied the challenge in our adventure ledgers. Through tannin colored glasses we boys shared a co-dependant fantasy with our Rivanna. She was not innocent, and we wanted not to be. I can imagine no finer match.