Mile 399 Lower Mississippi – December 2, 2012
A flash of white light and everything went from dark to bright. My head snapped to look. The light seared my eyes. No, no, it can’t be, I screamed, but the barge was almost on top of me in the night.
I was a fury. My heart thumped inside my chest like it would shatter my rib cage In two beats every nerve lit with adrenaline. My skin burned. My muscles surged electric. All weariness faded away.
I flung myself forward, paddling like a madman hung in that glowing white light. The paddle spun through the air, pulling, pulling, pulling for that far shore, that damned line of trees that never seemed so far away.
I’d been so careful. I’d watched the barges, waited for them to pass. I saw this one just a moment ago, miles away, working around a distant bend. How, how had it gotten so close so fast?
But the night plays tricks on your mind. It tells you things are far when they are close and close when they are far. Everything is just a point of light moving against other points of light.
Yes, I saw that distant tug, but what of its barges, what of the 1400 foot long cargo strung out in front of it. The prow’s a quarter-mile ahead of that blazing white light and that white light is on top of me.
I didn’t look anymore. It didn’t matter that I once thought the barge was far away. It didn’t matter that I wished I had waited. I couldn’t explain my mistake to anyone. I could only pay for it. So I didn’t look. No, nothing mattered beyond the black outline of trees on the far bank.
My body, my soul, I flung everything at them. Mad with fright. Fighting for my life. Knowing that the difference could be just a few feet, just a few inches somewhere in the darkness.
Not here, I thought, not this way.
I fought for them, for those inches, with every ounce of my soul, full, full, full of furious love for this mad, mad life.
Then the light flicked away. I looked over. The barge was still a mile off in the darkness.