This river. I know this river. More than just a little. First, from high above, from the bedroom window of my apartment in Washington Heights, the view greeted me when I first arrived to live in New York City. I watched storms come in over the water. I watched white caps form as the wind whipped the water. I watched ice freeze and float downstream in the winter. I watched for one double-masted, navy blue-hulled sailboat to return to its anchorage on the far side every spring, marking the beginning of the season.
I came to know the surface of the river from the decks of sail boats. I learned to watch the wind lines and wind shadows. I learned to doubt the trickster signs of wind that as often as not are current. I learned to guess at the currents, with some degree of predictability.
And I walked, many times, along the banks of these waters, talking, even arguing, with dear friends. The river is the backdrop, the foundation to my dear city.
Today I swam this river, for the second time, and further than before. The water is salty, but tastes clean enough. You can’t see through it. You can’t see through the Pacific Ocean, either.
Starting from the 79th Street Boat Basin and swimming north, I gauged my progress by the landmarks I know as well from land as from the water. The George Washington Bridge, just shy of the goal, was small in the distance. The last temperature reading I saw gave 67 degrees Fahrenheit at the Battery.
By the time I came even with Riverside church at 122nd Street, my hands and feet were numb. My brain tried to tell me that hypothermia was a valid reason for quitting. I thought of all the people who have thrown their support behind me. Again, and again, I thought of how I wanted to leave the water — across a finish line — and what I wanted to be able to tell you. The rest of me was warm and functioning in my wetsuit. I kept going.
I spotted the place where my old apartment building used to stand, since torn down. I began to suspect I might actually finish.
The little red lighthouse, namesake of this swim, came into view under the George Washington Bridge. I started thinking that the fastest way out of the water was across the finish line. The sky was blue, beautiful, and I was looking for a way out anyway. I remembered the words of someone who reminded me its all mental. It’s all mental. I love this river. I still loved it five miles into a 6.2 mile swim. I just had to remember that.
The current was strong, and in the right direction. It carried me, and I surrendered to this project and this river, my only job, as I was reminded, to keep moving forward.
The finish came none too soon, and I wobbled out of the water to find my daughter waiting. Someone wrapped me in an astronaut blanket. I washed the river off my body, out of my pores, out of my hair. This river that has carried me so many places, and always home. This river that I love.