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The River Diaries

Monday, June 19, 2000

Today after many days of walking but not writing, Perry and I made our way down to the river. Today I am alone, truly alone, the way one is when someone who has called forth a new way of loving, one that seems to so honor life, has left for a very long time. The day is cool, a gray pause before the searing sun returns on Thursday. The river ripples with its own life: a huge barge, long and low in the water, moves smoothly up its waters, heading for the upper reaches of the state. My body does not feel well; cancer, the illness that is being beaten they say, has its organic hold on me, and I carry its immortality-longing cells along with me, as I take life from the river. We walk down past the tennis courts, empty, puddles of rain water collected in the red clay surface, past the turn-off to the upper levels, down to the place where the wooden-and-iron railing stops and the river is just a short slide away. Here we are unprotected, and I keep a careful eye on Perry, knowing that he would not have the strength to pull himself up onto the rocks if he should follow his desire and try to drink from the river. Soon I leash him again, just for this more dangerous passage. I wonder if he appreciates this safety.

Dianne has returned home to Melbourne. She walked with us the other day, her last look at the river. We had promised each other an uninterrupted year together; for six months I lived with her in Melbourne and then because she had taught more than her share, she could come home with me. Thus we saw the seasons together, hers in the Southern hemisphere and mine in the Northern. In the winter’s first snowfall, she threw her head back and caught snow flakes on her tongue. I told her of Richard Wright’s haiku of a black child catching stars of whiteness in his mouth. I had felt the chill of a Melbourne winter and then the blaze of early summer, swimming with the Carlton footy team in the neighborhood pool.

Dancing with Di near the ocean in Devon, England, under a cloudy and darkening sky
A year we wrested from illness and work, from too little money and too little time and too vast a world, but we grew deep in our love, laughing and doing, struggling for the world we wanted with our comrades, in the streets of Melbourne to protest the suffering of the people of East Timor, here before the United Nations to protect the gains of the Beijing Conference on Women and to protest the police brutality against people of color that is sickening my city. In this year, I have learned every inch of her face, of her body. All her difference lives inside of me now, along with the cancer, all her spirit of character, her direct gaze at what life offers, her strength that holds me in the dead of night. I carry the gifts we gave each other with me as I walk along the river. And no matter how sick I may get, I have moved forward like the river, rippling with life.


© 2000 Joan Nestle

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