a river's width

There aren't many ways to get there from here. It's easy to underestimate the power of the Mississippi River until you realize that there are only four roads that cross Arkansas' eastern border. That's correct: four, for the entire state. Memphis holds two; the northern I-40 bridge and the southern I-55 bridge. Your next chance is a good bit farther south, in Helena, and your final opportunity lies at the southeastern corner of the state near Lake Chicot.

(We won't count the railroad-only bridge in Memphis, which technically makes five.)

Chris asked me tonight how large the Mississippi River was near Memphis, where I am accustomed to crossing, and I did not have an answer. I had no answer but "huge"—so large that even racing across it at 65mph, ten over the limit, I could not hold my breath from one end of the bridge to the other.

"When I crossed the Mississippi River that day, crossing alone for the first time, I drove with my knees holding the steering wheel steady while I yelled with joy and banged my hands on the roof of the car. I was a sophomore in college, and that was my first taste of what it was like to have the freedom of an adult—to go anywhere I wanted to go, without having to explain where or why."
—"She's home," 5 October 2000

It's a river large enough, even in this age of mechanics and man, to divide lives and families, and for the most part I've liked it that way. I had a life over there, on the other side of the river, and I came east and built another. There hasn't been much overlap between that life and this one, and when they meet, it is irrevocably strange for me.

I'm headed west, for five days of certain awkwardness, to a place on the other side of the river that I haven't seen in years. I don't know which has changed more: it, or me. I'm cautious; more than just my accent has changed, though it stands as symbolic as the river of the divide between there and here.

Saturday night will be dinner, drinks, and socializing with collegiate friends whom I rarely see; Angel will be in from London and Eleanor will in from northwest Arkansas. We will congregate at Colter's for a night undoubtedly full of things like red wine and truly tasteless jokes about all aspects of our college experiences.

The rest will be time spent with my family.

Tuesday afternoon I'll cross that river again, car pointed east over a river whose width I don't know, but whose effect on my life has been immeasurable.

Tuesday night, I'll be home. See you then.