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As I went down…

The melody wakes her, stirring her from her sleep.

… to the river to pray

She opens her eyes. With the first movement of her tongue in her mouth she remembers last night. The sharp, dry taste of dehydration and alcohol distilled within her body from the night before propels her hand to a nearby glass of water.

Studying about that good ol’ way…

The water tastes like blessed purity incarnate as it slides down her grateful throat. Truly, she doesn’t feel too bad considering last night was NYE. She checks the clock. 7:18am on the morning of a fresh new year.

And who shall wear the starry crown?

She glances at the sleeping form next to her. Her sometime lover boyfriend Joey breathes heavily, deeply knocked out from his inelegant binge drinking the night before. She watches him with a strange sense of detachment. He actually deigned to spend the evening with her last night, despite the many other parties he was invited to. He acted like it was a grand favour to her. Little prick. It would be easier to break this habit if he weren’t such a clit-blowingly good lay.

… Good Lord show me the way

The song is starting to push its way rather insistently into her consciousness now. She listens, but it isn’t audible. It is coming from somewhere inside her. Why? She’s hardly religious, and she doesn’t recall ever being taught the lyrics to this song. Hadn’t she seen it in a Cohen brother’s film once, maybe? The tune keeps at her.

O sisters let’s go down…

She isn’t going to sleep at this rate. She shrugs out of bed and pushes the bedroom door open. The living room is strewn with the bodies of his friends, her friends; two embraced together on the couch and several sleeping in bundles of blankets on the floor. Empty bottles lie around like stinky trophies of debauchery. Her stomach lurches. She tiptoes to the bathroom for a much-desired shower. The warm water feels like angels kissing her party-weary flesh, cleansing her long hair, washing away the sins of the night before, the year before, the many, many years  of sins before.

… let’s go down, come on down

She needs to get out of this apartment, the life sucked out of it by the drunken atrophy that hung here in the air. She pulls on a pair of jeans, a t-shirt and flip flops, and wanders wet-haired out into the fresh January air, without bothering to leave a note.

O sisters let’s go down…

She seems to know where she’s going, determinedly walking past the hipster-laden cafe at the bottom of her apartment building, ignoring the siren call of the warm scent of coffee on the breeze and heading into the backstreets of her trendy suburb. Yes, she knows where she’s going.

… down to the river to pray

Straddling the city, dividing it into separate camps of North and South, the river rules this place. The strongly salinated serpent writhes and twists its way across the land, as bridges and highways meekly bow and scatter out of its path. It was here long before her, and it will be here long after, but she’s been fortunate to live on nearly every side of its banks.

As I went down to the river to pray…

Cyclists tear past her as she gets down closer to the river, the air filled with soft giggles from the nearby Children’s Farm. She descends a set of stone steps and suddenly is swallowed by the wilderness of the National Park. She walks a good couple of kilometres, taking in the greeness, letting it wash through her. Any thoughts of Joey dozing in her bed, of her friends, of the tequila shots she did last night, are long gone. She’s just there, a small dot in something far greater and vaster than herself or her questionable lifestyle choices.

… studying about that good ol’ way

Eventually she finds a little spot to sit, right on the bank of the river. She doesn’t think, she’s just drawn there by osmosis and down she plods in the grass. It seems natural to think about the year that has passed, and the year to come. She’s never been a “resolution” person really, but the new year was always a chance to reflect. She’s not thrilled with what she sees. Lucidly, she’s unsurprised when the tears start to form, warm and sharp behind her eyes, and soon enough flow freely down her face.

And who shall wear the robe and crown?

Her mind is drawn into focus, to a place she usually resists with all of her might. It is drawn, inexorably, to the memory of the only man she ever loved more than the fantasy of love itself. The years since have been littered with living, breathing testaments to the mistake she made in saying goodbye to him. She’s been running away from that reality ever since and suddenly, it slaps her in the face. The parties, the drinking, the inappropriate, unavailable men - it has all been distraction, keeping her from getting over the loss of him. Truly, he is gone from her, and she’s never really accepted it.

…. Good Lord show me the way

The tears are coming hard and fast now, and she surrenders. She welcomes them. Her lips move almost independently of her conscious thought, but she absorbs every word.
“I miss you. I miss you more than I can bear… but it’s time I let you go,” she hears herself say. The syllables sprinkle on the wind. Goodbye.

O sinners let’s go down…

She must stop running. This isn’t what she wants her life to be. She pictures herself as a very young girl, sitting here crying on the riverbank. A sad, neglected girl, taught that her charms are all she has to recommend her. She feels ashamed and horrified, hugging her legs tight to her chest.

… Let’s go down, come on down

She grieves. Time passes, but it is inconsequential. There is as much of it for the taking as she needs. At some point she is roused back to walking, breathing, functioning once more. Of their own accord, her feet eventually turn back home.

O sinners let’s go down…

Everyone has left by the time she gets back, except for Joey. Shirtless on the couch, lazily smoking a cigarette, he could be pulled from the pages of a women’s magazine. She studies him dispassionately. He holds no beauty for her any more.

The break up dance ensues, complete with crying, rationalising, apology, misplaced affection and finally, acceptance.  He holds her in his arms for a long time before he leaves. At the sound of the door closing, something inside her softens and breaks. There is a subtle magic in that breaking. 

She catches at her face in the hallways mirror as she walks back to the living room. She looks like shit. She looks like she’s been through a war. She looks strong. She looks like a person she could really grow to love.

She drops to the floor. Knees on carpet, face on knees, tears on tears.

… down to the river to pray.

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