The River in the South Hills

I believe my relationship with my adoptive father changed in my eyes when he threw me across a river in the ‘south hills.’

We lived in Twin Falls, Idaho at the time, and I’ve tried to recall exactly how old I was… I suspect I was 11, I believe this was in the summer of 1985.

Our church had coordinated a forest retreat, held in the area colloquially known as the south hills. In any other part of the country, these would be called mountains. Idahoans pride themselves on being of a sturdier stock than the rest of the country (except, perhaps, Alaskans) and the attitude toward these smaller mountains was that they were ‘no Sawtooths.’ When I make these references, I want to stress that these are attitudes I absorbs unknowningly, that the quotes could have been said by any of the adult men in my life at that time, and that I was a compulsive eavesdropper. I use quotes to distinguish the phrasing, which I do recall quite clearly, even if those who uttered these statements are otherwise forgotten.

I am at times relctant to move forward with explaining to people what happened – it was just my dad and I on the edge of a mountain walking a trail away from the camp. As we walked, the area moved from foreest to high prairie, with a river with a rock and pebble bed. I wanted to go back to camp – my friends from church were all there, and I preferred playing with them to wandering on trails with my dad, even before the incident. I remember asking him if we could go back instead of crossing the river. He said we could cross, and he would throw me across first. I again asked him not to throw me across the river. He insisted, and made me put my right foot in his hands. He had interlaced his fingers to make a pocket, and as soon as I placed my feet, he stood up, flipping me head-first into the rocks a few feet from where he stood.

I awoke to his voice, saw blood and water in front of my face. I had a cut on my forehead, just beneath the hairline on my left side. I was bleeding profusely, I remember seeing red, through the pain, for the first time. My dad sponged my face off with a wet handkerchief, then tied it around my head ‘like Rambo’ I recall him joking, before carrying me back down the mountain to camp.

By the time we returned, apparently I had become visibly washed out. I remember that one of the women at the camp was a nurse, and she placed several butterfly bandages across the wound. Later, when those bandages were first removed at hom in the kitchen, I would watch a good cup or so of blood fill a metal saucepan. My mom removed the butterfly bandages a week later, and re-applied smaller bandages before I started school.

I do not know if they were keeping the injury secret. I know I feel as though they may have been doing so, although it is also possible that they believed the nurse at the camp, and never thought to check me for a concussion or a brain injury. I do know that this is the incident that comes to mind when I think about the shift in my appreciation for my dad as a positive presence in my life. Pervious things that he had done, which I still find traumatic, I understood then as part of his magical domain of influence – riding in planes, or working on tractors, or the time he crushed my hands in the garage door that collapsed because he bucked the tractor – those moments were dealt with as raw bad luck, something that happened purely as a lesson from God. It was the memory of pleading with him to go back, then being injured anyway, a future I knew clearly was about to transpire but was sent into… brutally, it seemed… that was the pivot.

I began to question all of it.

It, in this case, being the position I held within my family, my religious community, the school I attended, the books I read (or was allowed to read). I don’t know if there were cognitive impacts as a result of this early head trauma. I do know the blow was significant, and to this day I still have a lightning bolt of a scar high on my forehead, acquired long before it was fashionable.

I do believe this is one of the events that put me in a constant state of anxiety and distress.