THE TROUBLE TWINS ON THE RIVER
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Twins are usually born at the same time to the same parents. Maternal twins look-alike. Fraternal twins don't. Enough said to cover most situations.
There are some twins, however, who are paired more by attitude and aptitude than by the sharing of a womb.
I should know, I live with a pair – a mother/son duo known as the Trouble Twins.
These two share far more than their red hair and freckles. They are constantly on the same mental wavelength, have the same slightly sadistic sense of humor tempered by a compelling depth of compassion, and most importantly for this story, have the same panic quotient.
I'm blessed to be married to one and step-father to the other. However, there are times ...
Dell is Trouble Twin #1. We dated for three months during our junior year in high school – long before Greg, AKA: Trouble Twin #2, came along. Depending on who you ask, it is a toss up as to who broke off the relationship after that tempestuous quarter year of raging teenage hormones and mood swings. It is agreed, however, that she was too bossy and I was too weird for the young relationship to last.
The years following high school past rapidly along with life and other relationships. Dell and I lived parallel existences completely unaware of the other’s presence on the planet. I had no children of my own, but Dell was blessed to bring Trouble Twin #2 into the world.
Eventually, sixteen years after our break-up, fate joyfully intervened to bring Dell and I crashing back into each other’s lives. The timing was perfect. She was still bossy, and I was still weird, but hard earned maturity had brought us to a sympathetic understanding of these characteristics.
Trouble Twin #2 was, of course, part of this perfect picture. A sweet child with a happy disposition and a penchant to definitely be his mother’s son. If two beings were ever related it was definitely Trouble Twin #1 and Trouble Twin #2.
A year later, Dell and I were married, and I found myself blissfully confronting the challenges of being a step-parent to Trouble Twin #2, who was now seven years old. I never regretted missing out on those first years of Trouble Twin #2's diaper changes and midnight feedings – not my thing at all – plus as a new parent, it was a benefit to start out with a child who was already on my intellectual level.
Our outings and vacations together during the next couple of years were always fun and enjoyable, but often reflected the safety and comfort of our daily lives – adventure was a word applied to taking a new route back to the hotel, driving around a new environment with no specific destination in mind, or the cosseted, controlled world of Disneyland. A nature hike was considered a thrill ride – whoowee!
Its true the constant, loving bickering of the Trouble Twins added a certain spice to our activities, but there was none of the excitement of physical risk taking. For an Adventure Magazine guy like me, this was a challenge to change.
Not realizing I was asking for problems, I began trying to involve the Trouble Twins in more actual adventurous adventures. This had little effect, however, on breaking down their ingrained better-safe-than-sorry-look-before-you-leap protective/defensive instincts.
Finally, while on a safe family adventure sitting around the pools at the Hyatt Regency Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona, Trouble Twin #1 picked up a pamphlet espousing the gentle meandering of Arizona’s Salt River. “This looks like fun,” she said.
My optimism leapt. River Rafting! Fun! Oh, yeah! Let’s do it!
Then I looked at the pamphlet. Not rafting, but floating. Not rapids, but ripples. Not rafts, but inner tubes pushed along on the current, buoyed by the river's heavy salt content, which was dense enough to float a battleship. Still, if the Trouble Twins were willing to put their toes in the water, so to speak, I wasn’t going to discourage this burgeoning spirit.
Now, I have to explain that water – other than hot water – is not a natural environment for this pesky pair. Trouble Twin #1 floats, but doesn’t swim. She loves water, but has a deep rooted fear to the point where she won’t even put her face under the water in the shower.
Trouble Twin #2, who was now nine, also had his tribulations with water. Not wanting to pass on her own water challenges, Trouble Twin #1 enrolled Trouble Twin #2 in swimming lessons from a very early age. So, by the time we cautiously approached the Salt River, Trouble Twin #2 had taken beginning swimming three times, but still didn't quite realize the idea was not to drown. In the water, like many other areas, it was a case of Trouble Twin genetics.
Our day trip to the Salt River started with the usual hoopla. First there was the ritual slathering of 5,000 SPF sunscreen over every freckled Trouble Twin body part that might possibly be exposed to the sun for several seconds.
Next, an over-sized beach bag was stuffed with towels, books, magazines, changes of clothes, purses, wallets, maps, keys, and everything else short of industrial blueprints, a twelve drawer auto-repair tool kit, and the entire Library of Congress.
The beach bag was placed by the door, and Trouble Twin #1 started cramming an ice chest with sandwiches, drinks, and enough fruit to keep Attila’s hordes regular. Gallons of water in plastic containers rounded out our consumables.
Finally, with hats and sunglasses pulled down and secured, we braved the path to our car like celebrities on the run. In the dry, intense heat of the Arizona sun, sliding into the car’s furnace-like interior and setting bared limbs on searing upholstery was almost enough adventure for one day. Still, we proceeded – on schedule, determined to have a real adventure.
Ah, yes, our schedule.
Schedule is a dirty word when I go on vacation, or at least is was until the Trouble Twins popped into my life. My idea of a good time was going to a comfortable resort where my every whim would be catered while I sat reading book after book. This, however, is not the TTW -- the Trouble Twin Way.
The TTW involved scheduling and that other dastardly vacation word – planning. Determined not to miss a thing, Trouble Twin #1 would spend the weeks before vacation finding out as much as possible about where we were going. The search produced the information piles, which in turn produced the dreaded lists.
The lists would eventually take on mythical proportions as each item on each list was completed and crossed off. There was The Things To Do Before We Leave Home List, The Things To Do As Soon As We Get Home List, and the most important list of all – The Things To Do While We're On Vacation List.
This list will grow and grow the closer we get to leaving. It grows again when we arrive at our destination and Trouble Twin #1 is turned loose on the hotel's selection of advertising pamphlets promoting outings and adventures.
Over the years, I have come to regard this procedure as good thing – after all it did lead to our Salt River excursion and many other cool outings – but it required a definite change of outlook for my stubborn personality.
But, I digress –
Our arrival at the Salt River Tubing Headquarters fortuitously occurred during a lull in business. Several bus loads of school kids were just hitting the river full of noise and rude banter. Having them floating ahead of us was far more desirable than having their cacophony constantly floating past us or pushing us from behind. With the kids on their way, and no other customers waiting in line behind us, the river would be relatively quiet.
We stripped down to swimsuits and water shoes and proceeded to the rental counter. The first order of business was the signing of liability forms followed by the purchase of a small, plastic container on a neck cord to securely hold car keys, cash, and ID. Next came the actual rental of the huge, black rubber inner tubes, and the strapping on of life jackets, which turned us into relatives of the Michelin Man.
We rolled our inner tubes down to the river’s edge, waddling along beside them. Both Trouble Twin #1 and Trouble Twin #2 could not resist bumping their tubes into each other with malicious giggles. I should have seen tribulation on the horizon, but I was blissfully unaware – we were going rafting! Okay, floating, but it was as close as we were going to get.
Tripping and pushing at each other, entirely in their own world – population 2 – the Trouble Twins plopped their butts into the holes in the middle of the inner tubes.
I sighed. Patiently, I explained they needed to put the inner tubes into the water before sitting in them. Sitting in the tubes on the ground at the edge of the river did not qualify as floating.
Treating me as if I was making human sacrifices of them, the Trouble Twins rolled onto their bellies and wiggle out of their tubes like worms on hot concrete. Trouble Twin #1, the supposedly more mature of the pair, could not resist poking her counterpart. Trouble Twin #2, of course, received this small poke as if it were a thunderbolt causing him to fall off the edge of the tube with wails of dismay.
Waddling into the river, I held Trouble Twin #1’s tube in the shallows as she carefully lowered her butt into the center, squealing as the cold water made contact with her tertiary areas. Holding Trouble Twin #1’s hand as the current tried to drag her away, I steadied Trouble Twin #2’s tube with my other hand. Full of fun and youth, Trouble Twin #2 bounce into his tube, broke away from my grip and floated off into the river.
“He’s floating away! Get him back here!" Trouble Twin #1 wailed as the achingly slow current carried Trouble Twin #2 about three feet away from her sphere of physical control.
“Relax,” I said, giving Trouble Twin #1 a gentle push forward. The twins reached out, shrieking and grabbing on to each other’s extended extremities as if they were heading for the edge of Niagara.
I grabbed my own tube and flopped into it. With a couple of quick hand paddles, I caught up with the twins hooked a heel over each of their tubes, and we were on our way.
A gentle calm descended on our happy little trio – yes, a trio. There were times when the Trouble Twins allowed me, their blond-haired step-triplet, to join the inner circle.
The heat of the Arizona sun baked us and we marinated ourselves with the murky river water flowing coolly beneath us – bliss until the current noticeable increased as we approached a bend.
“What’s that sound?” Trouble Twin #1’s sonic hearing abilities picked up the rushing of water over rocks ahead of us.
Around the bend, the river shallowed and gently rippled over the uneven bottom. Our inner tubes bounced and twisted through the miniscule white water with the Trouble Twins screaming with the horror of kids safely in a theatre watching a monster film. And then we were through the rapids and back to gently floating.
The Trouble Twin were delighted. The adrenaline rush of the three yards of river ripples was coursing through their bodies.
“Let’s do it again.”
There was a problem with this idea. The river was now three feet deep, with the current moving slowly on top. But the river was wide, and beneath the surface the current moved with unerring force. Trying to paddle back up the river was completely ineffectual, and there was no obvious place to climb out along the heavy vegetation of the river banks. I could stand up in the middle of the river, but trying to walk back against the current was hard work.
I convinced the twins there would be more rapids, and we continued our float down stream.
Two more whoopdedoos, as the twins christened the short rippling sections of the river, and we were really having an adventure. This was fun. We were toasty from the sun, cool from the river, and enthralled by the experience.
Of course, it was too good to last. It wouldn’t be an adventure otherwise.
The river began to shallow again and our butts bounced along the sandy bottom. We were floating backward, unaware for the moment of the sudden increase in the pace of the current.
Finally hearing the rising sound of rushing water, Trouble Twin #1 spun lazily forward.
DOO-WAA! DOO-WAA! PANIC STATIONS! ALL HANDS ON DECK!
The water ahead was picking up speed, drawing our giant inner tubes along faster and faster. Another blind bend in the river was approaching, preceded by an island of tall reeds splitting the river’s flow around either side. The Trouble Twins immediately lost all physical contact with each other’s tubes, both flailing around, attempting to paddle to the same side of the oncoming island.
I tried my best to instill calm, but my efforts had the same effect as trying to keep monkeys calm during feeding time at the zoo. Of course, my efforts were not helped by the loud rushing sound, three times more thunderous than any we had previously heard, giving promise to a major whoopdedoo immediately around the bend.
The Trouble Twins shifted into full-blown terror.
Trouble Twin #1 Dell began reaching out and screaming at Trouble Twin #2 Greg – who because of his lighter weight was speeding ahead.
“Slow down! Paddle backward! Stop this instant!” Trouble Twin #1 insisted. This was about as productive as asking the river to turn off its current. All it really accomplished was to send Trouble Twin #2 into an even higher tizzy.
Trouble Twin #1’s next demand, “Do something!” was, of course, directed at me like this was all my fault – hey, she was the one who picked up the pamphlet. But, of course, it would be my fault if anything went wrong.
I popped out of my tube, stood up, and pushed off the shallow river bottom. Within a couple of seconds, I was within grabbing distance of Trouble Twin #2, an instant away from securing his inner tube and restoring order to our procession. This, however, would not have suited the situation.
Seeing me coming, Trouble Twin #2 sabotaged my best efforts by popping out of his own inner tube and standing up. This would have been a fine solution except for one thing – unlike me, Trouble Twin #2 didn’t think to hold on to his inner tube.
The black, air-filled, rubber tube sped away down one side of the island, unencumbered now by Trouble Twin #2’s weight.
“Get it! Get it!” Trouble Twin #1 yelled helpfully.
Pushing off again with one arm wrapped around my own tube, I took off in pursuit of Trouble Twin #2’s runaway float. I stretched out, pushing my tube ahead of me with both hands, and cruised around the right side of the island. The current sped me along, but the runaway tube still rounded the blind bend well ahead of me.
I had to do something fast. If I didn’t, Trouble Twin #2’s inner tube would be fished out of the river several miles ahead, at the Salt River
Tubing's landing area, and be rented out again before I could get anywhere near it.
I began to kick strongly as I rounded the bend only to be confronted by the promised whoopdedoo. A mass of surging white water stretched for ten yards down the river. It wouldn’t even register on an official rapid scale, but it would be enough to give the Trouble Twins the thrill of their lives – that is if they ever reached it.
Where were they? They should have passed down one side or the other of the island by now and at least been in sight behind me. I had more pressing concerns, however, as I sprinted straight through the white water and made a desperate lunge for Trouble Twin #2’s inner tube as it bounced from side to side without benefit of guidance from a captain.
Relax and go with the flow through the remaining white water!
Once through the rapid, I stood up holding a tube under each arm. The water was three feet deep, the current strong, but not enough to knock me over. It was enough, however, to make standing in place difficult, and make any headway back up river almost impossible.
I looked back toward the white water, holding up Trouble Twin #2’s tube in triumph. It was a nice manly gesture, but unfortunately there was nobody there to see it. The Trouble Twins were nowhere in sight.
Oh, oh . . .
I stood fighting the current, waiting for the Trouble Twins to float together around the blind bend, scream their way through the whoopdedoo, and catch up with me full of breathless laughter and giggles.
No Trouble Twins.
I stupidly called out, realizing my voice wouldn’t extend around the blind bend over the noise of the rushing white water. I called out again anyway.
No Trouble Twins.
I was having difficulty holding the awkward tubes while maintaining my position against the current. I think I swore softly, but I won’t swear to it.
I tried fighting my way upstream, back to where I’d last seen the Trouble Twins. My exertions took on an edge of desperation knowing neither of my beloved duo was good in the water. Despite the knowledge they were both wearing life jackets, I was feeling the beginnings of my own panic.
There was no way the river was going to cooperate with me. At the edge of the white water, I knew I couldn’t get back any further while still in the water. Dragging the tubes sideways, I sloshed and forced my way to the river’s edge.
The bank stood two feet above the water with reeds and vegetation making exit difficult. Still, I gratefully tossed the tubes up onto the bank and, now unencumbered and feeling light enough to float on air instead of water, I pulled myself up into the weeds.
Gasping for breath, I didn’t wait to rest. I grabbed the tubes and began trotting back toward the blind bend. Once past the beginning of the whoopdedoo, I plunged back into the shallows of the river as it was easier going than fighting through the vegetation on the river’s bank.
I rounded the blind bend at an ungainly trot, unbalanced by the tubes. The island splitting the river came into sight.
No Trouble Twins.
I was now running through the rapidly shallowing water, splashing about like a deranged pack elephant. Then, I finally spotted Trouble Twin #2. He was standing at the top end of the island, his back to the water, legs spread for balance, arms reaching out to either side, his hands grasping the tall reeds for dear life.
There is no doubt I was very relieved and happy to see him. However, this pose, which would have been appropriate had he been standing at the wheel of a ship in a major storm, struck me as odd since he was only standing in SIX INCHES of water.
I started to take a deep breath, but then it struck me I couldn’t see Trouble Twin #1.
I sploshed my way to Trouble Twin #2’s side, and there she was, Trouble Twin #1, still sitting in her inner tube, snugged into the reeds as Trouble Twin #2 kept her corralled in position. Both of them had their eyes squeezed shut.
“What in the world are you two doing?” Perhaps not the best question in the circumstances. “I’m so glad you’re both okay,” would probably been more appropriate, but the sight of these two huddled together in the reeds in six inches of water after I’d exhausted myself dragging back up river bewildered me to say the least.
“You know we can’t swim,” Trouble Twin #1 said.
“You left us,” Trouble Twin #2 said.
So this was somehow my fault?
“You’re in six inches of water!”
They both opened their eyes and looked accusingly at me as if asking what facts had to do with anything.
“You’re in six inches of water. Let go of the reeds and float down stream.”
“But there’s a rapid,” they wailed together.
I finally took that deep breath, and then smiled. “You bet,” I said. “There’s a major whoopdedoo ahead. Here’s your tube, kid.” I gave Trouble Twin #2 his runaway tube. “Try and hang on to it this time.”
I loved these two characters with all my heart. Who needed risk-taking? Life with them was a constant adventure.
Trouble Twin #2 released his death grip on the island reeds and plopped happily into his tube. Still standing, I grabbed on to his right foot to stop him from floating away.
Sticking my free arm through my own tube, I secured it over my shoulder. In a balancing act worthy of a circus performer, I reached in and gently pulled Trouble Twin #1 back into the current. Her hair was soaked and bedraggled, every trace of makeup washed off her face. I thought she was beautiful.
“Come on,” I said to the pair of them.
“Hang on to me, and we’ll get through the white water, no problem.”
With squeals and giggles, the Trouble Twins and I zipped back into the river’s grasp and headed for the rapids.
Adventure is where you find it, and with these two you didn't have to search very far.
This story was finally put on paper
during an intensive
week-long writers’ workshop
lead by Orson Scott Card
7/8/2002 – 7/13/2002
Those who critiqued it
found it hilarious.