A few years ago, I went kayaking with a couple of friends. I mostly planned the trip; I was the one with experience.
About four paddling hours into our weekend, the other girls want off the ride and I’m not sure we’ll all make it through to the end. Someone is going to drown herself if she doesn’t start following my instructions. Or I might leave them all for dead. Or they’ll mutiny and try to go on without me and not one of us will live to tell the tale.
As navigator, I’ve taken responsibility for our itinerary and taken possession of our maps. I am also in charge of our supply of iodine tablets. Iodine is naturally-occurring chemical element used to purify water, ridding it of giardia and other creepy-crawly parasites. I concede to the eleventy-millionth request for a break when we get close to a water source.
I have the brown bottle iodine tablets ready in the dry-sack in my lap. I also have the yellow bottle of neutralizer tablets that come in the same package. They’re supposed to return iodine-treated water to its natural color and taste. They don’t work—they make water taste like powdered plastic—and also, they’re for pansies. I’ve decided that I’m tough enough to drink water with a metallic-tinge to its aftertaste, and I won’t tolerate otherwise.
We shore up our boats and hunt around for the spigot. Its caked in green corrosion so thick in some spots that the chemically-tarnished water has solidified layer by layer in drip-drop form. There is an advisory fixed to the faucet—the screws that hold it in place are green, too—right by the handle so that I have to wrench my wrist backward and kind of slip my thumb out of the knuckle-joint to reach around it and work the pump.
The sign says: NON-POTABLE WATER NOT TO BE USED FOR DRINKING, WASHING OR COOKING PURPOSES. CHEMICALLY TREAT OR BOIL NON-POTABLE WATER FOR 30 MIN BEFORE DRINKING, WASHING OR COOKING.
I’ve always resented water-purification. I resent the waiting. I resent that I can’t trust natural water sources. I resent tainting something that looks and smells and sounds so pure.
I fill up my pink Nalgene and break out the iodine. I tap out two tablets from the little brown bottle and pass it around to the others. Explain their purpose. Glance at my watch and note the time. Happy to comply. Ready to CHEMICALLY TREAT NON-POTABLE WATER FOR 30 MIN BEFORE I sip it or brush my teeth or even rinse the gravel out of my bikini bottoms, Girl Scout’s Honor.
I have two tablets bleeding in my damp left hand. What looks like undiluted Easter egg dye stains the creases in my palm, my life line, my wealth line, all my whatever-else lines, as I fold them in there and use my left fingers to push the sippy-top away from the mouth of my Nalgene, which is slippery in my right hand.
Left hand: tablets. Right hand: bottle. Left hand: tablets. Right hand: bottle.
This pose is so familiar to me, I could be blessing wafers and wine at Sunday Eucharist. Only instead of crossing myself from shoulder to shoulder to forehead and down, I’m conditioned to pop the pills and swallow. I smack the iodine tablets into my mouth and gulp from my water bottle. From my water bottle filled with non-potable water.
I glance at my friends, grimacing at the chalky line down the back of my throat, thinking don’t look at me, don’t look at me, don’t look at me.
I hope they don’t choose this moment to follow my lead.
Everyone is distracted by the chemical reactions taking place in their water bottles. The jar of iodine tablets comes back around to me and I discretely drop two more tabs into my bottle, pretending just to fuss with getting the cap back on. We shake our bottles to encourage the cleansing. We wait.
“Let’s get back in the water,” I suggest. “I’ll keep an eye on the time.”
When thirty minutes have passed, I let everybody know that their water is safe to drink. We pause and sip. I concentrate on my stomach, trying to figure out if half an hour is enough time to be lethally poisoned by iodine overdose and impure water. I’m feeling pretty okay, mostly just nervous. I think I’m going to make it. But just in case.
“If anybody really hates the taste, I have these neutralizer things. They sort of make the color go away.” Is there any other vital information I should share now, in case I keel over within the hour? “I put the marshmallows in with my clothes. We should make s’mores tonight before they get too smooshed.
We all made it through the weekend alive and I managed not to accidentally swallow any other foreign objects. But I’ve gotta tell you, sometimes I wonder what miracle saved me from natural selection.