Born in Oklahoma in the 1950’s, River’s family moved to North Little Rock, Arkansas when he was two. Just two doors down was his best friend Robert Hill whom River’s claims to this very day was the blame for all his trouble as a child. If the truth be told, it was more likely the other way around.
His parents and neighbors noticed early that he wasn’t an average kid, born with might be described as a sensational taste for thrills and adventure. At the age of five, he stole his first car, his grandmother’s 1949 Chevy. Rivers preferred to use the term “borrowed”, but whatever the technicalities, when his grandmother left to go home her car was gone. After a frantic search it was discovered two blocks away in an intersection where it was ditched. As Rivers would later confess, he would have gone further but wasn’t big enough to turn the wheel.
That, and many other antidotes, alerted friends and families that nothing was off limits should the notion arise. From dawn to dusk life was an adventure. Even before he was out of diapers Rivers had a reputation for doing just about anything. In those days, families didn’t lock their doors and so it wasn’t unusual for families to find Rivers at their breakfast table eating when they got up in the morning, especially the Hill’s household. He was always the earliest one up, a life long habit, but back in those days he didn’t find it necessary to clothe. For that fetish he blames his older sister and her friends who, (much to their mother’s embarrassment), coaxed him repeatedly to bare all for passing cars in the neighborhood. It was something he undoubtedly enjoyed.
Despite all the antics going on, there was a serious problem that developed in those days, Rivers developed a chronic asthma condition that was life threatening. His mother administered shots to him often in the middle of the night reviving him when he could no longer breathe. One of the problems was that he was so active; it was impossible keeping him indoors especially when he was gone before the break of dawn. Then it was not always an easy matter finding him. He could be anywhere and often was, so at the doctors urging the family moved to Arizona where the weather was drier and more favorable. The move proved miraculous and no doubt saved his life.
Rivers developed a reputation early on as a child that seemed to have an over active imagination, but a lot of kids did. Some wore towels around their necks and played Superman. Rivers toted a holster and guns, with his attire of boots and hat. He seldom left the house without them and took his daily duty seriously rounding up all the criminals in the neighborhood and tying them up till he got a “confession” out of them. Problem was, if they didn’t confess, he left them tied till it was time to go home figuring they might be much more talkative in the morning.
After phone calls from distraught parents, their children’s whereabouts was usually revealed but not without reluctance. “Sheriffing” was taken very seriously by the young man as later his older sister would testify. No one, not even family, was immune from the law. One evening his sister Diane was failing to be cooperative with his interrogations and was probably resisting arrest, that part is still unclear. What we do know is that in his attempt to apprehend her he knocked her unconscious with his gun. After a trip to the emergency room and his sister reeling from a concussion, he was reprimanded in strictest terms, “no guns in the house”.
He became known by many parents as “Matt”, after Sheriff Matt Dillon and Arizona proved to be the perfect location for the young six year old gun slinger. He fit right in with the cactus and tumbleweeds, Gila monsters and coral snakes. The west was wild and much to his liking, adventurous. His father, who was an engineer and estimator for Dell Webb the construction giant, purchased several silver mines while they were there. Early on in life he went with his father to the properties which were always rugged far away places that instilled in him a love for the outdoors early as a child. In Phoenix however the old west was losing ground to the new west and times were changing, and with the times, Rivers appetite for adventure. Rod Serling, creator of the Twilight Zone had a serious profound impact on his budding imagination. The shows that aired once a week stirred endless thoughts of worlds he never considered before and he was utterly fascinated by the tales Serling told.
Sometimes he would lose but rather than stay home and watch another show he would find a neighbor whose tastes where suited to his own. All was not well though in his household, his father was a strict and overbearing and had a temperament of a rattlesnake. It didn’t help matters that he had also been a boxer. There was always an edge in the home, tension just below the surface. Family meals weren’t pleasurable experiences. Rivers and his sister could not wait for the diner to be over so they could leave. To this day, Rivers appearance at the dinner table is brief.
After supper they cleaned dishes and went to their rooms. Rivers learned to escape from the darker edge of life in the only place that was left available to him, his imagination. Early on his mother who was a librarian loaded him up with books to keep him stimulated and entertained. Reading did help preoccupy his mind but he read at first not so much for the entertainment value but because his mother would test him. Six books every two weeks and he hated many of them, finding their subjects boring. The only books he was drawn to involved adventure, like the Hardy Boys and the Boxcar Children. Though his childhood was significantly marred, this development allowed him a constructive mental escape. Rivers not only read, but the characters in those books became his world when life became unbearable. His favorite books were never the novels that his mother supplied him it was the set of World Book Encyclopedia. It was from these books that he developed a life long love for both science and history. This was learning process before the computer mind you, and so most families had a set, but few read with the proliferation of his home.
There were two events that happened while they lived in Arizona that reshaped his world as it did most the youth at his age. The first was the shocking assassination of John F. Kennedy. Rivers had already had an interest in government and especially history, but the murder of Kennedy stimulated an obsession with the integral affairs of our country. It is an interest that has never waned but grew over time.
Secondly, his world changed with what was dubbed the “British Invasion”, and in particularly the “Beatles”. Though still living under a strict and conservative requiem in his home, Rivers became a participant in the Cultural Revolution, if only mentally. His family moved back to North Little Rock in 1964 to the same house (his asthma was in remission) and it was no surprise that his best friend Robert had changed by the exact same things that so predominately affected him. Robert was even more so into the Cultural Revolution. He had already started playing piano, a requirement of his mother, and was lighting up the keys with Beatles songs. Music quickly became an influence for both boys but even more so for its message.
Though they were about ten and eleven at the time and transportation was limited to bicycles, they got the message and punched their ticket to ride. The whole city was an excursion. No longer limited by their neighborhood, they rode all over town looking for adventure. It was not uncommon to ride their bicycles all the way to downtown Little Rock which was a good five miles away. Many times they had their fishing poles and sack lunches, and spent summer days fishing and swimming in the local lakes and ponds, primarily in the adjacent neighborhood called Lakewood which was on the other side of JFK Boulevard. Though limited in funds, the boys came up with various plans to raise “capital” to support their life style which also included movies, magazines (Playboy and Sports Illustrated), beer and cigarettes. These were obviously not legal endeavourers but if they were legal they wouldn’t have been any fun. Needless to say, Rivers taste for literature (if you can call it that) changed. For certain it did stimulate an imagination that needed no encouragement by that point. Though very small and very young, Rivers discovered early on what he would pursue.
It was a glorious time to live if you were a boy. Jeans grew longer and spread out into bell bottoms, hair crept over the ears, bikinis got smaller, and music got better. By twelve, cigarettes were a must to look cool and minor details of acquiring cash became a problem that was easily solved by logistics and planning. Make no mistake about it, Rivers and Robert seldom went without. However; for both the boys it was necessary to balance academics with the more tantalizing pursuits. One would never guess by their academic performance that so much energy was being diverted to fulfill criminal activity, but that would of course been a wrong assumption. For all their fun, the duo was eventually broken up one more time. Rivers had to move again but the circumstances were much different than the first except for one aspect, it was another life threatening situation.
Rivers had spent the night at Robert’s house when his sister called the next morning. Her panicking voice trembled the words, “Don’t come home”. His father’s explosive temper ignited that morning and this time he lost all control. The refrigerator was thrown end over end across the backyard; the dryer was obliterated on the back steps and the washing machine was lodged chest high stuck in the door jab. The family console T.V. met its demise on the front steps along with half the belongings of the home. His mother who was battered and bruised, but alive; had managed to escape. Had Rivers been there that morning there is no doubt that he would gone for his fathers pistol, so it was a small twist of fate that kept a tragedy from becoming far worse.
They left that day in a car with virtually nothing at all but the clothes on their back. They went into hiding for a week but for the longest time after that he looked for the shadow of his father coming up behind him as did his mother. They eventually settled on Fayetteville where his oldest brother Howard was in law school and after shielding their identities, his mother enrolled in college and he entered junior high. His mother and sister were both now students at the University of Arkansas and Rivers was about to gain another life changing experience, college. It didn’t take him long to adjust to the transition.
He learned the campus quickly, met friends that had the same interest and quickly gained access to all things that provided adventure and stimulation. His friends all lived around campus. Their parents were professors, architects or doctors. Rivers lived with his mother in a tiny apartment for married couples. As an indication of how much the world has changed since, Rivers was the only person he knew from divorced parents. In the entire Carlton Terrace complex, his mother was the only single mom. The world went through an upheaval that was a dramatic as his own home, and like his home, it would never be the same again.
He also knew where every dormitory, Frat house and Sororities were. It wasn’t as if his mother approved of his shenanigans, she didn’t know. He was either spending the night at a friend’s house or he slipped out after she went to bed. He couldn’t be characterized as being careful, he was far from that, but he was sly enough not to ever get caught. His mother was of the belief she was raising the perfect child and was so proud. He excelled in school; was a debate champion, oratory and extemporaneous speaker. He played all sports and was the lead in the school plays, and was considered one of the most popular kids in school.
The next few years were from a cultural standpoint beyond description. It was as if there were a social tsunami came inland and Rivers was atop the wave. The word “experiment” was a misnomer, it was total indulgence. The doors of prohibition were flung wide open. Pot became the household staple for many around the campus and life was all for the taking. At fifteen, Rivers figured it was time for another joy ride. One weekend, his trusting mother went on a rare weekend away to Tulsa with his older brother. She knew there would be no problem and left him with her keys to the family car. Borrowing in this case would be the appropriate term, or so he thought. It provided the perfect opportunity to try out the wheels and so he did. With several pillows under his seat, some friends, cigarettes and beer, Rivers did the natural thing. He cruised campus, in particular Sorority Row looking for a potential “first time”. To be quiet honest, Rivers didn’t have the success he wanted that day but that didn’t deter his enthusiasm. He was told on several occasions, “Nice try, but come back in a couple of years”.
He never looked at such experiences as rejection or failures but the unlimited potential for future opportunity. The future held hope. The world was indeed a beautiful place!
Now not all of his escapades involved things of salacious nature, there was a side of Rivers that was very constructive and he gives credit to his English teacher for that. In his eighth grade he was introduced to a venue that would dramatically change his life. Few might think he would be interested, but Rivers became enamored with poetry. At first glance, he doesn’t fit the standard stereotype of a poet, but poets should never be stereotypes. Poets are free thinkers, or one would hope, but a free thinker is synonymous with rebel and there was no doubt Rivers qualified for that position. What captivated him about poetry however is that it was the perfect format to use symbolism. He could obscure his subjects and tell of stories through the adaptation of metaphors and symbols. It became the perfect format for him to express himself early on.
Rivers never talked about it. Via poetry he discovered, with the help of his teacher, that he could disguise the turmoil, chaos and abuse. It was impossible for him to convey the specifics, they hurt too much; nevertheless the pen became his outlet. The pain that Van Gogh obscured centuries before with oils, Rivers did with a pen.
In 7th or 8th grade, the school counselor called his mother after seeing the results of an aptitude test. She said she had never done that before and told her that “he will succeed in anything he chooses to do”; however she was bewildered at his grades that year, and asked if there were something possibly that might stymie his performance? His mother was ashamed to admit what was going on. She was herself in denial and quiet possibly in fear of her life. Secrecy is the dirty edge of pride and so not a word was said. His mother never even revealed the phone call to her son until many, many years later. Like I said, it was dysfunctional.
Looking back he suspects he was suffering from depression. Given his home life, who wouldn’t? He never blamed her or her misguided reaction; he knew all too well the paralyzing effects of fear. He loved his mother and was more worried about breaking her heart than anything else. He walked a dangerous line that grew even more dangerous as he got older. What were childish pranks when he was young escalated into serious offences the older he became. There would have been jail time if he were caught.
Much to his delight, his mother was extremely naive and believed most anything he told her. All she saw was the enthusiastic learner. He even spent many a night prepping her for exams and going over studies assisting her with her courses. She didn’t have any idea that the same son that helped her in college was also down on Dickson Street “scoring”. By fifteen he was landing his hands on just about every substance there was and he never went without alcohol. Never. He even brewed it with a buddy. They had a winery set up under his house and pretty much supplied the whole neighborhood of cheap but effective wine.
His mother graduated from college the same year as his sister, and his brother simultaneously completed law school. As you would expect, he and Robert started back up where they left off. This time, they had cars. Looking back, it is hard to believe that both survived, in particular Rivers. There are endless stories that needn’t be told but what is a miracle is that they both managed to stay on the sunny side of the law. Robert was an accomplished musician, and newspaper editor. He always excelled academically. Even in sixth grade he won national “Patrol Boy of the Year” and was flown to Washington, D.C. to meet then Vice-President Hubert Humphrey. Such accomplishments were not uncommon for Mr. Hill. Rivers was another matter.
He maintained good grades up till his senior year. Robert being one grade older had already gone to college. Between his junior and senior year the activities of young Rivers became somewhat dangerous. He was living a virtual double life. One was the school poet and stage performer and the other was occupied avoiding the law. With a car and Memphis not far away, the lure of blues and bars were an early fascination and pastime. School was no longer a priority and grades became harder to maintain in absentia. Finally his charade was unmasked and his mother was devastated. When asked “Where have you been this whole semester?” He responded truthfully, “You don’t want to know”, but added, “It was lots of fun”.
Then, one weekend when Robert came home from college he went by to see his buddy. He asked politely where he was. To his surprise his mother answered, “You don’t know where he is?”
Robert hesitated, “In jail?”
And so it was. Rivers cut his hair, put on a uniform and was marching through the swamps of Louisiana watching for gators and swatting misquotes on the back of his neck. For him, it was another adventure. Fortunately for Rivers, the change was a good one and in the nick of time. Not long after he went into the Army a massive drug bust occurred in central Arkansas, but he was gone. He said later that “he could feel the grip of the law tightening around his circle of friends.”
The Army did offer Rivers what he craved, adventure. The Vietnam War for all practical purposes was over and the possibility of combat was minimal. He went first to Colorado where he enjoyed his service as well as the Rocky Mountains. But, as much as he loved Colorado, his ambition was always to go to Europe. In his case, that required obtaining a high secret clearance. Drug tests were becoming more rampant and so he subsequently modified his behavior. After a year in Colorado, he finally got the orders he was looking for and was off the Europe. The Army sent Rivers to a station in Bavarian Alps.
He arrived in October, 1974. It would become the experience of a life time. Once again, adventure required the purchase of auto, first a VW bug, then later a Karma Ghia. With a map and monthly allotment of cash, Rivers was off. Rome, Venice, Geneva, Munich, Salzburg, Innsbruck, Vienna, Zurich. His service was commendable and even received several honors for distinguished service in a highly classified field. In the summer of 1975 he was selected to work with NATO and participated in war game exercises, working communications at headquarters. All in all, his service was exemplary albeit there was an incident or two on his record that raised his Commanders eyebrow, it was generally overlooked.
To many people’s surprise Rivers and the Army were a good fit. That is because it provided him the life style he wanted. The new rush for him did not come in a pipe or even in a bottle for that matter. The rush for Rivers was women; they became his drug of choice. He quickly grasped the language, and though not ever fluent it was enough to be flirtatious which is all that was required. A book could be written about the pursuits but that’s not important, what is important is that Europe exceeded his expectations in every fashion. He had a good amount of both German and American friends and it was a pleasurable experience all around with few downsides.
In addition to his pleasure seeking weekends, Rivers realized that it was an education of a life time. He studied German history vigorously. He actually lived in the town where Adolf Hitler wrote Mein Kampf which became the bible of the Nazi movement. Hitler wrote it while in prison there and it fascinated Rivers. He had never been at the doorstep of history back in the states, but history was everywhere in Europe and he traced the steps of many historical figures. Worms was where Martin Luther began the Protestant reformation. He visited the Coliseum while in Rome, went to the Vatican, saw the works of Michelangelo. He visited Vienna and Venice where the genius of philosophers, writers, artist and composers emerged.
All this was coupled with a proliferation of reading which he was able to do while at work. Traditionally he preferred working a late night shift when communications were relatively quiet. He read all night, every night. He saved up his money and when he wasn’t travelling he was at the Bodega’s enjoying the night life. Finally, in 1976 his tour of duty was coming to an end. The Army offered him a re-enlistment bonus, and an offer to go to Warrant Officer School but Rivers declined. He had unfinished business back in the states, he was heading back to Fayetteville to go to college.
From the outset it was clear that school was secondary in his priorities. He had developed a voracious appetite while in Europe and found no need to constrain it once he was back. Occasionally he was reminded that there were actually classes going on campus. It didn’t seem to matter, rainy day, snow, sunny day, there were always distractions.
His first week of class he attended, for some classes he was there in the second week, but often he didn’t come back until the week before finals. One morning he woke up and looked at the Calendar. It was the first week in October. He grabbed a magic marker and marked through the whole month. It was Oktoberfest and so he went and bought a keg.
With the exception of history, philosophy and physics, and then later economics, all the other subjects bored him. On most occasions he did read the books though it wasn’t usually until the week before the test. According to him it was a waste of time to go to class just to take notes when other people’s notes were so much better and their handwriting much more legible.
That was a good question. They weren’t exactly dormant years, nor were they tranquil. He has called them his “rough years”. Besides from drinking and chasing women, there was a good amount of brawling and reckless behavior. That’s the short list. From the time he left the Army till his senior year in college Rivers managed to total several vehicles, break both his hands, both wrist, multiple ribs, an arm and all in separate incidents. He was a regular visitor (customer) to an Emergency Room in whatever city he happened to be. That’s not all, he was involved in an armed robbery, was in a car chase with the police, had two DWI’s and other assortment of activities which would be incriminating to mention here.
After his fill of fun and headaches eventually Rivers decided it was time to settle down. All he had to do was pick the right woman. No problem, that was easy. She literally came in through his bedroom window. Reminiscent of the Beatles song “She came in through the bathroom window”. Her name was Janet.
As you might imagine, the chances of that marriage succeeding was less than zero; especially since he didn’t feel the necessity to cut back on his extra curricular activities in school. This was in the days of peace and love and though the love was great, there was very little peace. Life was in the fast lane as the Eagles song proclaimed and shortly after their marriage the fast lane took them to Oregon where he enrolled in the University of Oregon. It was at this same time that the movie Animal House was filmed there. If there was ever a movie that parallels his life, that was it…or at least at that time.
Now, for some, marriage and college go hand in hand but that was not the case with Rivers. He was already suffering from symptoms that reoccurred with alarming frequency. Rivers was experiencing blackouts. There was never such a thing as one beer and even when he had good intentions, or good for him anyway, he could never stop and have just one drink. He woke up places and didn’t know how he got there. He was with people with whom he couldn’t even remember their names. He found motel keys in his pocket and couldn’t remember being there. It was frightening for him and humiliating for her.
After only a year the marriage was on the skids, and both agreed it was time to leave and go back to Arkansas. The idea was that perhaps around family things would be different. Neither however was thinking real clearly at that time; nevertheless they loaded up the van and headed back with a van full of four feet high plants in back. Now, normal people wouldn’t think about crossing multiple state lines carrying such cargo but they weren’t normal people, but they thought they were. The trip back was going to be like a second honeymoon, taking two weeks to visit sights along the way. Rivers realized that the plants would need light during the journey so he installed a sunroof. It was a perfect set up, freshly picked leaves dried on the dash as they cruised through towns and when they smoke up all they had Janet would reach in the back and pick some more.
Miraculously they weren’t arrested. They even made it through checkpoints on the California border relying on Janet’s gift of gab and low cut dress. He remembers an officer asking if they had any “fruits or vegetables”. They looked each other and shrugged innocently, “No, no fruits or vegetables here”.
Once back, and the nightmare of their first year of marriage behind them, Rivers finally did take college seriously. They moved not back to Fayetteville where he had too many skeletons in the closet but instead moved to Little Rock where he enrolled in the U of A at Little Rock, better known as UALR. The marriage was over for all practical purposes, too much damage had been done to salvage it; nevertheless, one event brought a dramatic change in Rivers, in both their lives, the birth of their son. Maxwell was named after the Beatle song.
He took his responsibilities seriously though changing his ways didn’t necessarily come as easy or as quickly as he hoped. It took time, but with the birth of Max, his partying days were over…for awhile. He cracked down on the books; he worked several jobs and integrated himself into productive society. Productive would be an understatement. Within a year and a half he was flown to Washington D.C. and invited to the White House on two separate occasions.
In Rivers final year in college he did two internships; one for the Attorney General and the second one a first term Governor, Bill Clinton. Both internships involved research and reports. The reports were thorough and obviously valuable to both men. It would take too long to discuss the issues here but both reports garnered recommendations by two of the most influential men in the state. In his final semester in college, (while he was still a student), as a result of those recommendations as well as one from his Commander in Europe, he was hired as the Executive Director of a consumer research group.
Arkansas Consumer Research had achieved some claim to fame as the organization that spearheaded the toy safety investigation in the 1970’s. It eventually led to the creation of the Product Safety Commission.
As the new director Rivers jumped all over it. He launched a series of food pricing surveys across the state making the food industry more competitive. He conducted similar reports on prescription drugs.
Next, he leveled his sights on the energy issue. A suit was filed against the state’s largest utility company, Arkansas Power and Light. The case was the largest in the state’s history and drew enormous amount of public attention. It was in the news all the time, as Rivers and the ACR lawyers discussed the case, and then the verdict was announced. They won.
It was the largest case of its kind in the state’s history and the ratepayers were awarded a hundred million dollar decision.
He spent many a night in his office rather than drive home late. He was like an octopus with a pen in each hand. He drank coffee throughout the night and his eyes were red but not from boozing, but from work. His efforts earned him national recognition, significant enough to be invited to the White House for a conference on economic affairs. Rivers objective was not to gain national recognition but the change the structure of public utilities operations. That he surmised would take more than just a lawsuit, he had to change the constitution and so he became involved in a movement to do that. In fact, he was thrust to the forefront. One of the advisors on the proposal was none other than Bill Clinton who was preparing for his second run at the Governors Office after having been unseated by Frank White.
Rivers united with various factions including labor unions and lawyers to get the initiative on the ballot. It was a complicated process and very time consuming. He spoke on its behest across the state. Rivers was on the radio, the front pages of the paper and nightly news. He called on the Governor to declare a special session and bring the legislature together to deal with issue of rising utility bills. Governor White flatly refused, Rivers turned up the heat. They were sparing in the papers as adversaries often do when one day a phone call came and a liaison suggested a bone would be tossed him if he lay off the heat. Rivers thought about it and then responded, “You tell the Governor that I am no show dog and I am not a barking dog, but I am a dog that won’t let go”.
The man then asked what he meant, and Rivers responded, “You’ll see”.
A week later Governor White looked out from his window at the state capitol. The lawn was filled with protestors. Rivers organized a demonstration. They set up a podium on the capitol steps, hooked up the mike and the camera crews showed up. Person after person took the mike. Legislators called on the Governor to call a special session. Then the Attorney General Steve Clark called on him to do it. Rivers could see the Governor standing in the window of his office. He knew he was feeling the bite. Within a week, the Governor called him personally to tell him that he was calling a special session, to send him a draft of the bills he wanted to have passed.
A significant amount of what was proposed became law. The constitutional amendment never made it; nevertheless victory was obtained. But, after all he did and became involved in; he could not save his marriage. It was over. Janet had enough.
Not knowing what to do next Rivers turned his sights on finance and became an investment banker (stockbroker). Another book could be written about this chapter of his life but it is best to just say that the intrigue of the business involved fast cars, women and parties. He was not alone. It was like college life except they wore suits.
For those familiar with the era, Little Rock in particular, the scene was a maze of lavish parties, all night bar hopping and indulgences of every kind. It was at his initial initiation into this world that he met Rusty. Rusty was one of the most notable “bond daddies” in the business. Two years younger than Rivers, Rusty had acquired a mansion with a 3,000 sq. foot indoor swimming pool, a condo on the lake and a penthouse by the time he was twenty five years old. A brawler and drinker who drove and wrecked fast cars, they naturally became friends.
Rivers was different from Rusty in one respect, he had a son. Max was his priority and to the best of his ability he shielded his son from the vestiges of his other life though that wasn’t always possible. There were occasions where his home was interrupted by someone banging on the door at 1:00 am. It was usually a wayward woman who had taken a detour home but sometimes it was trouble of another sort. Rivers did his best to distance himself from the carnal goings on, but it wasn’t strangers that young Max worried about, it was his dad. Fast living and hard drinking were finally taking its toll.
He never did obtain the meteoric financial status of his good friend Rusty; in fact Rivers life was going down at meteoric speed. He bounced from one financial firm to the next with the frequency he bounced from bars. The last year of his drinking was debilitating. In the end, Rivers had to keep a bottle by his bed to stop the shakes. By his own estimation he was within months of dying, the human body can not absorb what he was taking.
There are no coincidences in life though we often think there is. Rivers was working at a bank in Little Rock and knew he was within weeks of getting fired. His old friend Rusty called. He had started a new firm across the river and invited him over. It was a day he never will forget. They were talking about the “old times” though both men were in their early thirties and Rusty told him something that stunned Rivers. He said he had “found God”. He wasn’t kidding.
Rusty’s life had become just as disastrous as his. There was a massive FBI sting operation that narrowed missed him. A grand jury slapped an indictment on one broker after another. Little Rock was dubbed “Rock City” because of the amount of cocaine that was trafficked. Rusty was in trouble on more than one front though, his drunken escapades resulted in a boating accident that killed a beautiful young woman. He was remorseful and determined to change. Rusty also admitted to Rivers he was an alcoholic but that he was several months sober.
That encounter would change Rivers life forever although not immediately. He went to work for Rusty who helped him put his business back in order and dig it out of a financial hole. Then as it were, Rivers had another DWI. It of course made the paper. Not long after than the two went out to lunch or so Rivers thought, instead Rusty drove his Mercedes up to a rather obscure looking building. Rivers asked, “What’s this?”
It was AA. That was June 24th, 1989. As of this date Rivers has never found the compulsion to take a drink in the twenty two years since. By his own admission, Rivers says that he would never have gotten sober under any conditions or listened to anyone except someone who had lived like him. Rusty was the red headed version of Rivers, they just grew up with the same thirst for adventure. It was by no accident that Rusty was in his life, no coincidence. It was a miracle.
That is because when one is consumed with self there is no room for God. There was a time when he was very young, maybe five, that he had burning bush encounter. He was way up in his “thinkin’ tree”, a towering Cyprus tree next to their house. It was an experience he never forgot and in a moment of absolute clarity flashes of his future were seared in his mind. From then on it was like trying to run away from what he felt was the inevitable. He ran until he could run no more. He ran until he finally ran out of streets.
However, Rivers was leery of God. He felt a sense of abandonment. Where was He? He wasn’t there to rescue him from his home. He didn’t rescue his mother or so it seemed. He didn’t see the evidence of prayers answered, not at least in his life. Despite his doubts, he never succumbed to belief that God didn’t exist. Rivers just believed God didn’t care, which was in many ways worse. That all changed with Rusty and that first day at AA. Rivers always looked at that day as the day God finally answered his prayer.
The transformation of Rivers was not instantaneous as you might have guessed but there were significant strides in that first year. His love of writing re-emerged; in fact it became a compulsion. Writing replaced alcohol. That point can’t be underscored enough. Instead of all night binges in bars, he often wrote non stop. At the time that Rivers got sober he lived in a penthouse over looking Little Rock. Rivers always wrote just like he drank, he could not stop. He virtually had no control over it. It consumed his thinking all the time. He could not get through the day without it. And after he wrote it, it usually left him exhausted. In fact, he experienced writing hangovers where he closed the drapes, took the phone off the hook and crawl under the covers. After some recuperation he awoke and hit it again.
This phenomenon did not set well with certain people. At the time of his sobriety he was seeing a very wonderful and beautiful woman. He could not explain to her what was happening because he didn’t know for sure what it was. But he knew he was changing, he just wasn’t sure into whom or what. One of the first decent things he did in his life, for sure it was the first unselfish act he could remember; he told her that she needed to move on with her life. She deserved someone who would make her the number one priority in his life. Rivers knew he wouldn’t be able to do that. He knew he was changing, experiencing a metamorphosis.
Lots of people he had hurt, debts to be paid, amends to make. The process changed him forever and for the better. Humility replaced conceit; sincerity in place of selfishness; temperance where there had been temper; and diligence for drunkenness. The list goes on. Character defect after character defect was modified or eliminated all together. This is a process that took years, but he tackled them all with determination.
Rivers moved from the penthouse up to Fayetteville (again). He was still in the investment business but wanted to get out. Rusty was already done; he had gotten in trouble with the SEC and turned in his license. Max moved up to live with his dad and they rode horses together and fished for trout on the White River. He was getting accustomed to living clean and sober. Life required lots of adjustments.
He attempted marriage for a second time, had a boy and a girl, but unfortunately it ended as his first marriage did but for entirely different reasons. Rivers life went through multiple changes; recovery and transformation were not always easy.
As anyone who has successfully recovered from addiction knows, sobriety depends on helping others, getting out of self. Instead of going to hospitals bleeding from head to toe, he visited children recuperating from surgeries and perform magic tricks. Although he wasn’t that good, he got them to laugh which was his objective all along. About once a week, Rivers also visited jails but not in handcuffs, he went to see those who lived like he did. He carried a message of hope, some listened and some didn’t but they never forgot what he told them. He was proof there was another way.
Rivers left the brokerage business and eventually got into real estate where he rode the wave up and then rode the wave down. All the while he stayed sober and he wrote. Rusty eventually relapsed and died. The market crashed, his mother passed away and he went through a painful divorce. It was tough but he survived.
The tales of his life were written in the people that materialized in his hand. The characters, nearly all of them, were parts of him. He is in many ways every character he writes about because he has done or has been in nearly every situation. People have often said “Y”City is the most realistic fiction they have read. He has been contacted by various police agencies about the story because they were sure it happened they just didn’t know where. It was hard for him to explain but the story was about him, it just wasn’t written about him. Every person he believes will come to that critical juncture where they must choose; one road will lead to death, the other to freedom, escape.
That place is “Y”City.
Rivers did not stop there though. He wrote like he drank, non stop. He wrote starting early in the morning and many days his pen rarely left his hand. In the course of a few short years he wrote three more novels, dozens of short stories and hundreds of poems. The Yomen, The Trisix Colony and The Factory were put in a book titled Thrillervision. A second Thrillervision will be out not long after the first and it will have The Fugitives, Line 21, The Cave and Possessed. He has also written comedies that he will eventually release along with several collections of poetry. In the interim he wrote another book which is a metaphysical journey much like Dante’s Inferno but more relevant to our times.
He was always aware of destiny, but try as he may; he was unable to avoid most of it. If pain is the pen well writers dip their quill, Rivers surely has and abundance of ink. Years ago when he was twenty, on the Danube River he had a vision of what life would be. He wrote a poem one afternoon and then spent the next thirty years living it. It wasn’t easy... being him.
That man deep inside of you
There has never been a man
There has never been a man
There has never been a man
There has never been a man
So, it is that man deep inside of you
Wade Rivers, Age 20