Fishing With the Boy

We were down by the river, the family and I, walking around in our river shoes like the summer people that we are. A shy looking boy with a fishing pole approached just as the wife and older girl were heading off to find a bathroom. The little girl and I stuck around to watch the fishing.

The shy boy turned out to be not all that shy, and he started to talk and I started to listen. Mostly he prattled on about eels and fishes, and how people around there were crazy, and they liked to break things. Things turned maudlin pretty quickly. First it was the eels. They were really lampreys and the have a lot of teeth in a rows around a circle and they’ll suck your blood.

Next we touched on the flood of a few years earlier. It had taken out a good chunk of the bank that we were standing on. It has also taken out a house and a 13 year old girl with it. The boy was only 11, he didn’t really know her, and no it didn’t really make him that sad. He got to the sad part later.

He showed me the scar on his knee. That was when he hit a car when some kids were chasing him because they wanted something he had, but he didn’t want to give it to them. 15 stitches.

I heard about the ankle he broke skiing for the first time. He did all right on the bunny slope…. but it closed for the day and his teacher wanted a picture of him skiing. So he went on the bigger slope and his luck held out only the teacher’s camera didn’t work so he had to go again. Damn she was slow so he had to go one more time- and it was icy and he flipped a bunch and shredded his ankle. He doesn’t like to let people know he’s in pain so he toughed it out- but when the bus got home his mom took him to the hospital. Turns out his friend broke his wrist the same day, well not really his friend, this kid that makes fun of him.

It was clear that he was probably kind of an outcast in an outcast kind of town. He was lonely so I swam with him. The river is clear and cold and it’s amazing to swim with goggles and look at the baby fish and the river rocks. I asked if he ever used goggles. He didn’t like them and preferred opening his eyes. When I finally got him to try mine he was amazed. I should have left them for him. Sitting here now I feel like a selfish idiot for not passing on my 3 dollar goggles to a kid that didn’t have any. He asked about the city. He thought maybe he’d been but couldn’t really remember.

It was getting late and we started to leave when he said a curious thing, “…and I don’t have a dad.” It wasn’t so odd that he didn’t have a father. In fact I pretty much assumed that he didn’t. It was just weird how it came out starting with an “and” as if we had been talking about family matters. It was clear that part of him was desperate to discuss it with someone who was willing to listen. So we listened. Actually I checked my email a little at the same time- a fact that my wife chastised me for later. However, I did it somewhat intentionally… it seemed that what he was saying was so powerful that full attention might have gummed up the works. It felt almost like a confessional and there’s a reason those guys sit behind a screen, to give some distance to such powerful truths.

He talked a lot about much older siblings, and it was kind of fast and uneven, in sort of a blur. There were a conflicting number of brothers and sisters and that stemmed from the fact that they probably had something to do with his father. I had a ton of empathy for this kid and really liked him a lot- and apologize for any sense of condescension that might be coming across.

“I have three brothers.. well two actually cause one is dead. He was 18… two years ago he hit a house… car accident. I have a sister that’s 30 and a brother that’s 23 and a brother but I don’t know… my dad beat up my mom when she was 6 months pregnant …. cause he wanted to get together and she didn’t … it took 15 cops to stop it…. when I was two months old I was supposed to have visits with him in jail but he didn’t want to pay anything so he said no and signed away… signed papers that he didn’t want anything to do with me, but he has other kids too. I never met him.”

We had to go at that point. It was getting late, and a little too heavy for my 8 year old and for me.

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