I went fishing once in my life.
It was in late August of ‘85, during the last week before my prison sentence started again. I wasn’t looking forward to sitting in my florescent-lit cell next to the other twenty prisoners who would become bludgeoned by the menial tasks of learning our three R’s (reading, writing, and arithmetic) within the institution that the unforgiving adults had named, Elementary School. This was every child’s punishment for the emotional and mental abuse endured by parents during the phase of Terrible Two.
I had pleaded my case once by claiming that I had gone temporarily insane from a sugar bender during that age. However, the jury of Mom and Dad didn’t buy my sincerity.
On that late August day, I stood next to the porch stoop feeling sorry for myself for not being a model child during a time that I couldn’t even remember. Ten cats surrounded my feet as they stared at the turkey feather in my hand that moved back and forth against the porch door. Their yellow eyes swung like little pendulums to follow the rhythm that the feather made over the metal while I ticked down the last minutes of my summer freedom. Then all our eyes turned to the bushes that represented the property line.
My friend Tina appeared with fishing rods and her little brother in tow. The elder of us by three years, she was considered mature for her age, as her body had begun to bulge in places that were still flat on me. Because of this, our friendship would soon end as she’d be drawn more to make-up parties and teen celebrity magazines than the Barbie dolls and tea parties that I, an eight-year-old, enjoyed.
“Let’s go fishing,” Tina proclaimed. She turned on her heels and began to reenter the bush expecting me to follow unconditionally.
Fishing? Where? I knew every hill and dell on our combined 12 acres of property. The only place that had any type of interesting aquatic creature was in the nearby stream that held crayfish. We didn’t need fishing poles to catch them.
“Well, aren’t you coming?” Her head poked out among the green leaves.
“I have to ask my mom first,” I said as she gave me a blank stare at the foreign words. Her brother Ben shrugged his shoulders at my comment, not caring, as he went through the branches and sat on the ratty couch in their field.
It took awhile to get my mother’s permission. Luckily, she finally gave in when my older brother and sister volunteered to go along on this outing. So the three of us left our yard, cut across the feeble boundary line, and met Tina and Ben as we all headed across the field.
“Where are we going? It can’t be over there,” my sister said, pointing toward the neighbor’s property and the large pond used to irrigate the plants in their greenhouses. It was reputed that a snapping turtle took refuge in the murky water and had killed a man in one bite.
“No, there’s another place we can go to,” Tina assured us.
After we left the field, our feet started walking along the dirt driveway up to Tina’s house. With no cars parked by the building, it was a sure sign that no parents were inside. For all the time that I’ve known Tina, I had only seen her mother and father there three times. They took turns staying with the kids at night, although often miscommunications arose and Tina would be the one to watch her brother by herself. At least the adults had the presence of mind to keep the frig stocked with food despite their domestic problems.
Ten minutes later, we came to a clearing where water sparkled at its center. We climbed over the rusted barbed wire fence, climbed up the slope, and sat mystified on the sandy shore. Why hadn’t we found this place before?
Tina gave us a secret smirk and grabbed a fishing rod. Then everyone followed suit as plastic lines snapped at the air. For most of the afternoon we yanked out fish that we had only seen before behind glass at an aquarium. Quickly, we took them off hooks and tossed scaled bodies back into the water as we tried to catch something new. Then Tina dropped her pole.
“Did you hear something?” she suddenly asked, her feet stomping on the sand nervously. Although the rest of us shook our heads, she ran over the hill and hid within the tall grass on the slope. Stunned by her action, we looked over toward Tina’s brother who was reeling in his line and acting just as nervous.
“You didn’t ask the owner of the pond for permission to fish here, did you?” My sister demanded an answer. Always quick on the uptake, she knew that the types of seafood we were finding couldn’t have gotten into the pond by themselves.
“So?” Ben yanked on the line that started fighting back. He had snagged a fish while trying to get his hook out the water. By that time Tina had reappeared. She looked sheepishly at the scenery and not at anyone else after being found out. Then a shout came at us.
“What are you doing?” A man inside his truck suddenly appeared next to the pond. An angry dog snarled from the passenger seat as it waited for the four wheels to stop rolling so it could jump out the window.
Forgetting the fishing gear and Tina’s brother, who still struggled with his catch, we bolted for the safety of the woods. My siblings were up and over the fence in one bound. In her panic, Tina smashed right into it.
Her scream silenced the barking dog that now cowered in the truck. Tina jerked her body backward, tugging the barbed tips from her clothes, then shakily lifted herself over as my brother waited to help her down. I went under the wire by slithering on the back as Ben finally abandoned his rod and came running after us. We never saw the man, the pond, or any of the fishing gear again.
Back on familiar territory, my siblings and I were tired and slightly miffed by the whole fiasco. Yet we held our tongues as Tina limped into our kitchen. The barbed wire had cut into her bare thighs as my mother cleaned the wounds the best she could. Then she phoned Tina’s mom to tell her what had happened and suggest that a doctor should look at the injuries to see if they needed stitches.
Annoyed that we had bothered her at work, Tina’s mom informed us that her husband would come by to take their daughter to the hospital. Neither of them bothered showing up.
That was the first and last time I went fishing.