It was nice weather. I was on a boat with a friend, hoping to catch a few bream. The fish, of course, knew this and conspired to avoid me.
My friend was sipping beer. Willie Nelson serenaded us from a battery-powered pocket radio. We saw a bass boat in the distance.
It was a nice boat. The kind that costs an arm and a liver.
Four people were onboard. Two men, one boy, and a woman. They were dressed in Sunday clothes. The woman held what looked like a vase. She emptied it overboard. Dust fell into the water.
The boy’s face was in his hands. I’ll never forget him.
My friend bowed his head. I turned off the pocket radio. We were quiet. And I was decades backward in a memory.
In this particular memory, I’m thirteen. I’m in the mountains. The air is thin. My mouth is dry. I am cold.
I’m not my normal happy boyish self. But then, I hadn’t been happy since my father died.
Dead. He was dead, I kept telling myself. I couldn’t believe it.
On the day we got Daddy from the funeral home, he came packaged in a cardboard box. He didn’t believe in urns. He was a tight-wad, even for his own funeral.
His brown box sat on a counter. The funeral director had my mother sign a dotted line. And that was that.
A man’s entire life, stuffed into a box. Once, he was a tall, slender man who taught me how to gut fish.
Now he was UPS parcel.
We kept his ashes in the shed since nobody wanted his remains indoors. My mother said his spirit needed to escape. I sat with him a lot.
One year later, we found ourselves on the mountain I told you about. We overlooked the whole world. My uncle sliced the box with an Army knife.
I expected something poetic. I thought Daddy would get caught by a gust and fly off to Beulah Land in a whirlwind. But things don’t happen like the movies.
His ashes were packed together like gray clay. He fell like a block down the mountainside.
Nobody said a word.
There were people in the area. Hikers and tourists. They all stood at a distance. Heads bowed. Quiet.
Ironic. Only a few years earlier, my father and I were outdoors, fishing, enjoying the weather just like they were.
Now he was clay.
I wanted to cry. But I couldn’t. There were too many feelings happening. I couldn’t decide which feeling to go with.
Well, that seems like a century ago. Somehow, over the years, I grew up. Sort of.
My friend and I were interrupted by the sound of his reel. He caught a bream. A big one. Some guys get all the luck.
The boat in the distance fired its motor. It blew past us. I caught a glimpse of the boy. He looked familiar.
I don’t know if that kid lost his father or not. Or if he’ll ever read this—I doubt it. But if by some mystery of the universe he IS fatherless, and should stumble across something written by a derelict redhead:
Life gets better, kid. It’s not always like today. It’s pretty. It’s colorful. It’s a gift. And when you’ve grown up, one day you’ll be fishing, and the fish won’t be biting. But it won’t matter because you’ll see something like I did. And it will hit you all at once. You’ll realize how happy you are.
And you’ll say to yourself, “My God, I survived.”
One day. Just wait.
Don’t forget the pocket radio.