I am walking in the woods. I am going to a place where I have fished for a lifetime. I used to call this spot my “Honey Hole.” It’s a secluded place on the bay where live oaks drape over the water and the crushed beer cans are plentiful. I love it here.
I have made many important decisions at the Honey Hole. This was where I decided to apply for college. This was where I cried when a girl broke my heart. This was where I officially gathered my courage before asking Jamie Martin to marry me.
When I was sad, I would visit this shore and somehow feel hopeful again. Hope can be a fleeting thing. Trying to recapture it is like trying to catch a gnat with a pair of Barbie tweezers.
As a young man, I would sit on an overturned five-gallon bucket, holding a rod, listening to the sound of my spinning reel, and shutting off my brain.
The reason I am at the Honey Hole today is because I need to clear my head. I need to think. The world has turned into a troubled place and it’s been hard on everyone.
Since the novel coronavirus hit, depression rates have skyrocketed. Crisis centers are reporting a 40% leap in the number of those looking for help. Substance abuse is on a meteoric rise. And 4 in 10 Americans admit that fear due to the pandemic has wrecked their mental health.
I’m trying to take care of mine today.
I stop walking. I can see someone is already at the Honey Hole. I hear voices in the woods. Childish voices. When I get closer I see two boys sitting on five-gallon buckets. They don’t see me.
One boy has white-blonde hair, the other is Latino, with dark cocoa skin. They sit side-by-side, holding fishing rods.
I hear their little voices reverberating across the water, happy and strong. The last thing I want to do is interrupt them. It’s not polite to interrupt a man when he’s fishing. So I listen to their conversation:
“What time we gotta go home?”
“Four. My mom makes me help with dinner.”
“My mom gets mad when I’m in the kitchen, and she’s like, ‘Quit eating all the dang pickles!’”
“My mom lets me cut stuff with a knife sometimes. You wanna come over for dinner?”
“I have to ask my dad.”
“We’re having chicken. Mom doesn’t know how to make anything but chicken.”
Boyhood is beautiful. The lull of their gentle conversation is one that’s familiar to my ears. I remember the cadence of childhood. I haven’t forgotten its language. I could probably even participate in their conversation if they gave me the chance. But I never get the chance anymore.
I don’t know how it happened. One day I was reading Superman comics; the next day I had lines around my eyes and osteoarthritis around L5 and S1.
When people get older we don’t get all jazzed up about little things like we used to. Grown-ups talk about mortgages, headlines, and how complicated it is going grocery shopping during a pandemic.
But I remember earlier days. I remember passing idle hours discussing the intricacies of my mother’s meatloaf, my disgust for red cabbage, and the veritable hell that is congealed salad.
The boys’ laughter is so loud it’s probably scaring the fish. I am about to walk away to give them privacy, but something inside me is moved, seeing them shoulder-to-shoulder. A white kid and a dark-skinned kid. They are happy. They are cheerful. And they are sharing. I needed to see this.
Last night, I turned on the TV to see sadness on every channel. So I switched to international channels. I was hoping to see a British mystery, or a period drama, or at the very least a cooking show. But there were riots on those channels.
The two boys are sharing a bag of Cheetos.
The blonde kid reaches into the bag, removes a handful, eats it, then licks his palms. The other kid reaches into the bag and does the same. They keep doing this: eating, licking, eating, licking, etc. It’s pretty gross.
But it makes me smile. Because I finally realize what I am seeing here. I am seeing you and me. I am seeing the best parts of us in kid-form. I’m seeing something that is nothing short of profound.
Behold, one of the sacred children speaks:
“Do fish go poop?”
“Of COURSE they do.”
“But fish don’t have butts.”
“Yes they do. Everything has a butt, even ladybugs got’em.”
“You don’t know that.”
One kid burps.
They eat more chips.
I decide to leave them alone, but my feet rustle in the underbrush. The boys stop their conversation and look right at me.
Immediately, I feel bad for ruining their insightful conversation about aquatic anatomy. I shouldn’t have eavesdropped.
The boys wave. They say hello. They are polite. Someone has taught them very good manners. However, if they offer me any chips I will respectfully decline.
“Did you catch anything today?” I ask.
One kid frowns. “No.”
“Not yet,” says the Latino child. “But I’m about to catch something.”
His friend shoves him. “You always say that.”
The kid smiles. He becomes half child, half messenger, though he is unaware of this.
He says, “Hey, you can’t give up when it gets hard.”
And somewhere deep in my heart, I know that child was talking to me.