(and wondering what I should remember)
Its vomit was bright orange. I can’t say if that’s normal. But that day in the boat, that’s what it was.
I’m sure I held it too long. Kept it too long out of the water. Too long broiling in the sun. Too long clutched within my hot fingers, salty with sweat.
I remember how there were no audible puking sounds. I’m not sure what I’d expected, as fish aren’t generally known for their vocal talents.
Without the puking sounds, it was unnerving to look down and see large dollops of bright orange goop, just sitting there on my naked knee. I’d been holding the fish while my hand rested on my leg, earnestly waiting for my dad to reel in his line and help with the wire fish basket. The puke appeared from nowhere. No sound, no splatter, no smell. And it was gross.
For me, fishing meant getting up too early and sunburns and fish puke and long, stale hours of silence. About how I never really cared what we caught, but I liked casting my line into the water. About how I always thought sunfish were kind of beautiful, with their bright yellow bellies and speckled scales.
I dropped the poor, listless fish – a sunfish – into the basket, wiped the puke off my knee, and “washed” my hands in the lake. I immediately went back to eating cheddar-flavored Pringles.
After a few more hours roasting in the morning sun, we headed back across the lake, back to the dock alongside the swimming beach. This was on one of the many Midwestern lakes belonging to the Devil. This particular Devil’s Lake was near our cabin in northwestern Wisconsin, just outside the town where my parents both grew up.
Gripping the boat rail, keeping it in place, I helped guide the trailer into the water. I helped put away the fishing poles and the life preserves and the snacks. We drove past the people on the beach, swimming in the water. We drove back to our cabin tucked back in the woods, a thing I’m sure I never fully appreciated.
I did a lot of fishing when I was young. And I remember that disgusting orange puke far more vividly than anything I actually caught. My dad, if he were still alive to read that, would smile a little, shake his head, and stare down at his hands, folded on the kitchen table.
He might sigh or make a joke, maybe mention a fishing story from when I was little, a story our family has heard a hundred times before. He might wonder what he could have done differently. As a father. He might talk about how we never shared the same passions or hobbies, and how that maybe hurt his feelings. He might wonder why, as I grew into a teenager, the more he expressed excitement for something, the more I resented it.
But I really can’t say. We never had those conversations. And if he were still around to talk about these things, I wouldn’t know how to respond.
Maybe I’d talk about how, for me, fishing meant getting up too early and sunburns and fish puke and long, stale hours of silence. About how I never really cared what we caught, but I liked casting my line into the water. About how I always thought sunfish were kind of beautiful, with their bright yellow bellies and speckled scales.
Maybe I’d talk about how, while I didn’t like fishing, I still liked him. About seeing his hair, swept up off his forehead by the wind as we’d rip across the lake, and how it’d stay that way for the rest of the day, and I thought it looked cool. About how when he taught me to work the winch on the boat trailer, and how it made me feel important and useful. About how I liked hearing stories from when he was a kid. Maybe I’d talk about how I’m so happy we had that time together.
But I really can’t say. I remember the fish puke and the Pringles. I remember sweating all day in the boat. And I remember my dad trying to be with his son in the best way he knew how.