H. M. Fish Story

I’ve mentioned before about the famous list I have of Things to Do Before I Die (and if you don’t have a list like that, you should). One day I really will write all these down — I’ll stick them on my FAQ so everyone can see them, how about that?

One of the items that has been on my list for a very long time has been: Go Deep Sea Fishing. I love boats, and I love to fish — going out into the middle of the ocean with no land in sight for miles and nothing to do but throw your line in has always been a dream of mine. When I was younger, Dad told me that I couldn’t go deep sea fishing because I was a girl. He said there were no proper facilities on a boat like that, and I didn’t have the right equipment to, ah, purge my necessary fluids off the side of the boat.

The fact that I had the bladder of a camel made no difference. I wasn’t going, and that was that. So “deep sea fishing” made it onto my famous list.

Saturday, I finally got to go.

But even better than the boat and fishing, was that I got the boat, fishing, and my favorite cousin Jamie.

Mom says that Jamie is our favourite cousin because when Sami and I were little and Jamie was on leave from the 82nd Airborne, he came to visit and took us to the circus. And while that is true, and was a fantastically singular experience, I love Jamie because of spaghetti. We were on the phone once and I whined, “Jamie, what do I want for dinner?” Without missing a beat, Jamie answered, “Spaghetti.”

Not “What do you feel like?” or “What are you in the mood for?” or “What’s in your fridge?” He just picked something and moved on. No time wasted mulling over a decision that really shouldn’t require–though it normally does–enough brain power to run a nuclear reactor. So I love Jamie because of spaghetti.

And no, you can’t have his phone number.

The weather certainly wasn’t perfect; until 8pm the night before we weren’t even sure we’d be able to go due to rain offshore. But we got the thumbs up and drove through the mist to New Smyrna at first light. We arrived early–about 7:30am–to secure a sweet spot on the back of the Pastime Princess, so we had plenty of time for catching up and BLTs and watching rainbows. Jamie–the marine bird biologist–named every Vee flying by, and Dad regaled us with his new “trivia question” approach to fund-raising youths outside grocery stores.

Jamie offered me a jacket, but I declined. He called me stubborn. I didn’t contradict him. I told him he’d know I was cold when my lips turned blue.

I was so happy, I thought I might pop. I didn’t even feel the rain. I had already seen rainbows and was on a ship named Princess (and yes, the boat even had a dog). The water was gunmetal gray and crashing white against the rocks. It took us what felt like forever to get through the manatee zone and under the drawbridge, out to the rough seas on the map where there be dragons. It was exquisitely beautiful. I smiled like an idiot for at least an hour, and Jamie took the opportunity to blatantly remind me how great he was. (“You know what’s great?” asked Jamie. “Me!”) Dad ponied up the money to get us in the fishing pool — everybody pitches in five bucks, and the one who hauls up the biggest catch gets the kitty.

Jamie punched my shoulder. “You’re gonna win that pot,” he said. “You’re the crazy lucky one.”

“Nah,” I replied. “My luck doesn’t work that way.”

Did I mention the seas were rough? We had been assured by Tony (one of the Princess’s fabulous and excessively helpful crew) that the open waters were much calmer, and that there were about a hundred different fishing spots they could try. They weren’t worried. So I wasn’t worried.

But boy, those seas could happily get calmer any minute now. That’d be great. I asked Jamie for a piece of his super-peppermint gum. Dad took some too.

“You’re starting to look a little green,” said Jamie.

“I might need that trash can back there,” I said matter-of-factly.

“Nope,” said Dad. “Just throw up over the side.”

So I did.

Jamie gave me a 9.5 on my delivery and distance.

The second one scored higher for volume. So much for the BLT. But I felt a little better, as most people do after they’ve gotten the nasty out. I felt a little better…and then I felt a little worse. I preferred standing up to sitting down, standing up and clinging to the railing and using my knees as shock absorbers until my legs shook from the effort. I stared at the horizon, shouting silent orders that my addled brain sort itself out immediately.

Exactly how far out were we going? I’d seriously love to settle down now, body and soul.

But the boat kept on moving; my brain and my stomach kept on doing backflips. The rain and the spray hit me like little needles of sleet, but I didn’t care. The excessive shivering actually helped take my mind off the rest of the world. Jamie put Dad’s jacket around my shoulders when my lips finally did turn blue.

Blessedly, the ship finally slowed down, and the ominous voice over the loudspeaker announced that it was fine for all of us to cast out our lines.

Yeah. Fine for them, maybe.

I give myself credit: I tried. I really did try. And Dad and Jamie were so accommodating–Dad baited up my hook and showed me how far to cast (we had to be careful not to tangle lines with the 60 other people fishing off the side of the boat, which happened quite a bit) and how long to let my line out. Even perfect strangers were helpful and patient; the guy to our right reminded me to watch the horizon and not the water below…but how are you supposed to fish without watching the water?

He also threatened a little fish he caught, instructing him to go get his big brothers and bring them back to face him. I was glad to find that I was not too incapacitated to laugh.

The worst was over, but the damage was already done. There I was, in the midst of doing one of the things I had always wanted to do, and I was rendered completely incapable of doing it. It hurt to open my eyes — like in a dream, they would roll back up into the only slightly less turbulent back of my head. It hurt to talk. It hurt to listen to Dad and Jamie talk. It even hurt to think; my mind was all over the place. Trying to stay with one train of thought was like trying to hold a balloon underwater. It took so much concentration that I was forced to let go, allowing random words and feelings and images to bounce around inside my skull like energized atoms.

The sky was blue and cloudless now, and the sea was cerulean glass, but I was no part of it. I was trapped inside a body that refused to bend to my will, and it angered me to no end. It had never occurred to me that any of the things on my list wouldn’t be both fun and satisfying in their accomplishment. I should be ecstatic, not angry.

But being angry hurt too. So I settled for battered frustration.

I tried at least four times to fish, and finally gave up to let Jamie and Dad have some fun. In between fishing spots, I’d rest my head on one of their shoulders and nudge my bruised mind towards the numbness of almost-sleep. Then they’d get up to fish again and I’d resume my efforts to remain calm, leaving the bench every half hour or so to relieve myself over the back railing. I couldn’t even appreciate the gorgeous red snapper that Dad reeled in (with Tony’s help, and a hook), all I could think was: That’s the most beautiful fish I’ve ever seen…now MOVE.

I had brought my camera on board, but thankfully, as I was indisposed, the crew snapped their own picture of Dad and his catch.

I was behind Tony, bent over and making yet another offering to Poseidon.

Despite the prolonged misery, the call was given to reel in and head back much sooner than I expected. I wanted Dad and Jamie to catch some more fish. I was long past wanting to sober up and catch something of my own. I wanted to go back to being happy. I wanted to pay Dad back for the trip he had given me that I had completely wasted. I put my head on his shoulder, clutching the ginger ale that Jamie handed me and refusing to disgrace myself on the way back.

That one I blissfully did manage.

Our friend The Fish Talker had told me that once I stepped on the dock I’d be fine. Unfortunately that was not the case, but that fact that I was on solid ground meant that I was one step closer to wellness.

The little ironies of life were not lost on me, of course, and I could almost hear Murphy cackling in the wings. Thanks to twenty-first century advancements in technology, the Pastime Princess had been equipped with all the proper female facilities and not once the entire time did I ever have to use them. And yet I had still managed to purge all my necessary bodily fluids off the side with frequent and consistent grace and aplomb.

The balance of the universe remained in that I had sacrificed enthusiasm for one of my dreams and spent over six-hours straight being painfully ill…and my father brought in the biggest catch that day. Tony said in his fourteen years of chartering he had never seen a nicer fish. There were paparazzi as we walked down the plank, and Dad was the first to receive his fish, pose for the cameras, and have his catch cleaned.

He also won the pool, of course, making all his money back for the trip, plus enough to fund a fabulous day full of food and dancing at the Greek Festival on Sunday.

THAT is the way my luck works.

Well done, Dad. You deserved that fish!!!