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"The One That Got Away" by Jason Stahl

Jason is an editor for a trade magazine.  He lives in North Ridgeville, Ohio.


© 2004  Jason Stahl




The One That Got Away

I think it was when I was six or seven years old when my uncle took me on my first fishing trip, but it's hard to say because I was so young and the trip was so fleeting and now it's 21 years later. Even though I do have an outstanding memory, especially for faces, as some of my former kindergarten classmates can attest, I can only see the fishing trip in parts, as if I'm watching a show on television and someone's changing the channels, then going back to the program I was watching. I see the inside of Uncle John's car and the remnants of a Big Mac which I had boldly said I could finish (even though I knew I damn well I couldn't). But that was on the ride home. Then I see the lake I was casting my line out to and the faint shadow of a hole under the surface where I pulled fish after fish from. And then I feel a tap on my shoulder, and when I turn around I see Uncle John with his hands spread about a foot wide and a grin spread even farther holding what looked like the world's most perfect largemouth bass, emerald green with a radium-white belly and eyes like obsidian. 


I remember that at some point he had gone off with his buddy from the police department to fish at another spot, and the buddy's son and I had been so busy pulling one bluegill after another from our wonder hole that we'd forgotten all about them. That's what made Uncle John's catch all the more thrilling; I had been told by my dad that he was quite a fisherman, and in those days when I carried frogs and salamanders around in my pocket as frequently as I carry a wallet around today, telling me someone was a great fisherman was like telling me that person was God. I was in awe of my Uncle John, and pointing us to one of the greatest fishing holes I have ever seen and catching one of the most beautiful fish I have ever seen only pushed him higher on the pedestal I had put him on.

That was one of the last times I ever saw him. Oh no, he didn't die; it was far worse. He was alive, and my family ignored him. He divorced my Aunt Jean, with whom he had had one son, Casey. He then quite the force after 10 years without an explanation, and if my mother was telling the truth, he cashed in his benefits and flew off to some exotic island and spend every last cent he had, all the while refusing to pay child support and alimony to his dear wife and son. It was then I was told he was a weirdo. Then there were rumors that he had claimed he'd been shot on duty, but surely, my father and mother and Great Aunt Margaret said, if he had been shot it would have been all over the newspapers. Then I'd heard of a horrible bicycling accident he'd been in where he'd hit his head very hard and had to go to the hospital. Aunt Margaret believes that the head trauma he suffered as a result of the accident accounts for why he is the way he is today. Crazy. Looney. Not all there.

Obviously, I had a hard time believing all of this. But I have heard my Uncle John say some strange things before. I remember one Christmas (before the divorce, escape to paradise, and bike disaster) when he'd made a startling revelation while nestled in my parents' expansive couch and surrounded by at least eight other family members. "I've quit fishing," he simply said, and there was a collective gasp as everyone couldn't believe that he'd given up on his lifelong passion. Aunt Margaret was quick to tell him to shush up in case I might hear him and get hurt, but it was too late. I'd been playing with a new fire truck right behind where Uncle John was sitting, and had heard the whole thing. It felt like I had just chugged liquid nitrogen and could feel it slowly work its way down my innards. I had also heard my Aunt Margaret tell him to keep it down, so I slinked off quiet as a mouse and cried in a corner.

Then, it was one humid, summer day, when I was 14, when I heard Uncle John's name surface once more, again without any compliments attached to it. My mother had asked me to cut the grass, and, as lazy, unambitious, smart-aleck 14-year-olds are prone to do, I refused. I was swayed a little closer to the task when my father asked me, but all I could think about was how hot it was outside and how much blue smoke the old Lawn Boy farted from its engine I was going to swallow. "You're just like your Uncle John," my dad had said, and I might as well have been punched in the stomach. My dad had just called me a deadbeat, liar and quitter, when "lazy bastard" would have sufficed; and instantly I knew that there had been something more between my father and his brother that perhaps I would never know, something that made the time a 12-year-old John broke his brother's nose with a baseball bat pale in comparison. But on that lazy, hazy day, my father had also unknowingly called me one of the greatest fishermen in the world; and thoughts of my Uncle John holding that brilliant bass with a timeless grin frozen on his face was enough to make mowing the lawn seem like an afternoon of fishing.





All  work is copyrighted property of Jason Stahl.






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