“This is how you cast your line.”
With a smooth fluid motion, he brought the rod over his head and flung it out toward the water. His bobber hit with a small plop.
He handed me a rod after he put a minnow on for me. I couldn’t bear to do that part. Looking behind me to make sure no one was there as he had instructed, I held down the big white button and then released it as I made the forward motion just like he had. My bobber hit the water with more force, however.
“You did okay, but your minnow came off. Bring it in and you can do it again. You can’t do it so hard.”
He rebaited the hook, and I tried again but this time consciously with less arm power behind it.
We were at my uncle’s cabin that sat on a lake that was so clear you could see the sand on the bottom. Fishing off the dock was just as good as a boat because the water housed many crappies, sunnies and walleyes that swam by in large schools.
Just as he had taught my three older brothers to fish, he was passing the ability on to me. For my first few attempts, he stayed close by keeping careful watch as I tried to do as he had said. For eleven years old, I thought I caught on quickly. I only had a few mishaps of releasing the line too early and getting it caught in the weeds behind me on shore. A few other attempts left my bait going airborne until I learned control.
When he was satisfied that I could handle myself, he went back into the house. My brother, Bob, was on a dock next to my uncle’s so he thought he could leave and have my sibling supervise me.
“I need you to bait the hook,” I pleaded.
“You have to learn sometime,” he answered without looking at me.
“I don’t like doing it.”
He wasn’t about to budge from his spot on his dock beside mine. It would have taken too much physical effort for him to walk the few feet over to help me.
So, with bravery I did the deed and abhorred every second of it.
While practicing my new skill, my cousin came and stood by me. I wasn’t thrilled with him invading my space, but it wasn’t in my nature to be unkind to him. Whenever we visited our relatives, I felt like he clung to me too much, and he threw temper tantrums over the slightest mishaps. I never knew when the kid was going to sound off like an alarm without warning so he made me slightly edgy.
He started asking me a bunch of questions that I only half listened to. I was trying to concentrate on casting and getting it right. Too many times my minnow was sailing through the air forcing me to reload and try again. I was determined to learn and show my dad how good I was.
I reeled in my line. I made sure I carefully extended my right arm over my cousin’s head before jerking into a cast. Even with the careful, deliberate movement, I saw my bait fly over his head. Then, he started to wail like a wounded animal.
I yanked on my line thinking maybe I had gotten it stuck on the weeds behind us on the shore. Every time I pulled he screamed bloody murder. I cranked on the line again and felt much resistance. This felt different than when I had gotten hung up on something before. This was quite the puzzle until he bellowed,
I glanced at him to figure out what all the fuss was about and saw the hook securely planted in his big earlobe. In my defense, the child did not have petite ears.
“Why is he crying?” my brother yelled over.
Great. Now he takes an interest in what I am doing, I thought.
“I don’t know.”
I gulped at the sight of my handiwork in body piercing.
“Did you hook him?” my brother asked.
He cried louder.
“I will help you. Just hold still,” I said. I was trying to quiet him down so the adults wouldn’t come running.
“Did you really hook him in the ear?” my brother asked again from his dock. I could tell he was trying not to laugh.
I ignored him and carefully removed the source of pain without saying anything about what I was doing.
“Is that better?” I asked hopefully.
“NO! It still hurts.”
“Let me see,” I said.
It was a very small hole with a spot of blood that was visible.
“I want my mom!” he suddenly yelled.
“Wait. Let’s just see how it feels,” I suggested before he ran off half crazed and got me into trouble.
I imagined my fishing privileges being revoked if word got out that I had actually impaled him.
I dipped my hand into the frigid water and put it on his ear. I had to come up with something quick. I didn’t know how long I could hold him there.
“You know what? I think a bee stung you.”
His glasses were fogged up and he was breathing heavily. He wasn’t at the height of health for a six year old. He was as round as he was tall and easily got winded just from walking up a set of stairs. Sweating came easily for him and his bright red cheeks were an evident sign that he was in distress.
“Ya. I think it flew right in and stung you on the ear! It’s gone now though. I got it away from you.”
“Yes. Does it feel better?”
“A little bit. It doesn’t hurt as much.”
He stopped crying and mopped his face with the back of his pudgy hand.
“I am going to go tell that I got stung by a bee!” He huffed and puffed his way off the dock and ran as best as he could toward the cabin.
“Did you tell him he got stung by a bee?” my brother yelled over. “That is hilarious! He actually believed you!”
No longer able to hold in his amusement he began to laugh loudly.
“Shut up!” I said as I followed behind my cousin.
By the time I got to the house, he had told all the adults.
When I walked in the door, I was questioned immediately.
“Did he get stung by a bee?”
I took a slight breath and nodded affirmatively.
When he walked past me his ear was barely pink and almost back to normal. I had just lied myself into a situation that I didn’t have to.
“I think it will be just fine,” my mom said. “He seems to be okay.”
I inwardly sighed. As long as he thought he got stung by a bee and so did everyone else, I was off the..well..I was in the clear.
I returned to the dock, picked up my rod and tried again.
“Does everyone think he got stung by a bee?” my brother asked.
“Yes,” I said.
The fly in the ointment! My brother knew the truth.
“They don’t know you lied?”
I tried to preoccupy myself with the waves rolling up to the shore.
It was left at that, and I thought the incident was over, but I was about to be introduced to a concept that I didn’t understand. Blackmail.
The next day, as usual, my brother did something to me that was not to my liking. When I was about to let my mom know, he whispered,
“Remember? The bee sting?”
If I stepped one toe in my mom’s direction to tell on him, he would spill the beans about my cousin’s ear!
The tightness in my chest at the thought of being exposed was enough to freeze me in place. In that instance, I was lured into his scheme.
One night, about six months into his game, I was on my way to let my mom know that he had just done something again to upset me. As I turned to leave, he whispered,
“Remember?” He had shortened it to one code word. No longer did he need to explain like in the beginning. We both were clear on what he was saying.
I suddenly started yelling at the top of my lungs,
“I don’t care! Tell her! Tell her everything!”
Months of this torture had built up inside of me. While I was keeping my mouth shut, he was able to say and do whatever he wanted to me. I decided in that moment to take back my power and face the punishment that I should have received months prior.
My mom heard all the commotion and said,
“What is going on?”
I ran up the stairs before he could and found her at the table making out her grocery list. The words gushed out of me.
“Remember that time last summer when I said a bee stung Noel on the ear? I lied. I accidentally hooked him with my fishing line. Bob knew the truth and has held it over my head since then. Every time I was going to come tell you something, he would stop me and tell me he was going to tell that I lied.”
Her eyes turned into a tight squint.
“Robert! Get up here now!” She had used his legal first name. Trouble!
Her voice reverberated through my chest like one of those huge sonic booms that you hear on the Fourth of July.
I watched him slump up the stairs.
This actually wasn’t going in his favor, and it surprised me.
“Is this true? Have you been blackmailing your sister all this time? I don’t allow that in my house!”
That was the first time I had heard the term. I may not have been wise to the vocabulary back then, but the experience was enough for me to never forget.
He admitted to his wrongdoing and was sent to his room. For once, he had come to find out that he wasn’t always going to be on her good side. To tell you the truth, I was shocked that she treated him how she did.
She turned to me and said,
“Don’t ever let anyone do that to you. First, tell the truth and don’t lie. Second, if you have something to say, then say it. Don’t let another person ever have that much control over you.”
“Okay,” I replied.
I waited for my sentencing, but there wasn’t any. She figured I had gone through enough months of emotional turmoil at his dark bidding.
Many years later, as an adult, her message to me still rings true. Whether it is a relative, a scary financial situation or an unhappy existence in a workplace, do not let anyone or anything hold you hostage. If anything, go to God and tell the truth so that you can have the help you need and live free. Unload the burden from your heart, and let your honest prayers be the beginning of you no longer being hooked.
(On a side note, the next time we went fishing, and my brother and I were fishing on separate docks, I overextended my cast and hooked him in the palm of his hand. His yelps could be heard for miles. My dad actually laughed and said we needed to work more on my technique.)