Deep Water

As September was sliding into October, my family made a trip to my uncle’s cabin on a lake. We usually went during the summer when the water was warm and crystal clear enough to see white sand. I spent hours floating on an air mattress, letting the waves gently rise and fall around me. An occasional boat would zip by pulling a water skier, or a slow pontoon would motor near, full of people who would raise their drinks to say hello. 

This time, crisp breezes were beginning, the sun was losing its zeal, and leaves were starting to fall. So there was no swimsuit and towel to pack. I wasn’t looking forward to going because without the option to swim, there wasn’t too much to do. 

The drive was always a marathon to endure, and I was not given any option but to sit directly next to my brother. At home, I avoided him as much as I could, so to spend hours in close proximity was a test of my patience. 

He could do sound effects of everything, and he did it accurately. Did I say repeatedly? If we were waiting for my dad to put gas in the car, and another vehicle would start up next to us, he could mimic the engine’s sound before the driver turned the key. He absolutely adored this about himself. 

Most of all, he was so impressed that he could produce the sound of a mosquito better than the real thing. And he loved to do this very near to my ear to make me think I was under attack..especially when I was trying to read. If I had a book in my hand, which I always did, this was his cue to find a way to disturb me. 

To say I was always happy to get out of the car is an understatement. He had a short attention span, so he thought I was a great diversion from his boredom. Before the station wagon was stopped entirely on the gravel drive, I was opening the door to free myself from his presence. 

I helped unpack the car, mainly a hospital supply of first aid choices because my mom was an RN. Any medical emergency that cropped up would immediately be taken care of. From calamine lotion to a tourniquet, she had it along. 

My brother made a beeline for the water with his fishing rod. To stay away from him longer, I chose to sit with the adults, and it didn’t last long.

As I got up to leave, my dad asked,

“Where are you going?”

“Down by the lake.”

“Don’t fall in.”

I was at an age where his overprotective comments didn’t appeal. I was in fourth grade and fully capable of maintaining my balance, so why was he treating me like a newborn? 

He flashed me a smile which only irritated me more. 

As I opened the screen door, I said over my shoulder, 

“Do you think I’m stupid or something? I’m not going to fall in!”

And with my bratty attitude, I let the door slam behind me. I heard him say, 

“Just don’t fall in!”

Ugh! 

Why I went down by the dock he was fishing off is a mystery to me, and I must have been highly bored to subject myself to more of his horrible interpersonal skills. 

For once, he was quiet, and I stood on the shoreline picking up rocks and small shells. I saw him jerk his line and start to reel. He pulled a fish from the water and went about taking it off the hook.

“Look at this! Come here!”

What else was there to do to pass the time? I hesitantly walked onto the dock to see what was such a big deal. There wasn’t anything special; he just wanted me to watch him put it into the floating bucket. How exciting!

He turned back to what he was doing, and I looked into the somewhat murky water. I saw small fish swimming near, darting back and forth. The waves were coming in heavier as the wind began to pick up. Hypnotized by what I was seeing and not realizing how off balance I was becoming, much to my surprise, I hit the water face first as I fell in! 

I surfaced, gasping for air. My brother slowly turned to see the look of surprise on my face, and he looked just as shocked. 

“Chris, are you okay?” He actually mustered up genuine concern. 

I didn’t answer at first because all I heard was my dad’s words ringing in my ears and what I had said. I just stood there soaking wet in a heavy fall turtleneck and jeans. 

“Are you going to cry?”

And that’s as far as his compassion ran. He threw back his head and howled like a rabid dog.  

“You fell in! That is so hilarious!”

He didn’t offer to help me out of the water because he was too weak from finding my predicament so funny. I sloshed over to dry ground and considered my dilemma.

I wanted to run away from him, but I didn’t want to face the music back at the cabin.

My hair was hanging in strings, and my shoes and socks were heavy. Every time he looked my way, instead of feeling bad, he clutched his stomach and doubled over in glee with his whole body convulsing. 

I wished I hadn’t said what I did to my dad. But I couldn’t take this anymore. I got up and made the long, squishy walk back.

I considered not going in right away to see if I would dry out, but it wasn’t summer anymore, and I was so uncomfortable. I had no choice.

The door squeaked loudly, announcing my arrival. I stood in the doorway dripping. All eyes were on me.

My mom was the first to speak, 

“Chris! What happened to you? You are soaking wet!”

It was pretty obvious what had occurred, but she forced me to say it. 

“I fell in.”

As if scripted, the entire room erupted much the same as my brother had. Not a single soul felt my pain. 

My mom grabbed a towel and handed it to me. I wanted to put it over my head and hide because I knew what was coming next. 

“So, Chris, do you remember what you said on your way out of here?” My dad asked. 

Of course, he knew I knew.

“Didn’t you say: Do you think I’m stupid or something?”

It was so humiliating, but I couldn’t take it back.

“Yes, I said it,” trying to dry my hair. 

“Pride comes before the fall,” he replied. 

I had no clue what that meant, but the subject got changed, and so did my clothes. From then on, I learned that when he said something, I tried to conceal my pre-teen eye-roll at least. While his unnecessary concerns still drove me nuts, I didn’t ever want a repeat performance of what happened at the lake. 

In this passage, some valuable information is offered in Proverbs 15:31-32: 

Whoever heeds life-giving correction will be at home among the wise.

Those who disregard discipline despise themselves, but the one who heeds correction gains understanding. (NLT)

Who likes to be corrected? No one. Ever. But, something is to be gained when it does happen; we learn about ourselves that we can change for the better. It brings us up higher spiritually so mistakes made in the past can be erased and forgotten.

I had dismissed my dad’s prophecy as ridiculous, but what if I took it seriously? God is speaking to us all the time, whether we want to admit it or not. We are offered protection and can receive it if we incline our ears to hear warnings and instructions from above. What trouble could be avoided if we just took the time to listen versus rushing ahead dismissing that part of our lives? It just might keep us from getting into deep water.

Hooked

“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.”

“Too bad.”

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,

“MY EAR!”

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.”

“Really?”

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.”

“You did?”

“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?”

“No.”

I tried to preoccupy myself with the waves rolling up to the shore.

“I do.”

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.

 

hooks

 

(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.)