The drawings in this post were completed by hand in pencil; they were painted with the GIMP, emphasizing flat shapes and saturated colors.
There’s something in the hot and muggy air of the South that takes me back to adolescence. A heavy rain stirs up all the settled smells of the day, and I think about playing frisbee on the flats behind our school. I’m a lot younger in those moments; I know my role, my duties, my self. All my senses dilate; and the part of me that creates is suddenly sniffing around for nourishment, hungry for the things that swell with feeling.
As a kid, family time did not appeal to me. We were a group of introverts; my father and mother each relaxed with separate interests, and my brother–nine years my senior–was just too grown up for me to understand. I didn’t emotionally invest in the family, at least in an intentional way, until later. There was always love, sure; but often all we wanted was to sit silently in one another’s company.
When I was three or four, my dad took me fishing on the Delaware. We had a scuffed-up aluminum boat with an old motor. For something as simple as a johnboat, it was always causing problems: the engine smashed dad’s thumb; there were water snakes in the hull; you’re going to throw your grandmother out of the boat, stop moving! But I loved the strangeness of it; the water made us behave differently. My father came alive; he was strong in a way I never knew, somehow willing the boat to stay afloat in the swiftest currents. And we in turn grew powerful in his presence. We struggled together against the elements and the depths and the fish that surely mocked us. We were family, then.
The fishing trips always follow the formula. Dad is hot – so the air conditioning in the cheap (and now, not cheap) hotel is always running. Nature sweats and bristles outside while my brother and I, numb and icy, stare at the ceiling. In most hotels on the lower eastern seaboard, the ceiling is spackled white. The Virginias, the Carolinas, and especially the hotels of Florida. The ceiling fan is on high. The TV is always on, talking to nobody. At night neither my brother nor I are ready for bed, but at 8 and 17 we don’t know what to do with one another. So we go to bed anyway.
It is my curse that I actively remember the details of every insignificant moment of my life. In the same way that a certain smell can evoke a crisp memory and emotion, I spend my mental energy dutifully cataloguing all the parts of the present scene and disassembling them for later use. If I were to wake up again as a 12-year old in the hotel room in Boone at 6:30 pm, I wouldn’t need to get out of the hotel bed to tell you what I had for dinner, how the grass smelled after the rain, what color the leaves were, how long the ride was to the boat, and how many trout I caught that morning. The memories are so clear that I would probably forget about the life I’ve lived since then – I would just be 12 again. Maybe this is part of being a visually sensitive introvert–your memory is a sensory rolodex. Is memory just as storied and emotional for other types?
Dad planned a new trip to Florida, to the gulf coast for the tarpon migration. Last week we towed the boat down, a bright new ranger with a wide hull, loaded with electronics and fancy fish-stuff. I packed my bag and flew to meet them at home in NC. While I slept, Dad packed the car. He probably started with the rods, reels, flies, and gear–the fun stuff. Then the safety stuff: lifejackets, ropes, a whistle, warm towels. There was a long list of things he had to keep track of with the new boat: testing the electrics, the trolling motor, Florida’s legal requirements for seafaring boats, the bilge pumps. He was exhausted, but so excited to have his own boat on his own schedule.
The drive was long. In the car we had my brother, his friend André, dad, and I. Down south we met up with Elvis, another friend of my brother’s; and Jim, a family friend, Wyoming guide, and the fishiest guy we know. Within a few hours we had the boat in the gulf–the first Stoner vessel to touch salt. The rest of the night was spent in anticipation: unpacking gear, picking flies and lures, and half-tuning in to Jeremy Wade’s River Monsters. The evening air grew cool as a thunderstorm drew on. My memory turned to the past again; to all the times it had rained on a fishing trip. To plastic ponchos and sweaty gear and muddy water. When I was little it felt like disappointment. But then again, you could never be completely sure; they say the big ones only bite when the rain is just beginning to fall.
More fish coming your way,