The biggest catch of all
Dear Evan and Lulu,
I’ve felt extremely scrutinized this last week. I’m reminded that it is often times easier to keep your mouth shut, and say nothing at all.
When I was nine years old I was an expert at saying nothing. I was embarrassed by my stained teeth so I spent most of my time brainstorming ways to never have to open my mouth in public. Talking was discouraged. Smiling was reluctant. Laughing was forbidden. My ultimate goal was to blend in.
Somehow I had three friends who saw past the silence. When I was around them I could be myself and let go of the anxiety I felt filled with. One friend in particular, Katie, had a magical ability to help me forget the obsession I had with my appearance. Maybe it was her own plain demeanor. Maybe it was her toughness that grew from conditions brought on by growing up on a farm. Probably it was the fact that she was way too preoccupied with riding horses, fishing and exploring to ever worry about teeth.
In my own home I was fully encouraged to explore nature. However, Katie’s home had an entirely different interpretation of what that looked like. Now, as a mother, my heart still flutters when I think of some of the things we did at such a young age. The first time I went to Katie’s house (at age 9) she asked me if I had ever rode a horse before. I told her I had a few lessons when I was 5 or 6. In her mind, this meant I could handle the horse who was “easily spooked by cars” and we proceeded to ride horses alongside the highway for the remainder of the day, trying to cure him of his fear.
Katie’s parents were loving and supportive, they just weren’t ever around us. I can remember spans of what feels like 8 hours on the weekends where we never checked in with them once. Who was always around when I was at her house, filling the void of adult supervision, was her pesky neighbor and my classmate Sean. Sean was everything Katie wasn’t. He was loudmouthed, the class clown, and relentlessly teased me about not just my teeth but everything. I never understood how the two of them were friends, except the ruralness of the area made everyone seem more tolerable than they really were. The carefree lifestyle I got to enjoy around Katie was shattered every time Sean came around.
One day in particular Sean wanted the three of us to go fishing on the lake they lived next to. He convinced Katie’s parents to let us take their small fishing boat out under two conditions: 1) We had to wear life jackets and 2) We could’t use the motor on the boat but instead had to row. (I guess they didn’t completely let us roam free.)
I spent most of the trip in my usual position I assumed when Sean was around. Head turned staring straight out into the lake, avoiding any kind of conversation or interaction. Sean seemed to care less about fishing and was more interested in throwing rocks at the birds who flew over us. I let my mind slip away, following the fleeing birds, while we drifted further and further away from the shore.
I was brought back to reality with a solid thump to the back of my head followed by a stinging sensation I couldn’t quite locate.
“You hit me with a rock” I said calmly, not wanting to engage in a conversation with him.
“No I didn’t” he replied knowingly, “I’m not even throwing rocks anymore, I’m fishing.”
He’s fishing, I thought? Then what struck me so painfully in the back of the head, large enough to still leave me in pain? My fingers traced trails through my dampened hair which led them to a sharp metal prick, protruding from my head. The hook. Burrowed deep down through my hair, lodged into my scalp, nestled tightly with barbs poking from every side was Sean’s fishing hook.
Sean seemed to take notice at the same time that his line had never landed and his eyes followed the glimmer of line coming from the end of his pole to the place where it ended. Me.
I sat quietly, contemplative, while Sean marveled at what had just happened. Katie seemed frightened, I seemed like a statue, and Sean looked like he was thoroughly amused. We held our poses until Sean broke the silence, proclaiming all knowingly “I’m going to reel it in. It is probably just tangled in your hair.”
My stomach dropped further than the bottom of the lake floor. I knew that hook was not just in my hair. I knew it because it hurt, I knew it because my fingers felt the bulge of it under my skin, and I knew it because I was the one with a fishing hook sticking out of my head. But I couldn’t say anything. Years of being silent had built up residue, filling my stomach, leaking into my throat, stopping my mouth from moving. Instead of talking I pleaded in my head. Please let a great wind topple Sean out of the boat. Please let a wave wash over him right now. But neither of those did any good.
I waited for Katie to say something, to stop him, but she just looked back and forth in horror between Sean slowly winding his pole and me with silent tears at the end of it.
“Don’t reel it in.” I finally muttered quietly, hoping my words would float in Sean’s direction.
“Of course I’m going to reel it in,” he replied, “how else are we going to fish?”
The damn that had been blocking my words burst open.
“DON’T YOU DARE REEL THAT IN ANY FURTHER!” I screamed. “My head is attached to it. You cannot reel in my head!”
Everyone sat stunned at my outburst, nobody more surprised than me. Sean barely even protested when I took charge and started telling him what to do. Despite our second rule from Katie’s parents I instructed him to start the motor of the boat and drive us to the shore. He followed my direction perfectly.
I got to surprise a lot of adults that day with the wonder of how a fishing hook could get that embedded into a head. But I really surprised myself when I realized just how powerful and righteous I could be when I actually spoke up. Especially when it was about something that mattered so much to me.
I get to decide what happens to my head, just like I get to decide what happens to the two of you. I get to decide but I have to speak up if I want anyone to listen. It is easier to keep your mouth shut. It is easier to paddle along, be reeled in, and not resist the momentum. But you end up dangling on a line controlled by someone else.
Don’t choose the easy route, my loves. Speak when it is difficult. Yell if you have to. Don’t let people tell you what to do with your own head.