We fish for fish that are small and weak.
Henry and me are both massive by comparison; he's six and scrawny, which makes me even more of a force; look at me though: standing there on the lake, squinting at the gilded ripples dancing in the sun: I'm a western Eastwood, a Terminator. I'm Ben Kingsley/Don Logan, glaring at a seven-inch largemouth bass flapping around on my hook, high above the water where she lives, probably scared shitless out of her mind, her vision all blurry, memories bashing through her wild mind the way that they do when your Subaru is flipping out on the interstate and you're dead soon, airbag technology be damned, because your face is about to meet with the curvy top part of a guardrail that-up to now- has remained the most anonymous stretch of metal on Earth, but which is about to slice you into the darkness, dude.
"You got one, Dad?!" Henry hollers at me from his spot down by the wooden bench. We're at the little boat launch area. It's become our spot this summer. Sometimes he doesn't want to come here, he wants to 'try somewhere else'. But fuck that/I'm a creature of habit. I want to squeeze as much simple joy out of this ride as possible.
We catch fish here.
And even if they're hardly ever big ones, who cares, right? Who cares what we catch? Who cares what we do? We are out here in the sunshine moving slower because maybe our blood has happiness in it. I don't know where that comes from.
I don't get happiness. Is it real? Is it a chemical released from your brain? Or from pizza? Wine? Sex? Meth? Is it always so temporary? Or has anyone ever had a happiness that lasted. Like, they woke up one day and all their shit was in place, all the ducks lined up like a motherfucker, and even though they knew it would fade/the smile lighting up their puss would go out after an hour or two, when the next bill came or when their husband or wife came home from work and they were drug back into the inexplicable darkness that came over them every time this person they once loved (still love!) appeared in the kitchen/never looking them in the eye anymore/beating them down/beating them back with their own unhappiness/one of their pubes on the toilet seat making you ill/making you furious/how is this my life?/motherfuckin' happiness thief/working/driving together to the Target with the kids in the back/listening to Arcade Fire because you're both trying to remain in light/everyone up front bluer than the October sky/everyone in the back happy with their Goldfish in a Ziploc/until they're tired/bored/collapse, utterly dejected by life, in the shoe aisle in a half hour/unhappiness oozing up out of them like street vent steam/it never went away, the happy. It remained. I doubt that has ever happened. How could it work?
"Largemouth!" I yell at Henry. He's running my way now. He drops his rod to the ground over where he is, he don't give a rat's ass. He lets it fall out of his hand like a cigarette he's done with and he runs at me with everything in his body.
"Dad! I wanna throw it back in!"
He wants to throw it back in, you see. Six, young, beautiful, sharp, happy, sad, fiery, sweet, my middle child, my first boy. My first son. He wants to throw it back it, this little bass. Why? I don't know. I don't ask him and he wouldn't know what to say even if I did. He'd probably look up at me with brown eyeballs that speak beyond his heart or mind.
Seriously, Dad? You really need to ask me that? What do you think? Why are we even here? I want to throw it back in because I want to feel wet fish skin on my kid skin! I wanna feel connected to something! I wanna touch a thing, a totally wild and free thing, for a brief moment, for like three seconds while we hold it captive, before I give it back to life. Okay? Does that make sense, dipshit?
Henry moves into the fish's head and whispers. Then he raises it to his lips and watches to see if I'm looking- and I am- and so he kisses its top lip with his lips. He doesn't fake the kiss. He's truly happy. It's a real smooch. You can't fake that shit when you're standing there in the world unencumbered by demons or ghosts or lust or whatever. He's overjoyed right now and it's truer than God or money. I don't know, he might be the only human being alive on the planet at this moment who is feeling the purity. I'd lie to you and say I'm with him if I was a lying man. Because I'm feeling something, don't get me wrong. I'm all climbed up in Henry's smile and it's propelling me upwards in ways both rare and strange to me anymore. I'm an American adult; I walk around in a haze of poisonous anxiety. My dreams embarrass me. Sometimes I'm ashamed to want to live the life I live. Writer? Rock/Roll guitar player? Broke? Scared? Serves you fucking right you banged-up middle-aged daydreaming sack of hot piss.
Then sometimes I watch Henry kiss a fish and something in me clicks. All of this is because of all of that. All of us is because of everything that happened. My choices. Diving in so hard and fast. Rash. No plan. Young, then youngish, I turned away from so much. I wanted to be happy. I wanted to live a happy life. I swore I knew how. Sometimes I think I still do. But I dunno.
Henry tosses the bass back into the water. It slaps down over near the cattails that will steal your hook if you think you're a fishing badass and can cast anywhere near them. I'm cranked up on coffee. Got my last kicks in just under the 4pm window on our way here. I sucked it down on the ride over the mountain. Sometimes we see deer. Not today though. By the time we got to the lake I was twitchy, dehydrated, and unable to achieve full happiness because my veins were pulsating with the artificial kind that keep me from feeling comfortable enough to touch any kind of honest vibe.
The closest I can come is this.
Me and my son watch the spreading circles of a very small fish that ate one of the worms we bought at the gas station like two weeks ago and that I keep in the fridge in that little Japanese hotel room butter section thing up on the door until we break them out for a day like today is turning out to be even if neither of us know it right now since a ton of the happiness that will someday come from this very moment of the two of us being alive together and standing in this precise moment together is currently racing away from us, up/up/up/ through the puff clouds and the bluebird sky/slitting through all that/bursting out into the blackness of space/out past the moon/pffft: the moon!/out past THE SUN!/me and Henry and the ripples of a long gone baby bass shattering out into the stars/so swift/only turning back around when we're older/when happiness is harder for both of us probably, because life will eventually whittle away at the childish toothpick castle he was born in/things will happen/his heart will break so bad/his soul will try to punch his face from the backside of his skull/his spirit will tire/he'll become so sad/then he'll be sitting there/Where???!!!?/Oh, I wonder/I hope it's somewhere he loves/somewhere with green hills and trout streams/or with mad bustle if that's what he wants/the memory turning back around to race back to him then/zooming/blasting back through the unseen night/blasting back through the visible day/blasting down through any cloud he might be under or any roof he might be under or any tree he might be under or through the top of his car rolling down the road/the anxiety welling up in him/exams/job search/she hurt me/he made me cry/I wish I was better/I'm so scared of what's next/slamming into his scalp like lightning/like rain/like hot summer sun/and thrusting him headlong into the past/back to a day/long ago/God, how we forget things/back when he was laughing beside me/when I was smiling my ass off/him kissing a fish I'd caught/throwing it back into the lake/standing there, just the two of us, watching the lake swallow its child back into its mysterious belly/a pissed-off redwing blackbird clacking at us from a pine above the dock/coffee in my veins/Kool-Aid in his veins/the same imperfect blood running so perfectly through our veins.
"Dad, put a bigger worm on my hook," he tells me. "I wanna catch a big bass."
I don't say anything. I just nod. He runs back to get the rod where he dropped it, over by that bench. He runs back and I'm waiting by the plastic container of worms. For a second then, I feel it: total happiness. It comes and goes, but it came and I felt it, man. Don't tell me. I know what I know. I pick out a fat crawler and Henry's face explodes, "Oh yeah! That's the guy!"
And we both shoot out into the stars again.
But someday we'll be back.