w: Ryan Payne

Sleeping Fishes

I’m thankful for the sleeping fishes.

But I wasn’t always. When I was 5 years old my grandfather taught me to fish. I hated the sleeping fishes then.

To a 5-year-old, the world is new and wondrous. Your Dad is the tallest man on earth. Your house a mansion, regardless of its size. Every patch of trees has a castle lurking somewhere behind the bark. Exploring the world is a big event. Five minutes is an eternity. Everything is new, and every new thing happens so fast.

Except fishing.

My grandfather owned a boat for most of my childhood. We fished in it, but mostly just sat and watched water in it, and looked at it when it wasn’t in water. I didn’t learn to fish in the boat, though, but on a small bench by a lake behind my grandparent’s house somewhere in Tyler, Texas.

Their house was married to the trees there, and the two danced beautifully together in every season. They brought smells of pine needles and rain and wet wood, and they gave visitors creaking deck chairs and stray cats and every new thing a kid is awed by.

One day, my grandfather and I sat on the bench by the lake, one watching the other string a pole, the small one only wondering where all of the wrinkles grew from. We were both quiet, fish don’t really care for conversation anyway.

It turns out that fish don’t really care for 5-year-old kids either, at least those didn’t. My grandfather and I sat for hours that first day, and many hours after, catching nothing. I think, perhaps, the fish were simply sleeping.

Sleeping fishes to a kid are quite an annoyance. After a while the wrinkles become mundane, you don’t wonder about them anymore. The old-people-smell becomes normal and the trees stop dancing with the lake house giving you strange smells. Even the lake becomes boring, just water, and the hidden castle in the woods simply isn’t.

Failing is devastating, especially when you’re young. I lost my balance at that house once. I fell off my bike. Bloody knee, crying kid. To my mind, I lost my balance. It was gone. Forever. But it wasn’t.

I didn’t catch any fish that first afternoon on the bench. It was a grave failure to a young kid wanting to impress his grandpa. I hated the sleeping fish then.

Grandpa died a year later.

Sleeping fish gave me hours that have traveled and became years and have shaped who I am. I had a casual conversation with a friend once waiting for a very slow elevator to deliver us two floors down. I was annoyed. I told him I’d see him soon. That was the last time I saw him. He was gone the next day.

Life is meant to be breathed like the trees greet oxygen. Never rushed, but relaxed, experienced.

You can’t drown a fish in water. You can’t tell a 5-year-old his balance is always going to be lost, you can’t wake a sleeping fish by begging it to be caught. The truth of it: to drown a fish, you drag it backward. But we move forward. We do get dragged backward but the air still glows in our lungs. The balance comes back, the fish bite again, the wrinkles get more interesting and the old people smell is OK again.

Once upon a time, my grandfather taught me to fish. I didn’t realize that I was learning. But 25 years later and it’s been the best lesson I’ve been given. I love sleeping fishes.

614 words

12.6.17

Ryan Payne

Ryan Payne is

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