Rocket Launcher

I am away from my computer for a few days; updates & comments temporarily suspended.

The following is stolen from the Archives; another one to file under the Etc Column (i.e., not about Orthodoxy) …

Red stick, frayed paper, floating down the river. America’s birthday, day after. The spent rocket launcher passes by the pier; he drifts into memories.

Remembering the days of his youth, many ill spent, he realizes that when he was younger he never saw the beauty. He saw dirty water, red mud, mosquitoes, water moccasins, mom and dad. It wasn’t all bad, it just wasn’t as pretty as it seems now.

Yesterday, his six year old son had been afraid to jump off the pier even though he sported a life vest. As a help, as his dad, he’d thrown him in. Thank God it had worked. The young’un had spent the next three hours plunging in solo.

This morning his son had come to him and related a dream: “Dad, I had a bad dream. I dreamed I was in the water, at the deep end of the pier, and I couldn’t get up, and I kept saying, ‘Dad! Dad!’ and you couldn’t hear me.”

He’d told his son that his dream had probably been due to fears from the day before. He’d tried his psycho-babble best to flesh out his son’s fears, his dream. When quizzed later, his son’s answer was a sufficient echo of what he’d told him. He would eventually forget that stuff and probably look back in 30 years or so on red mud, dirty water, water moccasins … “Daddy threw me in the water.”

It’s all good, sooner or later. Every now and then, in some psychological, metaphysical, mundane way, it all comes together. For brief moments, occasionally, life makes sense.

When the planets aligned and he held his mouth just right, like an autobiographical decoder ring, he could see clearly into the past. The beauty of it all. With proper understanding, once in a blue moon, even bad was beautiful. Not necessarily bad stuff like divorce, drinking and drugging, friendships lost, death. Nope, those were just things that bumped into beauty yet weren’t a part of. Rather, it was the memories which had been sanitized and prettified by his mind that took on a hue quite unlike ugly. What else would you call it?

Not many ripples in today’s waves. The red stick had moved only about three feet down the river over the past hour. Often, if you sat on the porch long enough, you could see a water moccasin swim past. Beautiful. Terror and beauty blended in a sidewinder.

A flutter and a splash! A duck swam up into flight and soon disappeared. The morning sun was beginning to burn off the cool mist. A fisherman’s bass boat sped past. Soon the haze of a 93 degree day would manifest itself. For now it was birds, bugs … beauty.

Yesterday, the Fourth, as he’d sat listening to his grandmother, he was plunged thirty-eight years into the past. Having learned to water ski on two skis at the age of six, his father was determined that he was going to learn to slalom at the age of seven: that very day, the Fourth of July. There was a whole gaggle of folks down at the lake house. They were on the pier, the deck, in the yard, the water. His father was showing off his boy. Yes, today — that day — his boy would do it.

By the time he did do it, it had only been his grandmother and grandfather left on the pier. Dusk had settled in. He had literally cried a river. His angry father had lost all patience. It was going badly. He remembered his father saying, “Son, I tell you what, if you don’t get up this time, I’m going to drag you across the lake and make you swim home.” It didn’t seem factual, but at age seven anything was possible. Even coming out of the water on one foot and skiing in fear and triumph around the lake at dusk in front of your grandmother was possible. So that’s what he’d done. Thanks be to God.

His father had done him a great favor, making him slalom at the age of seven. All through adolescence he was known — at least in his mind and that of his friends — as one of the greatest skiers on the lake. He stared at his own son; wondered what he would become.

His uncle’s pier was adjacent to theirs. It was his father’s habit to speed into the cove and turn the Glastron at such an angle that he, the skier, could land between both piers spraying a fifteen foot high water rooster tail. An impressive end to a solo water show.

He was fifteen years old when he’d met the water moccasin. He never skied unless there was an audience, and that day had been no different. His dad swooped into the cove and as he did his trademarked water spout, there, looking down — in an instant — he saw that he was circling a snake.

One of the truisms of water skiing, gravity being what it is and all, is: When you let go of the rope, you’re going down. God! How he’d wished he could grab the towline back! A snake!

As he’d come up from the splash, the snake was swimming — right toward his head, eye level. Without thinking, he threw his right hand up through the water, connected with the belly of the serpent, and sent him up about two feet in the air. Then, turning toward his uncle’s pier, he’d tried to swim.

He’d been swimming since he was five. With a good ten years under his belt, he’d finally failed. Like a gossip rendered speechless, he’d flailed about in the water. He became a madman.

From a distance, in the boat, his dad heard his calls: “Help! Snake! Help, help! Snake! Snake!” He’d later learned that his dad had said, “I wish he wouldn’t do that. One day there’s really going to be a snake.”

Unbeknownst to dear old dad, that day had arrived.

He kept slashing like a retard, gurgling screams, eyes wild with fear. He remembers even trying to swim underwater. Opening his eyes in the muddy vortex, what had he seen? Snakes! He’d entered that part of fear where anything’s possible: mad dad making you swim home, skiing on one foot, death by a thousand moccasins.

One thing was for certain: He couldn’t swim. Yet he’d somehow made it to his uncle’s pier. He climbed the ladder and — though at that moment, looking at his uncle, he’d never been so happy to see someone is all his life — he’d said: “Dammit! There’s a snake in there! Why didn’t you help me!”

Reality, oftentimes being stranger than fiction, saw his uncle laughing. It was a friendly laugh, but just before he was about to show his uncle the appreciation of a punch in the nose, he’d heard: “Look … that snake ain’t after you. You scared him off!”

He looked back toward his parents’ pier. The snake was a good swimmer. Fear had not slowed the sidewinder’s skill. He was going, going. Gone.

His eyes searched for the spent firework. The waves had picked up over the past twenty minutes. He couldn’t see it. He wondered if, by some sort of cosmic kismet, it was now between those same two piers. Nope. Being a stick, having no water skills, it had obviously sunk.

Between two trees he spotted a massive spider web, its spirals leading to its owner and creator. There’s a sinkhole by the seawall. Big water rats and snakes used those tunnels. There were bubbles at the pier’s edge. Probably a turtle.

Though it wasn’t yet hot he could see three or four small Brim under the shade of the pier. Later in the day, he was planning to swim with his kids. But now it was time to head into town to visit his father. Dying of cancer.

Red stick, frayed paper, floating down the river.

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