Thanks to a guy named Big Victor, I’m finally free of years of bitter resentment. No, I didn’t put a hit out on anyone — although, Big Victor did seem like he’d be up for that kind of thing — I simply went fishing.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve idealized fishing. As an awkward kid, I would search the neighborhood gutters for the slightest trickle of a creek. I’d fashion a fishing pole out of a stick, string, and a safety pin. I’d pack a canteen of lemonade and a little snack — Oatmeal Cream Pies were tasty and doubled as decent bait.
To me, catching fish was secondary to experiencing a classic summer past time — leaning against a shady tree on the edge of a river, jeans rolled up, bare toes dipped in cool water, waiting patiently for a nibble while communing with nature.
Fortunately, I had an active imagination, because my childhood fishing trips mostly took place in a drainage ditch under Route 286 and the only thing I ever caught was a bacterial infection. My family was not into fishing, so other than a few fruitless tries with a rental pole from a pier while on vacation, the opportunity to go on a real fishing trip never presented itself.
That is, until the summer of 1978, when my parents arranged to go off-shore fishing. They invited my grandfather, aunt, uncle, cousin and brother … surely this was my big chance! “Lisa, you’re staying at home with the dog,” I was told. A tiny spark of resentment ignited deep inside.
In the summer of 1990, I was at school studying for my law exams, and called to find out how my family’s summer vacation was going. “We’re eating the tuna your brother caught today on our deep sea fishing trip!” I was told, and the embers glowed red.
In 1995, a couple years after marrying my Navy husband, Francis, we were living on Fort Ord, just outside of Monterey, California, and the opportunity to go salmon fishing came up. “Nope, you’re eight months pregnant,” I was told, and steam rose from my ears.
In 1998 while stationed in Norfolk, Virginia, there was a bachelor party fishing trip (“No women allowed”) and in 2012 while stationed in Mayport, Florida, a fishing trip with guys from work (“Who will watch the kids?”) Before I knew it, the spark of resentment had flared into a raging wildfire.
But recently, in a strange twist of irony, the chance I’d been waiting for came among the vast urban sprawl of Los Angeles, California. While visiting family there, Francis’ brother, Chris, proposed a five-hour off shore fishing trip.
“FISHING?” I blurted, “SERIOUSLY? ME, TOO?!” I may not have been an intended invitee, but at that point, Chris had no choice.
We boarded the boat in Marina Del Ray, looking like idiot tourists with our fanny packs, sunscreened noses, and a cooler with enough snacks and drinks to sustain us for a month. The hulking hispanic deck boss, “Big Victor,” carried a knife, a gaffing hook, a large gold chain, about 150 excess pounds, and a look on his face that said, “I eat idiot tourists for lunch.”
After finding a good spot among the whale watchers and the oil tankers, the crew flung chum over our heads while we set our lines. Four and a half hours later, we thought Francis had finally caught the big one. His hands shook as he strained to pull in what was surely a 40-pound yellowtail.
“It’s kelp,” Big Victor said, and used his gaffing hook to retrieve Francis’ mangled line.
I knew I’d be coming home from my first real fishing trip empty handed, but it didn’t matter. The sun on my face, the spritz of chum flying overhead, the bubbles of a cold beverage, and the satisfaction of baiting my own hook had fulfilled my childhood dreams.
“Fish on!” I yelled excitedly, just as we were about to haul anchor. “Is it big enough to keep?” I whispered to Big Victor.
He nodded his massive head, and with a swipe of his knife, I had two tiny fish fillets to contribute to dinner. I stepped off the boat that day, grateful for my first real fishing trip …
… and that there was plenty of spaghetti at home.