Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Fair winds and following seas

It took a few days for it to sink in after I heard the news. I just never imagined he’d be gone. Over the years, although we might go a couple of months without talking, he had become family, not just a fishing buddy. No matter how long it had been since we last spoke, we picked up right where we had left things.  

From the first time we met we were tight. We had a lot in common; shared experiences and similar roads made us equals on some levels, time and wisdom made him the teacher and me the student on others. We saw things in the same light. He was one of those friends you could say a hundred words to with just a look. It was the same with him.  It made for conversations short in content but long on meaning.

Our last time fishing together was a great day. He took me around to some of his “spots” telling me in no uncertain terms that it would be to my benefit to keep the locations and access points to myself. We didn’t catch many fish that day but enough to keep talking about at the end of the afternoon as though it had been an extraordinary day.

It was.

I had told him I was going to fish with him in the spring. I didn’t.  I had tied a bunch of flies for him that I said I was sending down. I didn’t.  They’re still sitting in a bag at the corner of my desk. At the end of our last phone call a short time ago I said I’d call the following week. I didn’t.  Time seemed short; I had too much to do or some place to be…now there’s no time.

I should have fished with him in the spring. I could have easily mailed those flies to him. I would have made that phone call if I knew time was running out.

“Should ‘a, could ‘a, would ‘a.” He’d hate that. We talked about those things periodically when discussing opportunities, options and decisions. He’d say, “So do it. Or don’t. It’s up to you.” His point was about not making excuses, about owning whatever you did and living with it, good or bad.

It took me a while to look my guilt in the face and accept it, to find a place to put it and live with it. In living with it, I had to say good-bye, in my own way. Whether it was the right thing or the wrong, I had no idea what else to do or where else to go. So I went. It was tradition, something left over from a previous life. He knew it. He’d understand.

I left the office and stopped at the bar around the corner. I found two seats at the bar, took one and put my coat on the other. I told the bartender my friend would be there in a few minutes and ordered two whiskeys. The bartender set the glasses down and asked if I wanted to start a tab. I paid and told her we were just having one drink and then moving on.

I took a sip and flashed through moments we had shared, conversations we had and images of his cocky smile flooded my memories. I stared in the mirror above the bar and could see him making long effortless casts and splashing around the flats with a fish on. I watched him as I finished my whiskey. He turned and shot me that look that said he knew something that I didn’t and walked out across the flat toward the point where the water meets the sky. Tears were streaming down my face when the bartender brought the change back. She asked me if I was ok. I just nodded, put my glass down and stood up taking one last look at that flat in the mirror. 

“Hey, your friend didn’t show up”, she said holding up the other untouched glass as I turned to leave.

Over my shoulder, I replied, “Yeah, he did.”

Time is short.

Do it, or don’t.

It’s up to you.

I love you, Billy.

From the water
30 October 2018