Following are the three stories that earned runner-up recognition in the Dickinson Magazine fiction contest: "How to Act Like a Struggling English Major" by Haley Weiss '15, "Trash" by Mollie Kramer '15 and "Quick Glimpse" by Donna Peterson, administrative assistant in the Registrar's Office.
Stage One: Pick a Senior Seminar.
Why don’t you take a biology class? Your dad’s question smashes through your mind like a bear. You let it claw at you, while logging into your college account to register for courses. It questions your academic decisions, your blood sweat and tears with a maniacal sneer. Blood from that time you got a horrendous paper cut while flipping through the pages of King Lear; sweat from taking out your stress on the poor elliptical in the corner of the gym, where no one could see you; and tears from that time you attempted to read Jane Eyre in one night—what an idiot.
You decide to head downstairs and face the monster. It’s time to make your case—if Hemingway can make it as a writer, why can’t you? You’re not even an alcoholic. You make better life decisions than that. Surrounded by walls of medical books and surgeon certificates, you stand in your dad’s study as the fireplace blazes. You explain a fact to your dad—a fact as tried and true as MLA format: English majors have no free time. Extra courses are out of the question, especially in your fragile state of seniority. Taking biology would be like asking Hamlet to have a happy ending. It’s not going to happen, period.
The books and certificates laugh at you.
What would Hemingway do in this situation? Do you take the bottle of scotch from the desk and run? Maybe a little alcohol in your system would help the words flow out? Perhaps it would make your writing more legit?
“Wouldn’t biology be useful?” your dad questions.
You let the subtext hang in the air.
You pause your course search for next semester to stare at the English 101 titles. You feel like a grown woman reunited with her parents after returning from a book signing in Paris, Spain and London. Look how far you’ve come, you living cliché! You wonder why a course called “Tacos, Dumplings and Kebabs in Contemporary American Literature” was never offered to you? What a rip-off. You continue to scroll down the page to reveal your fate. A cold sweat engulfs your manicured hands like a tidal wave. What will it be? Feminism in Eighteenth Century British Literature? Imperialism? Post-Modernism? Eco-criticism? The possibility of “isms” is like the scenic descriptions in Tess of the d’Urbervilles—endless as the possibilities of Shakespeare’s identity, or how about you go with a lovely cliché—as endless as the sky.
You contemplate closing your MacBook and running downstairs to order Chinese food. It suddenly seems imperative that you start taking more advantage of your dad’s multiple credit cards before you are cut off. You write yourself a reminder on an initialed sticky-pad to order your textbooks in a few weeks. But you know the threat is just his sugarcoated suggestion to get your shit together, and apply to grad-school or find a job—preferably a reliable one. Maybe you should just scrap your English major and head to medical school? You cringe like the Grinch on Christmas. But you obviously have at least a couple years to determine the best road to take—maybe Robert Frost can help you with that? Besides, your mom would never let you get cut off. Every time you reply that you have a cold to her daily text of “How are you? I miss you (insert multiple heart or kissy face emojis),” she sends you cans of soup and packets of tissues. Apparently convenience stores don’t exist in your college town. You determine that being cut off is about as likely as writing about Feminism in Literature for your thesis.
You continue to scroll down into the pits of hell. Finally, the 400 level courses rise up from the bottom of your computer screen. You hear the spirits of past seniors cry out to you. Remain strong. Take a deep breath and go … first you read through the titles of the six course options, and make sure to re-read them, and then you read the descriptions, and don’t forget to re-read those as well, and then you go back to the titles, and just stare.
You pass some time by Snapchatting your city friends. You send a picture with wide eyes and teeth bared like the rabid raccoon that terrorized your town’s golf course a few weeks ago. You laugh at yourself, then suddenly become upset by the fact that your city friends are probably off in the Hamptons playing polo, ringing in the last few weeks of summer with an endless supply of Long Island Iced Teas or perusing Facebook by the ocean with a $10 iced coffee in hand. Your parents always told you that your city friends live in a fantasy world, and apparently need to get off their high horses. You would happily get over your fear of heights right now than be sitting at your desk.
You continue the staring contest with your computer screen, but it awaits your decision and the time has come to pick your poison, but you are as indecisive as a run-on sentence as you tap your rounded nails against the desk.
You finally win. The decision has been made. You have chosen your Senior Seminar. That’s all for now folks, stay tuned for next month’s struggle. You are blissfully unaware of this foreshadowing broadcast. Now, you brilliant decision maker you, you deserve Chinese food. Before ordering you head downstairs and ask your mom if she wants anything—you even plan to pay with your babysitting money. Brownie points would not be so bad to add to your victory. However, your intention is shot down by a poem of anaphoric questions:
“What classes did you choose?”
“What professors will you have?”
“What does your schedule look like?”
“What time did your father say he would be done working in his study?”
Respond to the first three questions. Before you can answer the last, you are asked to expand on your answers. Your mom obviously doesn’t know the basic English rules: be concise, avoid repetition and don’t be wordy. Repeat and broaden your answers over the next 20 minutes. Then casually allude to that fact that you hate being the Nick Carraway in your parents’ absolutely normal marriage because it makes no sense. Your stomach snarls sensationally and you feel the alliteration digging dangerously through your core like a deranged dog.
“How about we do Chinese tomorrow night,” says your mom.
You watch the green light fade away.
“Dinner will be ready soon,” your mom says as she slices up the chicken.
You respond with a nod. Perhaps minimalism is in your future? You notice that the pot of pasta has begun to boil over—now that right there is symbolism.
“When’s the job hunt beginning?” asks your dad.
Think that his question must be a joke.
“I’m not amused,” he comments.
You edit your thought, and then stab your fork into the chicken.
“Well first you should get an idea about what kind of job you want to look for,” your mom suggests.
Her suggestion is like telling you to put a period at the end of a sentence. Tell her that you have a few ideas, even though you have many.
“Well, I’m listening,” says your dad.
You give into his subtext.
“Magazine editor, novelist, screenwriter, short fiction writer,” you list.
“Those aren’t going to make you money overnight,” your mom laughs.
Wonder how many times you’ve heard that line before, but in your mind you don’t put a question mark down at the end of it—you poor, poor English major are sure to hear it many more times in your near future. Blow off your mom’s mockery within the roll of your eyes.
Secretly, you harvest a gut feeling that continues to grow: you know that your writing is worth it. You will make it just like JK Rowling, only you will be a younger version. You can’t flesh out when this feeling began to sprout—perhaps as a child when you began writing plays and songs for your friends to perform? Looking back, you were kind of like a regular Briony Tallis. In middle school, this sprout began to flower when you won the short fiction-writing contest. You remember feeling like a proud mother as you read your work in the local newspaper. When high school rolled around, you were already sure that the life of an English major was the path you were going to choose—even if it was less traveled by. However, the struggles were not foreshadowed to you. When you entered college, the leaves of your flowers began to fall from their stems, like chopped off heads falling to the street. It became more difficult to get people to read and like your work. Your children were outcasts like the bastards in Shakespeare. Still, as Fitzgerald suggests, you beat on against the current. Finally, with a lot of watering and dirty work, your writing began to flourish. Thank God for that miracle of life. Your A range had sprung, and you had imagined yourself publishing your first short fiction collection by the end of senior year. Well, class work got the better of your attention. The imagination ceased to be reality, but the image still knocks at your head like a hunger that has not been satisfied.
Ask your parents if you can be excused.
“Yes but this conversation is not over,” says your dad.
You know it will never be.
Stage Two: Begin Classes
You no longer have time to dream about Chinese food. The weeks scramble by. But they also seem as drawn out as each dense dismal page in Bronte’s obscenely long novel with utterly lengthy descriptions. You spend each week reading, writing, analyzing, critiquing, stressing, procrastinating, argument-forming, comparing, contrasting, creating and perhaps sleeping. By the end of the week, you feel poisoned by these present participles. As your stomach churns from caffeine, you sit on the top floor of the library. All the way in the back, you are entrapped by your cubicle and your will to finish an essay before the sun begins to rise in the Saturday morning sky. You feel like that crazy lady trapped in the attic. Away from society where silence is louder than any hum of life, your thoughts drift in and out like the tides of the sea. Many nights are spent in a state of delusion—an inexplicable delusion.
Stage Three: Acknowledge Your Thesis Prospectus Due Date
Sometimes you taste the sweetness of success. You receive an A- on your first seminar essay. Not bad for attempting to close-read a work of impressionism. You feel happy for a bit. But that little minus sign sticks into your heart like a dagger. You could have been that perfect A, but your apparently questionable analysis of imagery got the better of you. The wound will remain and you wear it on your on your chest like the scarlet letter.
But thank God for the weekend. You poor, imperfect English major can drown your sorrows like Hemingway and bitch about your life like one of those organic chemistry students. Heading out to the bar with your girlfriends on a Saturday night, you feel like your inner Hyde is about to be released. And you let it happen: you guzzle the fruity drinks, gossip with your girls, hike up your boobies, dance on wobbly tables, kiss a few lips, hug the stained toilet seat, lose a shoe, repeat, then smash. You throw your glass across the room at a pair of lips. It’s over. You have not partied like Gatsby. You walk home barefoot.
You’re done being a cliché f--- up.
The next day you have the hangover—not of the century, but more like the millennium. You roll on out of bed like a drugged sloth and meander to the bathroom. The mirror reveals the extent of your night. You look worse than the monster from Frankenstein and you vow to run away so no one can find you.
After sleeping for a few more hours, you rise as the sun begins to set. You scarf down a yogurt and begin your weekend work. The load seems light: eighty pages of a novel, three short articles, an essay outline, one close-reading paper, two response papers and one six-page critical assignment. You think you got this, but your eyes beg to differ. You finish 20 pages of the novel and reward yourself with a nap.
You sleep through your alarm.
Count your blessings that your roommate snores. She wakes you up. Morning light shines through your window like fire from hell. You, dear English major, have failed. You are a failure. This you know, but cannot accept. You run to the library like a bat on steroids and internally debate which assignment is the most important. You crank out the six-page paper before your first class. It is almost as bad as plagiarism. Sitting in your first class you feel like big brother is watching. He knows you have not done the reading.
Your email has been neglected. You realize this at the end of the day. Perfect timing. Now hold your breath and open your inbox. A surprise awaits you.
Something is rotten in the state of your Senior Seminar. Your thesis prospectus is due in two weeks.
Stage Four: Procrastinate
First, go back to that top floor of the library. Seclude yourself far, far away from your friends (Heaven knows they are bad influences anyway). Now pick a topic. Something that you have discussed in class, but something that has not been discussed enough. What will this something be? You get distracted by the word something. It’s too abstract.
Tell yourself to focus. That doesn’t work.
Tell yourself that if you fail this prospectus, you will live a life of failure and never get a job. That doesn’t work either.
Tell yourself that you can eat three M&M’s after coming up with one topic. That works. What about something like Authorial Reliability in Literature? You eat the entire bag of M&M’s.
But you need to keep going! How about symbolism? You’ve always liked Ibsen’s A Doll’s House and Chekhov’s, The Seagull. A stream of light shines through the window onto your computer screen. The glare makes it hard for you to work.
Decide that you would rather start looking through some secondary sources. Maybe even a primary one for good measure?
You descend the steps towards civilization and the book stacks. While attempting to reach a source at the very top of the shelf, you hear a sound as sweet as the voice of a siren coming from the espresso machine. Decide that you need coffee. Maybe even a mocha? Definitely a mocha with whipped cream because you dear English major will be here awhile. You need the extra sugar.
Now take that mocha and return to your desk. The source remains at the top of the shelf.
On your way back you stop and say hi to your girlfriends. You engage in a conversation about Saturday night. You become engulfed in your tale of peril, making yourself out to be the hero when in reality you were as crazy and corruptive as the governess in The Turn of the Screw.
Half an hour goes by. Perhaps more like an hour? Attempt to make a graceful exit by telling your friends that you hate to interrupt their work. But really, you are the one who needs to stop screwing around.
“It’s just light reading for our seminar,” they respond. “Nothing too important, just skimming through.”
You smile, nod and say goodbye.
As you trudge back up the stairs, think that you too should have been an American studies major.
But you superior English major resume your seat like a queen on her throne. Open your computer and use every fiber of will in your fingers to stop yourself from typing “Facebook” into your search engine. You succeed.
Stage Five: Have an Epiphany
Type “symbolism” into the library’s search engine—you get over three thousand hits. Type in “Symbolism in Litrature and Plays”—get nothing. Are you actually an English major? Maybe you should have taken your dad’s advice? You correct your misspelling and try again. You ... get over one hundred hits. Decide to act like your girlfriends, obviously a smarter version of them—your major makes that inherent. You attempt to skim through all of the articles, but realize your attempt is as questionable as the crack in the yellow wallpaper. You become caught up in the familiar art of close-reading. Tell yourself that now is not the time. You hurry up your eyes.
After a hyperbole of hours, you decide on 11 secondary and three primary sources to include in your prospectus. It’s time to let your hair down from that giant bun atop your head. It makes you look like a Dr. Seuss character anyway—a less cute one. Before doing so, you read through all 14 sources, highlight those important sentences, attempt to keep those extensive notes in the margins (but give up when your letters weave through the entire page like overgrown tree branches), add some sticky notes, take a coffee break and finally, re-read every source and every note. It is done. Your research is done. The storm is over, but your struggle is not.
You rise from your desk, let down your hair and face the window. You see the dead leaves fall from the trees as it begins to rain. You brought neither a raincoat nor an umbrella. Laugh at the unreliability of the weather forecast.
As you descend the library stairs, something horrendous comes through your mind—something worse than heart failure.
Do you even want to write your thesis on symbolism? You try to beat the answer away from your lips, but you fail. You now know that your struggle is not over. This epiphanal moment seems to stop your unfortunate, little English major heart.
Luckily, that’s not the end of your story. You leave the library and hope for the promises of tomorrow.
Around two weeks and 70 coffees later, you stand in front of the thesis prospectus display board. As you shake with wild amounts of caffeine still pumping through your system, you find your prospectus hanging at the tippy top. Your title reads: “The Metaphysical in Contemporary Fiction.” You feel like you have made it to the top of a mountain. As you glance down at all those people who stare up at your success, you laugh at them and say: “And I never even took a single biology class.”
Unfortunately for you dear English major, another mountain awaits. Your 50 page thesis looms amidst the clouds. And you can be sure that people will be waiting at the bottom to watch your struggle.
We built this house just before we were married six years ago. I guess the contractor and construction workers built it for us, but we painstakingly chose every bit of tile, paint, cabinetry, what-have-you, for our beautiful dream home. We needed it to be perfect. Until then, we’d lived in apartments and townhouses, each with their flaws which gnawed at each of us, placing another unwanted argument at our feet. After waiting so long for a flawless place just for us two, we moved in and christened every inch of our new home on our wedding night, down to our bathroom floor. The contractor had put in two bathrooms, one for the guests we hoped would visit some day and one for us, to be our private sanctuary.
I remember that the first week in our new home, the bathroom was bright white and pristine; the snowy grey tiles were laid all across the floor in perfect squares, only interrupted by the tremendous tub, stark white toilet, and pale white wooden vanity. We fought for weeks about the tub. He wanted only a shower with a shower head that made the water come down like rain on him; I needed a tub so I could soak in my cherry-blossom scented scalding water for hours, scrubbing the day’s worry from my body. He conceded my tub, but I had to give him the shower head over top. We were always making concessions to keep us together.
I should introduce us, so you know who we are. I’m average. I’m so-and-so, and I’m an alcoholic, I’m whatever he says I am. He says my anxiety has become an issue and that my depression is well beyond that of postpartum depression, considering it’s been four years now since I got pregnant. My husband, he says I dress like a wanna-be soccer mom in my cardigan sets that he hates, so I remind him he has a weak jaw that makes his face mousy and childish. When we met he said he only came up to me because I was the tallest girl in the room, less than an inch shy of his 5’10”, and that my eyes reminded him of the old pictures of Brigitte Bardot facing the sun. We married quickly, after a year of staring at each other, trying to fix what we each saw to be broken in the other, and alternating turns between giving and taking.
Our home was the one thing we could control. For a while our bathroom stayed the same, give or take some dirt and blood. The trajectory of our life together was mapped out in our small turquoise trash can, a colorful concession for me. Year one, it overflowed with used pregnancy tests from ClearBlue, who swore they could tell five days sooner than any other brand. We wanted so much to have a child that would have the perfect parts of us both, but missing the things we hated about each other and ourselves. The baby wouldn’t have my anxiety or his premature balding. He wanted a tall boy with his animated blue eyes who could play basketball with him, but I wanted a girl with his freckles and my crooked teeth. We tried to conceive until the act of sex became a mission and not an expression of love.
Year two, soaked tissues filled my trash can to the brim, then started to spill over onto my specially chosen grey tiles which looked more like storm clouds than they ever had before. That year there were towels soaked in heavy blood piled in the corner behind the toilet, where they sat for the three days they kept me in the hospital after I lost her. After that I couldn’t leave the bathroom for days, pressing my face to the cool tiles next to the trash can that kept me company. Year three, he threw out my seven empty pill bottles after he made me vomit into that same old trash can which had come to know me better than I knew myself. He said, “Honey, I should have let you die” after I spit in his face for saving me. We both knew he didn’t mean it.
But he wouldn’t, or couldn’t, leave me. I tried to make concessions like he had with my tub, and the trash can collected unused birth control packets and more pregnancy tests; I thought a baby would complete us and fix what I had broken when I lost her. We couldn’t conceive, so we remained as incomplete as we had been. He moved to the guest bedroom. I had refused to give up my safe space, my sanctuary bathroom.
It was in years four and five in our dream house that I started to see the empty condom wrappers in my trash can companion. They were buried under tissues and toothpaste tubes but I saw them, like the trash can was shining a spotlight on them. We haven’t even slept in the same room, let alone together, for months. Even then, we had trusted each other enough to skip the safety precautions. I kept my discovery to myself; it wasn’t as if he had wanted me to find them, was it? He said he didn’t love me anymore but that he couldn’t afford to move out and leave this dream house where he’d sunk all his money. He said he spent most nights at cheap motels alone, but when it got colder out I saw his razor refills in the trash can again. I hardly left my empty bed, becoming a visitor in my own house.
Now, in year six, there are more and more condoms in my trash can. Today I saw a third toothbrush, bright pink Crest, in our water cup and a bottle of lotion that smelled like black orchids in the medicine cabinet next to my cherry blossom bubble bath soap. There’s a pale blue container of 31 pills, 24 are yellow and 7 are white placebos. It isn’t my birth control. Her fluffy magenta robe hangs on the back of my sanctuary door and I know who she is, the opposite of me. She’s not hiding, and he’s not hiding her.
I guess his mistress has moved in.
He was walking down the hallway when he saw me looking inside the medicine cabinet at the lotion, running my fingers down the sleeve of her robe. His mouth opened like he was surprised, feigning awe, but the relaxation in his eyebrows showed me that he was relieved, almost happy, to be caught. I started toward him, holding the black orchid bottle in my hand. When he saw it, his shoulders instantly tensed up and he began to back away, making his way toward the long staircase, like he was scared of me. Passing the mirror in the hall I saw how my eyebrows had furrowed and I saw the rage in my own eyes, something I had never seen before. In a way, though, I was relieved, too, to have eliminated the secrecy and exposed the truth. He kept heading down the stairs with those shoulders tensed up near his ears taking short steps like his fear of me was weighing him down.
“Baby, don’t run away,” I called in my practiced apologetic tone but he didn’t stop.
“We can talk about this, we can sort this out,” I pleaded, talking to his back.
I launched the black orchid lotion at him, knocking him in the back of his head, making him stop and look at me.
“I knew you would find out,” he muttered, “I wanted you to find out.”
He stared at me, so scared, but inside his fear I saw concern and even a hint of love like that night we slept together for the first time. I never forgot the look in his eyes then, pleading with me but loving me enough to stop when I asked. That look in his eyes now, it told me that he had lied when he told me he didn’t love me anymore and that love still did exist between us, somewhere. But I couldn’t find it in me.
The way he walked toward me with his eyes pleading but looking downward and his shoulders hunched in defeat said that she, his mistress, had only been a vessel for love. More than just a vessel, she was a cry to get me to look at him and see him, not what our baby would have looked like with Michael’s big eyes and toothy grin.
He grabbed me and held me close so I tasted his tears and he tasted mine, our heights so close together; that was the first thing he loved about me. He bit his lip now and pursed them together like he used to do when he had a serious question to ask that had an answer he couldn’t guess on his own. I saw him; I saw Michael, all black hair and freckles and the sharp bits of his beard that were starting to grow back. I saw that he was starting to grey around the temples as young as he was; I saw the calluses on his left hand from holding his favorite ink pen that I bought him on our first anniversary. I saw him and I kissed him like it was our wedding day. And then, I bit him. I bit his lip until it bled, bittersweet on my tongue, like the taste of our love had been once, years ago.
He faltered, tasting his own blood in his mouth, and I dragged him back to my bathroom sanctuary. I pointed at my turquoise trash can friend, who was spotlighting today’s deposit of a pink plus sign on her positive pregnancy test.
Growing up in an Italian family was not easy. Okay you’re thinking, big deal. You’ve seen those TV sitcoms or The Sopranos, right? Mine was a bit different. Although I did grow up in New Jersey, my dad wanted us to have a regular childhood and away from the city. My parents were lucky to find a small house in a lake town. We were a family of seven, my parents, four boys and one girl (that’s me!). However, this did not sit well with my Italian grandparents that were now over three hours away and other aunts, uncles and cousins that we would not see as often. To make matters worse my dad worked six days a week with a lot of overtime on top of that, so didn’t see him much either.
When I was young, I heard all the crazy stories about how he picked lemons as a little boy in Sicily, how he drank a bit of wine with dinner, how he’d get milk straight from the cow for the family’s breakfast in the morning, how he had come to America on the boat when he was 12 years old, had his very first taste of a hot dog when he got off Ellis Island and how much he enjoyed it. How he got beat up at school because he didn’t know English or how they put him in classes with younger kids because they thought he was stupid. For that next year, he fought very hard with a tutor to learn English. Fights on the school yard became less and less and he eventually earned his place in his proper grade. I would listen to stories over and over as a kid with wonder and laugh. As a teenager I would roll my eyes and get embarrassed as he was telling my friends these same stories. Now I’m back to loving these stories again.
I learned he went to school till his sophomore year. Why? My grandparents needed him as the oldest sibling of four to quit high school and get a job to help the family. My dad was devastated and angry at the time, but held his tongue and did what he was told. He was of Catholic faith, but by the time he was 18, he stopped going to church. He lived with his parents, continued to give almost all of his paycheck to them, kept very little for himself for savings or fun. Eventually he met my mom at a dance and well, that ends that. Back to the lake house part of my story.
So, as you can imagine there was not a lot of money to go around. As kids we did not know this though. We had tons to do, especially in the summer. Swimming, fishing, hiking, building forts. In the winter, we went ice fishing, ice skating, sleigh riding, making snow forts, the list was endless. We were not inside very often. During this time, my mom never complained. Now that I look back, she endlessly cooked and cleaned that cute little house every day and made sure my dad came home to a nice dinner. I know this sounds old fashioned, but it was the '70s and part of the '80s and she was a homemaker. If she didn’t do what she did I truly believe everything would have fallen apart.
This does not mean everything was perfect. It wasn’t. Times were tough. Money was scarce. My dad worked very hard for very little. He was a machinist by trade and worked in a factory. He had horrible insurance coverage and that only came later when we were a bit older. So, I’m sure they worried every time one of us was sick or hurt. I remember at times tempers flared when things got tough and it was normally between my dad and my older brother. He was getting older, had his own ideas about the world and my dad had his. Not a good combination at all!
As the years went by, my dad continued to work day in and day out. Yes he occasionally complained and I’d hear my parents whispering about money or bills, but somehow things got done. My dad even managed a hunting trip occasionally with one of my brothers which they enjoyed. This was rare though. He taught them to fish and hunt, but did not teach me a whole lot. Because I was a girl? Perhaps. It felt like he couldn’t relate to me. I was a tomboy who enjoyed all the things my brothers liked to do. But, I got the feeling he wanted my mom to deal with me. I fished just like them. I had my own fishing pole.
So, I lucked out one Saturday night with my dad. My older brothers had plans. I was about 10 years old and announced I wanted to go catfishing. It was just about dark, so it was perfect.
“I’ve never been catfishing, can you take me?” I asked.
My dad looked up from his newspaper and said, “Oh honey, catfishing can get nasty. It’s not like when you go fishing for sun fish.”
“I know, that’s why I want you to come with me. Please?” I pleaded.
He sighed. “Okay, go get your tackle box and pole. I’ll get the lantern and other supplies,” he said.
I jumped up and down with excitement. I couldn’t believe he was taking me fishing, let alone catfishing. He was taking the time to do this with me!
He announced to my mom that we were going catfishing, I caught her arching her brow at dad and we were off in 15 minutes. Our dock was different than the others on the lake. Nothing fancy. Others were painted or had benches or nice boats attached. But we knew ours was just fine. My dad lit the Coleman lantern and we got our poles ready. The crickets were making their beautiful sound that I still enjoy to this day. I could see the clouds overhead looked a bit grey and dark, but nothing to worry about.
We sat on the dock crossed legged and fished for a bit. Soon I caught one and my dad helped me get it in the pail. Catfish are dangerous and snap at you. It actually had whiskers!
Several more minutes went by and I said, “Dad, thanks for taking me fishing.”
“I’m glad I came, but hear that? We’ve got to get moving!” he hissed.
Confused, I turned my head and heard gentle pelting from about half mile away. Is that RAIN? It can’t be! Then suddenly, a loud crack of thunder came along with it and several seconds later a bolt of lightning. The rain was now swarming across the lake—and fast. We had about 15 seconds before we were soaked. We gathered up our things as best we could, dad snuffing out the lantern, grabbing the fish pail handle and we each had our poles. Closer now as I heard it making its way across the lake.
“Run!” Dad yelled at the top of his lungs.
Dad was ahead of me since he was faster and he certainly knew I wouldn’t get lost back to the house. I knew my way better than he did. We were halfway up the hill when the first rain drops hit. Big. Rain. Plops. Dad was struggling with all the gear and already out of breath when he started to laugh. At first I thought something was wrong, but soon realized, haha, everything was really funny. His clothes were already soaked through and shiny, his eyes were dancing and knew I must have looked the same, so I started laughing too. By the time we made it back to the house my dad was laughing maniacally and my mom was waiting by the back porch with the door wide open so we could get safely inside. The next thing I knew I watched as I saw my dad relaying the entire night of events up to the crazy rain storm to my mom. I remember watching him that night as he was telling my mom the story. He looked so happy and relaxed.
My dad was tough to get to know over the years. I finally realized as an adult it wasn’t because he didn’t love me or didn’t want to get to know me. It was because he had five kids he needed to provide for. He needed to go to work each day and suck it up and pay the bills, the groceries, keep my mom happy. A lot to do for a young man in his 20's at the time. So, every time I think of this one night and this rain storm it makes me smile and I know I had a rare quick glimpse of a happy go lucky man I know was always there.
Read more from the summer 2015 issue of Dickinson Magazine.
Published July 28, 2015