Monday, April 9, 2018

A Confession

Editor's note: Opening Day of trout season is around the corner. It's a weekend that stirs memories and emotions for countless fishermen; some more so than others. This is the finale in a series of guest posts from my friend Chad Wilde. He's a great family man, angler and writer. I like sharing Chad's work here, but fair warning, this is the toughest thing ever posted on this blog. Tell your loved ones you love them.

my earliest memories of fishing involve being woken up in the pre dawn cold of an april morning by my father. he rousing my brothers and i for our annual opening day trip. his voice silent as to not wake my mother and sister; "wake up, pal." i remember the station wagon, the smell of coffee and the calm easy speak of the morning news on the a.m. radio. riding in the way back.

he had great patience and he dutifully baited our hooks with worms and worked out our remarkable birds nests from faulty casting. fishing until we were bored and hungry. then later, our town firehouse served fisherman's breakfast: pancakes, scrambled eggs, sausages, orange juice. i do not remember catching fish though i am sure we did. i loved the 3rd weekend of april, opening day weekend in connecticut, and i still do as a touchstone of spring.

years later, my dad gave me my first fly rod. i was out of college and stumbling around for a career, a woman, an anything or a something. i was drowning in debt, crashing through relationships, emptying bottles; a walking shamble of a young man. looking to be someone and not knowing still who that was to be.

i needed something new and when he gave me my rod for my birthday i thanked him and told him that he had given me a new hobby, and my mind bent towards the rod and its work instantly. i took the rod to a field and amazed myself by being able to lay a reasonable amount of line out on the grass. holy shit, i thought, i can do this. i reeled in and went to the river, where i caught a dace on a big dry fly. that fly rod was just what i needed, and i took to studying it and gradually my spin rods were left home. it is still what i need.

my dad and my uncle began 20 years ago our current opening day tradition of fish camp. he and uncle jim would drag out the pop up campers and load up wood for a weekends worth of campfires, fishing, drinking, and eating terribly unhealthy foods. our camp started small, but grew to its current stature of almost 40 people and 5 campsites. i look forward to it with trepidation and joy every year.

as i grew older, fish camp came to mean more and more to me. as life strangles the time from your days and you hew out what hours you can to fish. a full, unadulterated weekend becomes the carrot dangled in front of the ass: slogging through the winter you find your mind creeping towards spring days and trout fishing.

we camp beside and fish the natchaug river. the word natchaug comes from the nipmuc indians and it means "the land between two rivers". in 2008 i went to sleep semi drunk on the first night of fish camp before anyone else in our camp. i was excited to get a good early start on the fishing the next morning. my dad came into our camper for something as i was bedding down and he said "good night, pal. i love ya." even in adulthood he said that to me.

i dimly recall the gauzy morning light the next morning, the sounds of someone stirring. it is impossible to be quiet in a camper. it was still mostly dark outside and i rolled over and stole another hour in the warm sleeping bag. when i woke up again i dressed and walked to the camp ground bathroom to force the necessary shit out of me to allow concentrated fishing. i saw my dads shoes below one of the stall doors.

mildly hung over, no caffeine in me yet, i took my shit and realized that the air in that bathroom was far too still, oddly silent. my first thoughts were that my father, in the stall next to mine, had fallen asleep. i spoke his name. again louder. i wiped my ass and the panic began. looking over his stall door.

the sight that i saw there that morning. finality and so obvious, an undignified pose, not fitting of he or any man. i broke the door down and touched his neck. i ran from there, one shoe came off as i ran to our camp. i yelled for help. my brothers came. "its dad. the bathroom." they ran as i called 911.

we tried our best. i learned that morning that efforts at resuscitation put air into lungs that the body will force out in a low moan. we heard this sound, awful sound, and it gave us hope. "come on dad!" we called, pump the chest, breath for him, try, anything. the first responders were there before i knew it and they cleared us from the bathroom and tried their best too.

my brothers and i split up. my older brother to my mothers house to get her and my sister, my younger brother and i to follow the ambulance that had left 5 minutes earlier as we 3 blind mice made what plans we could. pearl jam song came to mind:

'i miss you already. i miss you always. 3 crooked hearts swirl all around.'

when we caught up to the ambulance what hope there was faded. no siren on. the lights flashing, but it wasn't going as fast as it could have. there didn't appear to be any urgency: indeed, things had been decided well before the trip.

it was a massive heart attack, sudden and unseen by any. my dad was in good health per his doctor but 2 weeks earlier.

my grief was black anger. pour blood on me, i boil. this is how i grieve. i was a mean son of a bitch, careening from tears and ache to the bile of hate. waking in the night on my now widowed mothers floor and thinking 'was it a dream? no.' being a shitty son to my mother, a shitty brother to my siblings, a shitty man to who is now my wife. a shitty self. so sad, so angry.

my confession is that in the aftermath of that day i was angry at my father as his passing had taken that weekends fishing from me. its there, in the grief stages.  his passing had tagged my life and like a nuclear event had blown it all up and the aftershock had pulled it back together all akimbo and staring outward with a thousand yard stare.

his wake was an opiate. the line of people there to pay respects snaked around the town for a half a mile. i do not believe i over estimate when i say there were thousands of people there. as he had touched me, he touched so many others. a very, very good man. my family stood there and went through the sad chores for better than 2 extra hours than were planned, so as to allow everyone to say goodbye. in between the greetings and tears, i thought of fishing. stripping streamers. stupid white zonkers I could see in the water.  again, i confess. so selfish.

a week later i was back on the water in that hazy grieving state. interface with the new normal: each new day the new longest time since i've spoken with you. the future stretching out in front of me saying figure this out and learn what you can. a stocked trout hits and takes the hook deeply in the gills. try to save it, fail. new tears, for the trout? angrily let it float away and down, down, down. not even saving it on a forked stick to be eaten. fuck you trout. this time i'm god and you lose. i confess that.

don't it make you smile? when the sun don't shine.

and all these years later, i still confess this: that morning, when my father woke up and i stayed in bed for that extra hour....i think deep down that maybe i could have helped him. if i woke too, that extra hour earlier, and we went together to the bathroom maybe he would have said "i don't feel so good." maybe i would have seen it. the doctors told me there was nothing i could have done, but i disagree. i confess that if nothing else i could have helped this man cross over. not alone in a camp ground bathroom. i confess that i don't believe i will ever feel there wasn't something there i could have done and didn't.

but through all that, i’m still out there strippin’ streamers.  and that rod he gave me is still up here on my wall.


  1. dearest one...I was in that line that snaked around the funeral home and stood patiently just as the others just to say...I am sorry....You matter....and your family matters and I will forever remember that awful moment when Sarah called me. At the funeral, you were eloquent and steady and heartfelt. How lucky we all are in being touched by you and your brothers and now your beautiful wife and children.

  2. Wounds that never heal and only become less jagged with time. These are the things we carry.

    Chad I hope you share some more posts here or elsewhere, it's a beautiful talent.


  3. An amazing post for so many reasons. Thank you for sharing.