Maybe it’s the murky river… Or the pile of garbage I passed on the path… Or the low-riding car filled with men whistling and yelling things in Spanish I assumed to be threatening- they all lead me to re-name this river “The Ghetto River”. As a woman, I will be permanently breaking up with this river.
My black lab yanks his leash out of my hands as we head further on the path. I let him go, hoping he will scare off any serial killers lurking under the bridge. My knee is acting injured today, so I move with calculated foot steps down the embankment; which makes me feel even more vulnerable to a predator.
The river is littered with garbage under the bridge and there are plastic bags filled with something in the bushes that I am sure are dead bodies. I step into the water with my wading boots and my face curdles, a natural reaction to the stimulus of a lukewarm, muddy, repulsive river. A noise rattles the bushes behind me; I quickly turn around, while locating my knife in my mind. It’s just a posse of stray cats, looking for food. Shouldn’t someone do something about these cats? My lab runs towards them, unaware of their presence. Thankfully, they scurry off so I don’t have to try to help them…
Should I just go home?
I won’t- I can’t let a few eerie factors snub out my desire to be alone on the river- I have to prove to myself that even if I am a nervous, injured, woman alone I can still be here. I have a right to be here and not be bullied by the sick men whistling or the creepy landmarks that are freaking me out.
I move like a turtle through the water, making sure my old injured knee is stable before I use it in full force. The water is shallow, but swift in places. My gregarious lab has already crossed the river twice and came back to be near me. I use his head to balance for a moment and when I look down I notice something white in the water. It is probably a skull- oh my goodness from someone missing, a cold case that I will more than likely crack. I wonder if they will have free counseling for me if it is a skull. They really should provide free counseling for that. Oh wait, its just a paint can…
Oh wait, its five paint cans. Who throws paint cans into the river? Only in the ghetto…
The grass is tall on the bank as I stomp through it to find my fishing space- I’m guessing there are rattle snakes in here. I’m even more sure there are huge spiders and drug needles hiding in the brush, but its worth the risk to get to my spot; the addict part of me has set in and now I’m thinking about fishing versus ways I could be shanked.
I tie the lab to a rock and throw out a wooly bugger, strip it in and cast to various potential fish holding places. The clouds above me are forming in shapes of ginormous flaky biscuits- am I the only one thinking about biscuits while staring into the sky? Why can’t I get focused on fishing?!
A truck on the bridge with tightly tinted windows slows down to a dead halt, then it moves, turns around and drives back over the bridge at a creepy roll. I want to yell “Leave me alone”- but I just keep fishing, trying to look as tough as possible and appear unaffected by their perusing.
I get nothing on the wooly bugger. I throw out a darker caddis fly, as I noticed one in the water while looking for dead bodies. The fly floats down through the ugly current and I get a hit. I whisk the line to set the hook and it returns empty. This happens four times…I am locked in to catching whatever this cheeky fish is- until I realize that I have forgotten about being scared in the ghetto and then I start thinking about it again. I acknowledge my fear briefly and say, “OK- this is ok”.
My lab is staring at me- I say aloud to him, “I don’t know why I am here either”.
I was in search of a moment alone- to hash out some big life decisions, find some quiet in my over active brain, to be in a space where I don’t have to interact with people for a moment. My dog looks at the river and back at me, so I decide to come clean:
Yes, I admit I am also here for Bessie: I met her this spring as I was the creepy person rolling by slowly, lusting at the river that is the closest stretch of water near my home. Bessie jumped out of the river like a shark eating a seal, and mowed down on a tiny bird that was eating bugs off of the water. And like a humpback whale falling back into the water after a breach, Bessy fell into her river- to never be seen again. I find myself checking for her a few times a month. The river blew out after I met her so I’m sure she is long gone, but maybe not???
I look over at the teenagers up the alley who are more than likely smoking pot and say aloud,
“Bessie, I’m giving up on you”.
I hear some men chatting on the road behind me and against my desire to be tough, I start to feel fearful. I pray. I stay. I cast for another half hour, half-heartedly. I reach for my phone to let my husband know where I am in case he needs to file a missing person report. My phone is no longer in my pocket…
The grass is up past my waist, but I still crawl around looking. The scenarios of possible interactions with people run through my mind and I prepare what I will say if they ask if I have lost something (Im a freak). Maybe I will yell back:
“No, but thanks for asking”.
No, that would be too nice and vulnerable sounding- I need to have ‘less’ manners. I’ll deepen my voice and throw out something like “No, mind your own business” or “Found it” or I’ll say nothing. This is stupid. I’ve never thought so much about my surroundings while being on a river. The fish I was targeting is a mini bass that can’t even open up his mouth wide enough for my fly. Ive got to get out of here.
I pray again for protection from the killers in the bushes on my trek back and that my knee will keep itself together. I throw a stick numerous times for the lab into Bessie’s home as if to let her know that we are breaking up and I no longer care about finding her. I hope she feels the darkness of having a huge lab clawing at her eyes through the murky, paint can filled water (sorry Bessie, but Im trying to get over the idea of catching you).
Without my phone, and somehow skunked by a lack of focus, I leave.
The lab pulls me up the hill by his leash and as we walk towards the bridge I see two men on bikes. The closer I get the more I realize they are policemen. They stand there like they are wanting to talk with me?
“Hello, is everything ok?” I ask.
“Yep, we are just watching out over you. This can be a dangerous part of the neighborhood after the sun sets”.
We chat for a while and the fill me in on the dangerous neighborhoods to avoid and ask me if I am a real fly fisher lady…?
I get in the car and lock the doors like I am being chased by a dinosaur (not really but it feels equally comforting to be in a car). I hope my phone stays safe from the misfits over night until I can come back more prepared to find it tomorrow. I feel like Im leaving a family member behind- Im that addicted to my phone.
I’m so breaking up with this river- this is my last time fishing in the ghetto! Good bye Bessie…
To throw out a comparison, and let you know I am not normally a sissy, these are my thoughts when I am fishing alone in the woods:
Fish…fish…fish…picture…fish….picture…fly change….fish…picture….deep breath….never leaving.
City fishing sucks sometimes. Being a woman sucks sometimes. Most of the time its mind over matter- women tend to over-think and over-fear, but if men would stop honking at us or doing stupid things on the news it would be helpful. We just want to be out on the river alone, we don’t want any commentary or discussion or heads turning!
Looking at the bigger picture of today, I felt frustrated that I could not muster up the strength to block out worrying-Wanda in my mind, but in the end I learned that quite possibly God did send some policemen to protect me from the perils of a river in the ghetto. And that’s nothing to complain about- actually it blew my mind really.
I also realized that sometimes we expect so much from life and like whiny brats we complain when things don’t go our way, but in the bigger picture there is much more going on around us that we can choose to be grateful for. If we fish in the ghetto, how can we expect to not be inundated with interactions with people, garbage and mangy homeless cats?
Its not going to stop me from getting out on the river- but just so you know, I will more than likely be packing some heat from now on (most of us fly gals do).
My knight in shining armor….