I am in a boat.
Oddly enough, I don’t question it much. I look down at my hands. They are kinda fuzzy, and I’m almost positive my left hand has seven things coming out of it. I look forward, through my now widespread fingers and see a lake. I look downward, and my face doesn’t appear in the water. I can only come to one conclusion.
“Yes, Joe, you are dreaming.”
I turn to my left. There is my grandpa, holding a fishing pole. He is wearing the same goofy hat he always wears, and the same jeans and a very familiar shirt. I see that to his right there is a fishing pole sitting there. I take this second to look around – in the middle of nothing is just me, my grandpa, two fishing poles and a boat.
The water we are on goes on for miles – and there are no such things as “edges”.
I go to say something, but Grandpa interrupts. “No need to say anything right now, Joe.”
I nod, even though he isn’t looking at me and I’ve yet to see his face; I know it’s him well enough anyway. I scoot towards him and grab the other fishing pole. I cast the line into the water. There is a splash and the rings around the point of entry seem to extend forever.
It is at this point I realize I’m fishing with Grandpa. He always said he was going to take me fishing.
“Now Joe,” he starts. Then I hear some sort of sniffling noise. “Joe, I know I always told you I was going to take you fishing. I even said I would take you golfing. But in my final year -“
I stop him. “Grandpa, I know it was impossible. You couldn’t remember me. Or anyone, for that matter. I understand completely.”
“I know you do. But I still feel the need to do this. I’m going to catch a fish with you if it’s the last thing I do. I’m going to talk to you – hear about you and your life, how you’re doing. I want to spend time with you, because quite frankly I never could. All the way up to . . .”
“Grandpa,” I say, setting the pole down. “I know you did your best to make everything okay. But you couldn’t help it – you had a disease and then you passed away. You were getting old. We can’t all live forever.”
“Wrong.” He says. I am a little startled by the ferociousness of his disagreement. He points to the water. I lean over the edge. The waves and circles made by my line continue to outstretch and grow larger.
He coughs. “I will live in your dreams as long as you don’t catch a fish. As soon as you do, I move on.”
“Well,” I say, beginning to remove the pole from the water, “I’ll just -“
He slaps my hand away. “Catch a fish, Joe. Move on. I know you are upset that I . . . that I . . .” He gulps. “That I died. But you have to move on.”
“What happens if you catch a fish?”
He pauses. Then I see his ears raise. He’s smiling. “I can’t catch a fish silly. I’m not even here.”
I frown and lean over the edge of the boat. A fish swims by and I catch a glimpse of it.
I see its face and immediately I see my Grandpa sitting opposite me at a dinner table. It had been months since he saw me and last time he had completely forgotten me. Then he looks at me out of the blue and says “Joe, how’s school? Still playing the trombone?” And I then flash to that night, when I was lying in bed crying. The next month when I hear he died . . .
Then I look away from the fish and I’m back in the boat.
“What the hell was that?” I scream.
“Each fish is a memory, Joe. You have to catch one to wake up.”
“What if I don’t want to wake up?”
My grandpa pauses and almost faces me, but remains looking away. “I can never wake up again. If I could catch a fish, I’d do anything to get one and wake up and kiss my wife, say hello to my sons and daughter, joke around with you and your sister . . . but I can’t. I’m dead. You are very much alive, and young. Catch a fish.”
I sit in silence with him for what feels like ever.
I start thinking about how I wished he knew me. The last time I saw my grandpa he didn’t know who I was – what worth am I to a dying man if I’m just a stranger?
My line is tugged.
I ignore it.
“Joe. You have a bite. Catch it, wake up, and be with your family. And tell your dad I’m sorry. Tell him I love him, and I didn’t say it enough.”
“My dad knows, Grandpa Roger. He knows.”
Grandpa stands, still facing away.
I think about the funeral. How my dad leaned over my grandpa’s body, kissed his forehead and said: “Mission accomplished.” He was referencing my grandpa’s motto. “My goal in life is to leave people behind better off because they knew me.“
And I grab the pole, and start reeling in the fish . . . memory . . . thing . . . and then suddenly there are hands on my shoulders.
I turn, and my grandpa is staring me in the face.
He is smiling.
That smile . . . so energetic. His eyes so full of life – more than when he was alive. His forehead, shiny and lacking hair. His glasses slightly bent, his ears a bit hairy and his nose freckled and large.
He says: “Remember me like I am. Not how I was.”
He kisses my forehead, and tears begin flowing from my eyes. He turns, waves, and falls into the water, into the depths of oblivion to who knows where.
I reel in the fish and then I catch it.
I see me sitting at a restaurant across from Grandpa and Grandma, my sister and parents by me. We’re laughing. My grandpa puts his hand on my shoulder. I remember this day. I was probably ten or so years old. Grandpa had just beaten me at the little game on the table and he was talking about how he was excited to see us more often.
Then I suddenly see him at my uncle’s wedding reception, dancing with everyone and having a good time.
Then I see him on my couch, sitting just like me and my dad.
Then I see me putt-putting with him and my other grandpa.
I realize without him I would be nothing. I wouldn’t have my amazing family. I realize I love him, and that I miss him so much.
Then I throw the fish away, as hard as I can, and sit down in the boat. I wipe my tears with my hands, and I see their are seven fingers and become more aware than I was before that I was dreaming.
I wake up, sweating, crying, and screaming. I roll over and pant heavily.
After I calm down and close my eyes, I stop crying and I think about what Grandpa said, what he wanted in life.
Mission accomplished, Grandpa.