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“I swear I saw a fish that looked just like you in the face! I cross my heart, that’s what I saw, Ava, believe me!” Tucker said with that annoying redundant tone he had whenever he thought I didn’t believe him… “I was leaning right over The Clinch and saw the most beautiful, vibrant and detailed fish I’d ever laid my eyes on! I was sure it looked identical to you.”
I woke up abruptly; the Channel Five news was on, it was his story… Tucker Tang, ‘the boy who leaned so far over the Clinch River, he never made it home for supper.’ Tuck was my best friend, the only other human being who fully, completely, and overall understood me. I remember years ago, swinging on the tire swing in the neighbor’s backyard until momma called us both in for dinner. Tucker never really had much of a family, he had parents who worked late, no brothers or sisters and when his parents did get home they didn’t pay any attention to him; he was just another body in that house. Momma took him in like one of us; she loved him; we all loved him. It wasn’t supposed to end like this; nothing was ever supposed to end like this…
Swish; swish the second to last thing I remember before being drawn down the river like a negative magnet being forced to my matching positive. But the very last thing that struck my mind before the current pulled me under, the beautiful fish that brought me to this point. Just a closer look I remember thinking to myself… (Ava, my best friend in the whole wide world) which is the very last thing I remember before my foolishness got the best of me.
After I woke, I walked down the stairs to the kitchen where my mom and dad were watching his story on the news. “Hi mom, hi dad” I said, instantly the second the saw me they both exchanged glances and shut off the television. Things haven’t been the same since he passed, people whispered, glances at each other were kept short and the entire town was worrying about their curious children who may or may not make the same mistake that Tuck made.
“We were thinking, we think it would be better if maybe you didn’t go to the funeral… It would be very emotional and I just don’t know that your hormones can handle anymore”
“I’m going, he’s my best friend, and I owe him that much, he would want me there.” Swimming wasn’t one of those things that came naturally to me, honestly, it wasn’t even one of those things I thought was worth learning, my shock when I fell in the river was outrageous, never in my life had I been so scared for myself. Halfway down the river and not a single person standing along the mossy sidelines ready to save me. SMASH! My body was thrusted against a boulder in the current. From there on, everything went black.
“MOMMA! I don’t know what to wear to this d*mn thing! There is enough black in my closet to produce a black hole, now how am I suppose to pick something to wear?!” I screamed from the top of the stairs.
“I don’t know honey, maybe wear that black dress grandma bought for you, but you told her it was ‘the key to Satan’s heart’ that one would look very nice for the unfortunate occasion” Stepping out of the car and onto the grass of the cemetery I could feel my shoe sink into the moist grass and the quiet squish sound that made me cringe “Come on, I think I see the gathering over there” my mother said quietly. I was carrying white roses and the few words the preacher had asked me to prepare. Slowly making my way to where everyone was seated around the coffin, I took my seat and sat in silence.
I woke up with energy I’d never experienced, and gills right where my rib cage met the surface of my skin, yes, gills. As confused as I was, and as confused as you probably are, I could swim, and I did. I swam all up and down the current feeling the cool waters on my shiny, blue and silver scales. (I wonder what Ava was doing, maybe she’d come swim with me! Maybe we could still be best friends and have fun together! I have to swim up river) I said to myself.
Days passed, not much was said between my family and me. After lying in bed for days reading I couldn’t take it anymore, the silence was unbearable, when would enough be enough?! (I ran down the stairs completely blind sighting my mother and father and went straight outside, slipped on my tennis shoes and ran so fast into the trail behind my house you would have thought I was preparing for a marathon.) When I reached the mouth of the Clinch River, I stood over it.
“What was he thinking” I said out loud
“Why did he leave? I know that things weren’t always good with everyone else for him, but why did he leave me?! We were supposed to be best friends forever!”
When I got to the mouth of the river, I was hoping, praying, that Ava would be there, waiting for me. Ready to hangout like old times, and she’d be so impressed with me now, because I can swim! One more talent then what I left with, but overall, I’d just be happy to see her. She wasn’t there, I was too late… But I wasn’t ready to give up just yet; I swam all around looking for an appropriate place to shelter for the night until morning when I would wait for her to come back.
The next morning I worked up the motivation to get out of bed and make myself what was a sore excuse for breakfast, and did my chores. Dad made a quick sweep through the house looking for me, when he saw me on the porch tying my tennis shoes he asked if I wanted to accompany him at work today. Dad worked at the local swimming pool, the whole place was full of the elderly who were taking swim lessons to work their joints and regain some of their lost muscle and 4 year old boys and girls who were taking the advantage to learn from professionals and play Marco Polo in their down time.
“No, I think I’m going to go down to the river and skip rocks, I’ll just see you at supper” I said anxiously trying to leave the conversation and keep on with my business.
“You know your mother and I don’t like you going down there, it’s just not good for your mental health to be down there right now, give it some time sweetie”
Waiting… waiting… waiting…
“Maybe she’ll never come back”
After my father left the driveway and his car was nothing but a speck in the distance, I ran as fast as I could to the river. I had a good feeling about today, being at the river made me feel at peace with him. Sometimes I don’t feel as abandoned when I’m there minding my own business away from all the silence. I can hear the trees blowing back and forth above my head and the flow of the water running through my veins. Sometimes, I could feel him there with me.
Morning came and I swam all around the basin of the river searching for food. Bugs and plants were definitely something I’d have to adapt too; it wasn’t like Lion King where everyone jumps into Hakuna Matata enjoying all the bugs they ever dreamt of. Once I had my breakfast I swam back to where I hoped Ava would be waiting for me. But even when I got there, even when I saw her, what was I to say about this inhumanly body that has taken over me? And there she was, her khaki shorts and old worn lucky t-shirt from church camp years ago.
Out of breath when I got to the river, the disappointment in my face was unforgettable, not a single sign of Tuck. I laid myself down on one of the larger boulders looking right down on the river, watching all the tadpoles and the water ridges move down the current, wondering if my best friend’s soul was somewhere in the stream. From the corner of my eye, I saw something worth a double take. A fish, flapping its fins and splashing water. From my understanding fish were strictly supposed to be completely under the water at all times, right? I swear I’m going crazy.
There she is! There she is! I can see her, look at her, she looks sad. I tried and tried to get her attention, splashing my fins and making a lot of necessary noises, she looked my way. You could tell in the look in her eye that she knew something. She knew I wasn’t just some ordinary fish. But how would I tell her? I couldn’t speak and using my hands was clearly out of the picture. I swam over a little bit close, as she followed me with her eyes, I pushed the rocks with my mouth slowly forming letters, I could tell when I was about to the third letter, that Ava’s face was bright and I could tell by that smile that she knew. When I slowly backed away from the finished product, there the letters were written in pebbles on the river’s floor ‘Tuck’.
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, was it really him?
“How come you didn’t come sooner Tuck! I’ve been waiting everyday! Mom and dad watch me nearly every second of living daylight and even at night they check on me every 5 minutes. You’d think I was under house arrest!”
He had this sort of puzzled look on his face; I knew that he couldn’t go on writing his life out in pebbles for me. But I had to know more. For a minute I sat there thinking about how I could get him to speak without completely giving The Clinch’s floor a makeover.
“Tuck! I will be back tomorrow morning; I’m going to think of a way for us to communicate!”
He gave me another puzzled look and swam away.
‘Why doesn’t she want to see me…?’ ‘Did I do something wrong?’ She was making weird faces at m;, she looked angry and was yelling very loud words I didn’t understand anymore. I swam away so that she would know I was disappointed in myself. I think it’s best if I don’t go back to see her anymore…
That night when I got home I laid in bed for hours thinking of all the possible ways we could talk to each other. Clearly he has an interesting story to tell, but it won’t be a short one.
“THAT’S IT!” I whispered so that mom and dad wouldn’t hear me.
The next morning I ran down to the river as fast as my legs could go, finally reaching the mouth of the river looking back and forth looking for Tucker. ‘Where could he be?’ I thought to myself, I said I’d be right back.’ I plopped down on a big boulder hoping that he’d come back. Hours passed no sign on him, I was beginning to lose hope and finally when nightfall came, I heard mom’s whistle for dinner and walked home. I wasn’t moving at a very fast pace, just taking my time, thinking that maybe I had said something wrong, or reacted in a way he didn’t like.
As I look back on the years I spent with Tucker, I realize that there are endless reasons why the saying “You don’t know what you got, until it’s gone” Every now and again, I find myself walking down the to the mouth of The Clinch hoping that one day I’ll meet my friend and have the adventure of a lifetime.