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Without a Paddle
Besides this particular one, there have been countless stories circulating throughout the Hoeper family about him. Whenever there is trouble, it seems that he is always somewhere near by. I was there when he blew up a dollhouse, captured a vicious oversized squirrel, and ran over my uncle’s new sneakers with a Ford pick-up. My cousin, Nick, had a birthright for outrageousness and most of his shenanigans had unmercifully wrapped me in. We both would end up facing the time-out wall even though Nick was the mastermind, and I merely had been forced to be his undying servant, just because I was six months younger. Nick’s mother was mainly in charge of the punishment, its severity depending on what was destroyed.
“Nick, Kelsey, why did you do it?” my aunt always said. “What you guys did was extremely childish.” (I hated that word, “childish.” We were in fact children and I just felt like spitting whenever I heard that word.) It always began with the interrogation, the folding of the arms, and the searching of pockets. What did she think she would find—matches, darts, a treasure map? But in fact, she did find these things in Nick’s pockets, and seized them like a customs inspector. After the twenty-minute time-out, Nick would say he was sorry, but he was a good pretender.
I swore that whenever Nick would approach, I would run the other way. I promised myself that if I was accused of molesting small animals, I would stick up for myself and blame it all on the evil genius. But then how did I get mixed up in the most notorious story of all? How did I get stranded in a canoe, in the middle of a lake, without a paddle, with him?
Let me just say that the whole incident was Nick’s fault. The early morning of the infamous affair was gray and fuzzy. The Hoeper family was on a family reunion in Montana and the parents were paying for the rented house. I wandered from the girl’s room to the boy’s room, and when I opened the door I was greeted with flying socks and “Get out, this is the boy’s room!” It was no real shock, I was used to it.
Besides those few boys playing cards in their boxers, no one else was awake. I went outside into the fading fog and I was aware I was breaking rule #2: “Never go to the lake unless you have a responsible adult with you.” Well, I could spot Nick standing on the edge of the dock and I figured he would have to do. (The kids made this rule: never wake up the adults on purpose unless you want to make breakfast for them.)
When I approached him he did not even turn around. He was busy fumbling with his homemade fishing rod. (When he asked if he could borrow Uncle Kevin’s, Kevin just laughed and walked away.) He was trying to attach the hook to the string. He bent forward in frustration and his hair fell in front of his eyes. He swatted at his blonde curls like they were bees and straightened himself when he finally succeeded. He held the rod out to me and I took it, shying away from the swaying hook. He was on his knees, untying the rope attached to the canoe. (I may not know much about boats or canoes, but this particular one already looked half-sunk, which I don’t think is good. It also was painted mustard-yellow, ewww.) I returned the rod to him when he said, “Okay, you first.” I don’t think so, I thought. If I stepped into the canoe it would probably sink to the bottom. But I didn’t have choice; I didn’t want a knuckle-sandwich.
I stepped in and miraculously the canoe did not flood. Nick jumped in after me with two paddles in each hand, one he handed to me. What’s this? I thought. I looked at it extremely confused. It was longer than I was by at least a foot. It looked like a weapon used to crack heads open with. I was still examining it when Nick started to paddle forward. With this I started to panic. I was very aware that we were breaking rule #3: “Never, ever go into the lake without an adult near by.”
Thankfully, Nick didn’t paddle out that far, but when we did stop we began to drift. It was still early, and I hoped none of the adults were awake or we were in deep—
“Kelsey, I forgot the bait!” Nick cried out in anger. “We have to go back.”
“Okay,” I said quickly.
Nick reached for his paddle and when he did, the canoe started to rock. I gasped in fear and with this Nick’s paddle went overboard. He reached for it, sending the canoe dangerously on its side.
“Nick, stop!” I yelled. Thank goodness he did and we both watched the paddle float away on the small waves we created. Almost on cue, we both looked at the other paddle clutched in my hands.
“Give to me,” Nick said, I was reluctant. He tried to pry it from my white-knuckled hands that acted as super-glue to the wooden handle. We fought for it back and forth until we reached the climax of the struggle and sent the last paddle into the murky water. (It was almost like what happened in Lord of the Rings: Return of the King when Gollum and Frodo were fighting over the ring, except that we both didn’t go over, just the “precious” prize.) We sat in silence for a couple moments, stunned. And like I said previously, this was all Nick’s fault.
He quit talking to me. He didn’t ignore me—it would have been impossible to ignore each other in that little canoe. But he didn’t talk, and I thought that perhaps he didn’t think he needed to talk, but he did! He was the mastermind, the one that would get us out of this mess.
“Nick, pull yourself together,” I said, “We both know that you’re an idiot but now is the time to reverse the idiocracy.” (Well, actually I said something more along the lines of “Get us out of here!”) Nick put his evil genius to work, devising a plan that would bring us back to shore.
The first step is absolutely crucial: don’t panic. Panic, though, is hard to avoid. Our breathing quickens, our bellies twist around in knots, and we most often think of the worst-case scenarios. The best way to relax is to try and be optimistic and put yourself in a calm place, like at the Hawaiian beaches. In my case, we were already in a calm place, floating on a peaceful lake. For optimism, no matter what we would remain on the lake and perhaps drift back to the shore, unlike if we were stuck on the ocean. Once calmness has overtaken the body, make yourself useful and find something that could be used as a paddle. However, if you were caught up in a situation where you didn’t want certain people knowing you were stranded, convert to loud-noise making. Scream and yell to grab the attention of passer-byers. Now transitioning back to the paddle situation, if you don’t have a paddle (but if you do, then you don’t need this advice) try to use other things that would be helpful. Such as a stick, a fishing pole, clothes, or anything else that might by lying around. Next, if you feel yourself starting to go crazy like Tom Hanks on Castaway, you can talk to yourself, it’s OK, your fellow companions will understand. Furthermore, one of the most important steps is to not commit mutiny; it will only make the situation even worse. It will ultimately leave you with two problems: 1) how to get back to shore 2) how to save your companion once you came to your senses.
If you have reached the shore, the Rocky Balboa theme song should be playing in your head. Yet, if you haven’t reached the shore, pay close attention to this next step. If you become hungry, cannibalism is not the way to go. (I think you can last maybe a week without food.) If you become thirsty, the bacteria-infested water will not be a suitable thirst-quencher and will not go well with your digestive system. This approaching step is the last if you haven’t reached the shore by now. It is the step that Nick and I turned to, the step that saved our skins from severe punishment, (or so we thought.) We swam for it. Though, if you never learned how to keep your head above the surface, there is a simple solution. While swimming, hold onto the side of the canoe and swim alongside it. Most likely, the water will be bone-chillingly cold and the best remedy is to keep moving. And this step is mostly self-explanatory. Don’t be an idiot and use your common sense. If the distance between the boat and the shore is too great, don’t swim for it.
Nick and I arrived on shore wet and shivering. Before the adults even woke up, we rushed upstairs and dried ourselves and put on new clothes. To the adults, it would look like we never left the house, let alone swam in the lake that was in fact “off-limits.” After pulling my new T-shirt over my head, Nick appeared in the doorway.
“I’m sorry,” he said, half-smiling. He didn’t look at me directly in the eyes, but downward at the carpet floor. I knew he was genuinely sorry by the way he twiddled his thumbs and shuffled his feet. When dealing with his mother’s daily interrogations, Nick would stare at his mother, his mouth in a thin line, pretending to listen. I smiled at him, for the thought that we broke the two most important rules in less than an hour and had gotten away with it. For an idiot, Nick really wasn’t so bad.
The late morning proceeded as usual, completed with ‘good mornings’, crispy bacon, and pulpy orange juice. After breakfast, Nick’s mother set out for a morning run along the shoreline. The screen door slammed shut with her depart, and one minute had passed when we heard her yell from outside.
“Nick, Kelsey, why is the canoe out in the middle of the lake!!” Nick forgot to tie up the canoe. Well like I said before, it was all Nick’s fault.