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Caught in the Act MAG
It was a simple summer day. The sun shone bright and soaked my skin with warmth, while the subtle breeze tried to fight back with its cool touch. We were in the middle of the lake fishing. Bennett, Richard, and Derek and me. Well, Richard was. Fishing is his thing. And when we are on Lake Namakagon, all he does is fish; the kid lives outdoors. Meanwhile, the rest of us were taking in the moist summer air, seasoned by the familiar scent of the lake and Northern Wisconsin woods. Bennett was singing a little more than quietly, periodically going off on one of his rants about who knows what. He is Richard's brother, and although they are almost complete opposites, Bennett did fish and would occasionally cast out a line. Derek, not surprisingly, sat glued to his phone, texting and disrupting the soothing music and the relaxing atmosphere with the quick flicks of his fingers. And I was enjoying life, sitting under the source of my outer and inner warmth, speechless and motionless.
I'm not like Richard. Of course, I love the outdoors, I mean, who doesn't, but I'm not big into hunting, fishing, that kind of stuff. I never have been. That's why I didn't even bother to get a fishing license. I found it more fun to tag along and watch him catch the walleyes, the muskies, and the northerns.
But then I asked if I could have a pole.
“Yeah, take this one,” Richard answered with astonishment. He wasn't expecting me to fish, but I guess I wasn't expecting to either. He already had five poles patiently waiting on the sides surrounding the dark green Lund, so another fisher allowed him to focus more on catching the “Big One.” I wanted to catch this one, we both did, and I believed one of us would. But after five short minutes, I lost patience; that's the reason fishing isn't my thing.
Only a few seconds passed, but I knew I was in for it. My stomach dropped with fear. I had been fishing illegally, without a license, so of course they'd be coming. I could tell the second that sleek, black boat with a set-up only the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) came into view.
“They aren't going to know that you were fishing,” everyone said reassuringly. They could say that. The two other fishers, Richard and Bennett, had a license and the other one didn't touch a pole. They didn't have to fear a ticket.
From a distance, even I could see the prow pushing through the splashing, white water. It was like Moses parting the Red Sea, only the people aboard this vessel weren't people I particularly enjoy seeing. My fixed eyes followed the boat as the distance between us shrank. Surely, they were headed in my direction. Personal experience told me that they were going to check our boat.
“I need licenses from you, you, and you,” demanded the grimacing lady in uniform. There were two of them. One guy. One woman. The latter was not as friendly as I had hoped.
To be honest, I don't know what happened next. I don't lie. I hardly ever do anything worth calling “bad.” But in this case, I wasn't thinking. I wasn't talking. Someone else seemed to be doing it in my place.
“I'm 15, so I don't need a license.”
This officer must have felt my hesitation or my fear or my panic or my flat-out lie. She probably sensed them all, because she targeted me and my apparent weakness.
“When is your birthday?”
“September 27, 1997.” It was a year after my real birthday.
While I was feeling like one of those fish with a hook in its mouth, helplessly out in the open, my friends were clearly trying to divert the attention away from me and lighten the mood. Richard, with an obvious future involving the outdoors, connected with the friendlier of the two, who just happened to be a DNR warden.
“So, how has the fishing been for you so far? Caught anything?” asked the warden.
“It's not as good as it has been. Only a few blue gills today and a northern yesterday,” responded Richard with a hint of disappointment (usually he'd have close to 20 fish under his belt).
They continued to chat, but even when I'd stop to listen to the engaging conversation between them, I could feel the woman's eyes glaring at me with disgust. She needed me to feel the guilt.
“What school do you go to?” “What grade are you in?” The questions just kept coming. I didn't think they would ever end. A cloud of confusion started to consume my thoughts. I was there, living, but not present. I wasn't sure of the questions being asked, what I was saying, or my surroundings. I wasn't sure of anything. My subconscious had taken over. When I came back to reality, that sleek, black boat started to pull away, but before they were gone, she asked the question I hoped she never would.
“What's your name?”
“Connor.” It was one lie that I couldn't tell.
I was caught. They were leaving, yes, but this wasn't the end. Their boat sped off, but it stayed in a range close enough for me to make them out. Again, my eyes stayed fixed on this boat, waiting, but hoping, I wouldn't have to see it up close again. I'll be the first to admit I was scared. Actually, I was beyond scared. I sat there in the boat ashamed of what I had done. As much as I feared them, I knew there were going to be consequences. And when I saw that boat turn around, I knew these consequences were not going to be pretty.
They did look me up. And they did come back. I started to admit defeat. I managed an “I'm sorry,” but these two sincere words were abruptly interrupted with that distinct voice. Those words were not going to suffice. Not with her.
“So we know you lied.”
“I know,” I swallowed, along with my pride.
I found myself staring at the ground, then into the open water, then back to the ground. I couldn't look at her face, for I didn't need to; I knew exactly what it looked like. The other one just stood there disappointed. He seemed wiser in my eyes. She just acted in anger and frustration.
“I don't put up with people who lie,” her strong voice firmly declared.
The DNR warden, who had a smooth shaven face and the typical tan, sheriff's hat, wasn't mad; he didn't glare. He just talked to me. Of course, he was ashamed of my decision to lie, but he talked to me in a calm, understanding way.
“Son, I've been where you are, and it's not where you want to be. See, my boy is just about your age and is going through the same thing, trying to figure out who he is.” Silence was my only response, but the man continued on about experience and life choices, “You know, lying is not the route to take, in any situation. Lying only creates bigger lies and bigger problems.”
In retrospect, his talking made me feel worse than hers. This man was kind and friendly. He had every quality I would hope to have, and I had let him down. I had not just lied, but I had lost the respect of these people. These lies filled my body with guilt and remorse, and also left me with a $200 ticket.
The summer sun no longer shone like it had before; it now hid behind the clouds. The refreshing air was no longer gentle, but instead felt heavy upon me. The once warm water now left my body cold and helpless. It had been a simple summer day.