A little mutiny.
A few summers ago, I was fishing on a charter boat and stupidly set a hook into the corner of my thumb's cuticle, right at the quick. The hook didn't come out the other side, and as those around me panicked, I took one look at it and knew exactly what was next.
I grew up in Florida, and have done a lot of fishing, so I knew that because of the barb, the hook would have to be pushed through and the barb end clipped off where it emerged. Then the hook could be backed out of my thumb. The thought of it made me a little woozy and so I sat at a table inside the cabin while one of the ship's mates made his way to me with a first aid kit. He looked at the hook and then at me, and his face reflected anguish as he struggled to explain to me what was coming, so I helped him out.
"It has to be pushed through, I know," I interjected, and added, "Just give me a cold beer and let's do this." And with a handful of horrified onlookers, that's exactly what we did.
He bandaged me up and the even before we got back to the dock at the end of the day, the bandage had been sloughed off and the two punctures were closed. What little blood there was, was washed away with sunscreen and seawater and replaced by a bittersweet soreness. I'd had a tetanus shot, so there was no reason to rush me to shore, so I got back to the fishing. In no time, I had forgotten about it altogether, and in retrospect, I am proud of the the resolve with which I faced the pushing through.
Recently, a member of my family sat down with me to set the record straight on a decades-told story. This very exciting and glamorous story was told to my extended family before me, and believing it, they passed it down too. Like I said, it was a good story.
By the time I came along, the storytellers had grown to a chorus. They had been telling it for twenty years, and they all told me, and I would tell it for another thirty. I told my friends. I told my high school girlfriends, and my post-high school boyfriends. My ex-husband knew. My current partner knows. It was an interesting piece of family history, and grew to be part of my own personal story - but it was also a sharp hook that I didn't even know was there, and around which my adult body had grown. The story wasn't true.
Not knowing I'd been hooked, I couldn't employ the same know-how and calm resolve that I'd used on the boat. But the sweat-browed mate who came to my aid this time was the one with the greater injury. He had set many hooks in unsuspecting people, most of whom are dead, but not from this wound. He would be the one struggling to say "push it through" to me, the unwittingly punctured, and knowing that the pain would be worse for both of us before it was better. We would both bite our lips as the point thrust through the skin, exposing the barb, and we would both sigh with some relief when it had – but only for a moment, until the wire cutters worked their way to the steel just behind the barb. This action almost certainly wrenches the hook in some way and delivers a final twinge. And then we take a deep breath, and the plink of the blades come together through the hook. Backing the hook out is queasy-making, but not painful.
Where the actual fish hook left me just wanting to get on with the fishing, this hook was different. It was a little mutiny. One of my own trusted crew had deceived me and squandered literally thousands of opportunities, over decades, to clear it up, but didn't. As much as I care about my shipmate, we looked after ourselves, separately, for the next couple of days.
The lie that was told, was told by a child who had reasons for telling it that were surely real and convincing at the time. And, like any good fish story, over the years it grew and took on a life of its own. It was pulled into the boat where it took up more space with each passing year, and required an increasingly bloody removal.
For so long, I'd seen my shipmate as a skilled sailor, captain, fisher, and friend. I'd put laurels on his head, and basked in his glories as they reflected well upon me. But now, things were different. The fish and legends carried across those shoulders were now just a scatter of bleached bones. The titles and accolades had fallen away, and what was left was a man, who sails, and fishes... and lies, but without malice, and no more than any of us do. What was left was a man who only ever wanted to be seen as a captain, courageous and inspiring.
It took a lot of resolve for my shipmate to look me in the eye and push that hook through. I know it wasn't easy, and his soreness may stick around longer than mine, but the hook is gone. We agreed to discuss it just the once, and not employ the hook to do more damage than it had already done. As for me, two days later the wounds had closed up, and the bandage had been sloughed off. We left the fish story on a distant shore, a remote place, intentionally uncharted, never to be visited again, and we got back to the business of fishing.