By Maddie Key

I once caught my grandfather while fishing.  I should’ve reeled him in when I had him; none of us ever really got close enough to hooking him in the first place.  But I watched him as he calmly released himself from my line.  I stood there in my baggy blue shorts and sticky white tank top, the sky above overcast and gray, as I reeled in my empty hook.  This time I stepped away from him, casting my line self-consciously into the glassy pond.

 

“Eric. Eric! Please refill the chips. Look no one’s eating the dip because they ate all the chips,” my grandmother would bark, her ignorance pooling around her.

And he would nod, dutifully carrying out his orders. He would sit on the couch, hands folded in his lap, nodding off to the sounds of baby shrieks and rings of iPhones.

“Dad. Dad!” my aunt would call, a carbon copy of her mother. “Can you tell mom…”

And you could see his eyes shift from the conversation, his mind turning inward. He was in our pond, but he wasn’t swimming among us.

 

I can’t remember how old I was when I noticed him floating away, although I doubt he’d ever really been close to start with.

A conversation with him was only a few steps deep- never past the knees.  The Sox, the birds at the feeder, the history class on the Civil War I took two years ago.

He was a mute in a family of screamers.  Each person competed with the other, stomachs and heads bloated and filling the room.  As we grew, my grandfather shrank and we lost track of him.  We all just assumed he would stay.

 

He sat in the net of my family, stretched wide with its boisterous women and absent men.

Until one day, when he was caught by something else.  This time, it reeled him in.  He floated farther and farther away and no one noticed.  We were reaching for our drinks, our phones, our children, our homework, our jackets.

I should’ve reeled him in when I got the chance.  I could’ve asked why he loved yelling at kids, or when he knew he was in love with my grandmother.

I wish I could ask you whether it is worth fighting for those who constantly let you down. And when you realized we were no longer worth the fight.

You’re gone and we’re standing here now, looking at you and wondering why none of us ever bothered to hook you in the first place.