The Naked Fisherman by Jewel E. Ann
The dayI met the naked fisherman, I was a wholesome eighteen-year-old girl, fresh out of high school with lots of opinions and zero big ideas. The perfect target. I had only heard about men like him through sermons and Bible studies on temptation.
However, as I spent the morning packing, I was unaware of his existence. I should have embraced the final few hours of my innocence instead of fretting over the thought of seeing my mom for the first time in over five years. It made me want to throw up my scrambled eggs and at least one piece of buttered toast. Six months earlier, she’d been released from a women’s correctional facility in Nebraska. Apparently, she had a few too many marijuana plants growing in the storage room of her hair salon. My dad said he knew nothing about it, and the judge believed him.
My grandma snatched everything I tossed into my suitcase and refolded it. “You’re an adult now, Therese. You don’t have to live with her … or us. You don’t have to live with anyone. Are you sure you don’t want to get an apartment with some friends? There are mission trips that can take you all around the world.”
Three years earlier, my dad’s heart had stopped working. A congenital defect he didn’t know he had. No high blood pressure. No high cholesterol. Not a single sign before he just … keeled over while sitting at his drawing board. We’d had pasta that night. I still couldn’t look at pasta without tearing up.
He was a brilliant architect. My grandparents (his parents) got custody of me since my mom was in prison and her parents lived in a dinky but expensive apartment in Boston. They were Catholic liberals with a special detest for my father’s parents—conservatives who took advantage of my mom’s incarceration and my dad’s death by enrolling me in a private Christian academy in Houston, Texas.
“She’s my mom. I haven’t seen her in five years. And it’s only temporary until I decide what I want to do with my life.” I gave my grandma a reassuring smile, but her frown told me she wasn’t feeling the least bit reassured.
“You didn’t invite her to your graduation. Why are you so curious now?”
Coughing before laughing, I shook my head. “Pa talked me out of inviting her, just like Dad would have done. And she’s my mom, not a zoo animal I’m ‘curious’ about. If she’s not what I remember, if she feels like a complete stranger and I feel no connection to her, then I’ll come home.”
“Therese, I worry that by not going to college right away, you’ll never go. And your father would have wanted you to get a degree.”
I tossed a pair of sandals and flip-flops on top of the clothes she’d just refolded. “Statistically, people who take a gap year do better when they do go to college.” A true statistic I played on repeat.
Lack of direction wasn’t fun. At my graduation party, everyone asked where I was going to school … what I planned on doing. I cringed and threw out my brilliant Gap Year Plan. It felt like code for “smart kid who happened to be an underachiever with little to no direction.” Nobody actually said that to me, but I saw it on their faces. Then they listed all of the things I could do, as if I simply needed a good idea.
Grandma pressed her hands to my cheeks for a second before stroking my hair down my shoulders. My straight, dark brown hair and blue eyes were all my mom, but my grandma always said I looked like my dad. He had blond hair and hazel eyes. The only things I got from him were my full lips and obsession with crossword puzzles.
“I also worry your mom won’t be the best influence.” Grandma frowned as she continued to stroke my hair. There it was—her real fear.
“If she’s on drugs or if she has taken up smoking three packs a day, I’ll come home. Besides, I’ve already found a church to attend, and I’m sure I’ll find good Christian friends who will keep me from falling under my mom’s spell.” I winked at Grandma. I was only half serious. There wasn’t a rule book for reuniting with your mother after years of separation due to incarceration. Would she expect me to call her “Mom?” Would it feel natural to call her that? It felt natural at thirteen, the day I last saw her and cried fat tears while they removed her from the courtroom in handcuffs. Her tears matched mine as she mouthed, “I love you.”
Dad hugged me and promised I’d see her soon.
That didn’t happen.
“You can come back. Anytime. You know this, right?”
I nodded while zipping my suitcase. “Yep. That’s why I’ve told you a million times that I’ll come home if it doesn’t work out. Besides, half of my stuff is still here. Of course I’m coming back. I just want to see what she’s like now and see if I like Colorado.”
Grandma’s eyes glossed over with emotion. “Therese, I’m going to miss you so much. It’s like I’m losing your dad all over again.”
“God will watch over me.”
“I know, honey.” She kissed my forehead. “Let’s have Pa load up your suitcase and drive you to the airport so you don’t feel rushed getting to the gate. I still can’t believe we’re letting you fly by yourself.”
I laughed a little. “I’m an adult now. I’ve got this.” I wasn’t sure eighteen felt like adulthood, but I put on a brave face because my friends were going on summer trips and preparing to head off to college. They were leaving the nest. I was moving to a different nest. The least I could do was fly by myself and pretend that I was a real adult for a few hours.