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Just a Kid at Heart: Take a stab at embarrassment

What in the world was I thinking? I should have known my older sister would do anything she could to ruin my vacation. When I was very young, Karen pulled me aside and clearly announced that I was her little brother, and I would always be her little brother. She went on to explain that in her contract as my big sister, it stated quite clearly that it was her duty, as well as her obligation, to tease me and make my life miserable on a daily basis. My duty and obligation, to put it bluntly, was to sit back and take it.

In the summer of 1960 she went above and beyond that duty, and in doing so, she set herself up for retaliation.

At the end of the school year dad announced that in July we would be staying at a resort on Lake Le Homme Dieu near Alexandria. I wasted no time in making preparations. Swimming and fishing were definitely on the daily agenda, and maybe it was because I was young and impressionable, but watching Lloyd Bridges’ weekly television series, Sea Hunt, made me want to swim below the surface of the water, as well as above it. I realized I wouldn’t be seeing coral reefs or squids or sharks, but I would be seeing fish and that meant spearing them for supper. Lloyd Bridges made it look easy. Well, our local Ben Franklin didn’t sell spear guns, and they didn’t have wet suits or scuba tanks either, so I had to settle for goggles, a snorkel, and a pair of swim fins.

I didn’t give up on the idea of a spear gun. I went to the S volume of our World Book Encyclopedia and found all kinds of spear guns. I chose a simple design called a Hawaiian sling. It worked on the same principal as a sling shot. A tube fit into a handle and a spear fit into the tube. A large rubber band cradled the spear before being stretched and released. Well, it took me two days of planning and gathering the right materials and then it took part of another day to do the actual construction, but when I was done I had created a masterpiece of a spear gun. The fish of Lake Le Homme Dieu would learn to fear me, and all of the people staying in the cabins at the resort would know my name by the time I was through providing my family with daily meals of fresh fish. Mom and dad would be proud to call me their son, and maybe even Karen would begin recognizing me as something more than her little brother.

The day of loading the car and driving the one hour to the resort finally arrived. The anticipation was killing me as I sat with Karen in the back seat and explained to her, over and over again, how my underwater adventures would be so memorable that they could serve as an audition for joining Lloyd Bridges on a new season of Sea Hunt.

She didn’t respond, she didn’t tease, and she didn’t poke fun at me. She just sat quietly and listened to me babble on and on. It was not natural for Karen to be quiet, but I was too excited to dwell on it.

As dad pulled into the resort, my hand was already on the door handle. The second the car stopped, I was out and heading for the cabin. Karen and mom followed, but dad walked toward the lodge to meet with the owner of the resort.

I quickly unlatched my suitcase and put on my swim fins, my goggles and snorkel. I had worn my swimming suit in the car, just to save time. I reached for my spear gun . . . I reached for my spear gun . . . but it wasn’t where I had put it. I dug deeper and finally emptied the contents of my suitcase, but still there was no spear gun. I knew I had packed it. In my confusion I glanced toward Karen. She was standing in the corner, silently watching. She had a sinister smile on her face. No words were needed.

At that moment I understood why she was so quiet in the car. She had no reason to tease or poke fun at me; she had found a way to shatter my dreams, and she was basking in the glory of her actions. By removing the spear gun from my suitcase, she had found a cruel, but effective way of ruining my entire vacation.

What was the point? What was there to look forward to? I might as well go home. I did the only thing that made any sense. I plopped down on a chair and begin to pout. Karen was satisfied and proud of herself, so she left the room and went to unpack her own suitcase. Mom didn’t come to my rescue. In fact, she didn’t even acknowledge my predicament as she continued putting the groceries away. I half-heartedly watched her put the eggs in the fridge, along with the hot dogs and ketchup. I saw her reach into a bag and pull out the graham crackers, marshmallows, and candy bars, and as she lifted the wiener forks, a light bulb flickered in my head – oh, it was a dim light bulb, but a light bulb, nevertheless. I had a low wattage revelation – if a wiener fork could stab a hot dog or a marshmallow, maybe it could stab a fish? My vacation was on again.

I grabbed a wiener fork and headed toward the beach. The resort owner and dad were standing on the deck at the lodge when the owner asked; “Isn’t that your son?” Dad did a double take as he saw me, hidden behind goggles and a snorkel, with a wiener fork waving in the air as I tried to run in swim fins.

I must have looked like a character out of a comic book, which made dad a little hesitant to admit that this odd-looking duck was actually his son. He just smiled at the owner and said, “He takes after his mother’s side of the family.”

I swam beyond the dock, and as I peered down, I could see perch and sunfish swimming all around me. I tried stabbing them with the wiener fork, but it wasn’t working. The ends of the wiener fork were not sharp like the arrow I had planned to use, so I needed a new strategy. I was in chest-deep water, and as I stood on the bottom of the lake and looked toward shore, I noticed Karen lying on the end of the dock. Her eyes were closed, her feet were dangling in the water, and she wasn’t paying any attention to me.

This time a brighter light bulb appeared as I adopted her sinister smile. I knew immediately what I was going to do. For a long time I had wanted to get even with her for all her teasing and for the many ways she made my life miserable. Removing the spear gun from my suitcase went way beyond her big sister duties and obligations, and now it was time for pay back.

I slowly submerged and began swimming in her direction. Only my snorkel was visible as it silently sliced the surface of the water. I remembered how she had admitted being afraid of crayfish, and I was about to become the biggest crayfish she had ever encountered.

This would be my most triumphant moment – a moment that would be talked about for years to come. I began laughing as I saw the two feet dangling just ahead of me. I tickled them, and they shot from the water. I could imagine the terrified look on her face, but I wasn’t done yet. I planted my fins in the sand and began growling as I exploded from the depths with wiener fork overhead. This should do it. This would put an end to her teasing once and for all. Her little brother had grown up and become as ruthless and cunning as she was.

As I opened my eyes to flaunt my victory, I was staring into the most terrified face I had ever seen; but this terrified face didn’t belong to my sister. Somehow, while I was swimming underwater, I took an unscheduled left turn and ended up at the wrong dock. I was staring into the face of a complete stranger. She was probably in her 40s, but she was aging rapidly. Her eyes were like saucers as she stared back at me. She was petrified and speechless. The only sounds coming from her throat were similar to those you hear when trying to start a car with a low battery – er . . . er. . . er. . .

I was too embarrassed to say anything. I just gave her a little wave, and as I turned to make my underwater getaway, I saw Karen sitting on the end of the other dock. She had watched the entire thing and was laughing uncontrollably.

I think most, if not all of you, can think back to a time when things just didn’t go the way you planned.

I had taken a bad situation and tried to turn it around by going from victim to victor. I had given it my best effort, but in the end, I concluded that I was Karen’s little brother and always would be. After all, it was in her contract as my big sister to do these things to me.

Oh, I’m not saying that I have completely abandoned the idea of getting even. My time will come, and when it does, Karen will not be expecting it.

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