David came up behind me, grabbed my pail of fish, and before I could stop him, dumped it right on top of my head. He and his buddies squealed with laughter and ran off down the dock.

The Fish Laugh at My Worm Down at the Dock on this Glorious Sunny Day

The fishes slid down my back, into my shirt, down onto my lap. I was soaked, head to foot. Good thing I wasn’t squeamish.

It was one of those glorious summer days, saturated with that special yellow-colored sunlight even at 8 a.m., that let you know a hot day was coming, best make some iced tea.

Seagulls wheeled and cried as they played in the clearest skies I’d ever seen. I loved coming down to this dock. The fish always seemed to be more plentiful here, and easy to haul in one after the other.

I’d spent the morning catching my favorites — bluefish, and flounder. My bucket had been almost full to the brim, the fish splashing and jumping, not quite able to jump out onto the dock.

Now the ones that hadn’t slipped into the water already were flopping around on the splintered deck, trying to get away.

I was livid. Devastated. I’d wanted to catch us the nicest dinner ever. I couldn’t believe anyone would do such a nasty trick.

My heart wasn’t in it anymore. I gathered my gear and put the salvageable fish into the cooler, and mulled get-back options. This wasn’t the first time David and his sicko friends had bullied me. And I wasn’t the only one who was the brunt of his games.

I decided it was time to stop him in his tracks.

Enough was enough.

Taking a splitting maul to his head was out of the question, although first on the idea list. Not that I’d be able to catch him. Or, when push came to shove, neither would I be able to even lift the thing, much less harm him with it. I’m just not a mean person.

Various other nasty ideas came and went. I crossed them off. They made my belly squirm. I’m too much of a chicken to pull any of them off, and I didn’t want to end up in jail just for letting loose a pent-up bellyful of resentment from years of taking crap from the guy.

At last, I got it. Something so simple and so seditious!

David spent a lot of time making sure his boat was in tip-top condition. He boasted all year about what a perfect boat it was, how great that he still had one of the last wooden boats, and how much better it was than “one of those cheesy new fiberglass abominations . . .”

I’d never do anything to … wait a minute! Yes I would!

He liked to be first over the starting line at all our afternoon races. He habitually got to the slips early so he could practice with the day’s winds long before the races started.

It paid off, too, because 9 times out of 10, he came in first. That advantageous starting position was half the race.

I snuck down to the slips where the boats were kept. Spying no one around, I jumped into the cockpit of his boat as it sat oh-so-innocently in its slip.

I hummed silently to myself as I tied about a dozen of the tightest knots I could make into his main sheet. Not nice easy-to-undo square knots — oh no — ugly twisted granny knots!

(The main sheet is what the line (never call it a rope!) you handle the main sail with is called. Why it’s called a sheet is beyond me.)

I was getting the last one tied when I heard David plonking down the dock to his slip. He was a big heavy guy — almost six feet, even at only 14. With big heavy feet.

I stood up, plastering my face with the most horrified expression of shock I could muster, raising and waving my hands in wild distress.

“David!” I cried, holding out the line so he could see the knots.

“I saw these knots in your sheet! Who would have done this! I was just trying to get them un . . . “

He leapt into the cockpit, shoved me aside, almost pushing me overboard, the little boat tipping crazily.

I was still holding the sheet, or I’d have fallen in.

“What are you doing?!? Get out! Get out! Never board my boat again!” he screamed, tearing the line from my hands, starting to undo the knots.

Or trying to, anyway. I had tied them exquisitely tight.

“See what I mean? They’re tied really tight!” I exclaimed. “Want me to stay and help you untie those knots . . . “

“No! Go away! GO AWAY! You’re nothing but bad luck!”

His face bloomed crimson with rage. He stood in the center of that boat, hands shaking with anger, unable to control them enough to untie a thing.

I grinned inside myself, still pretending to be shocked and oh-so-helpful as I climbed out of his boat and sauntered down to where my own boat was.

And isn’t it funny how mine was almost ready, and all I had to do was untie the line to the dock and shove off . . .

David was late to the starting line that day. He’d had a pristine record of being early the entire season. Now that his record was broken, he couldn’t seem to get back into his pre-race routine. After that summer, he stopped racing altogether.

I’m supposing that he finally got it how it felt to be the target of malicious intent, because he also stopped teasing and bullying us all.

He certainly wasn’t any nicer to the rest of us from then on, but at least the dread and fear that swamped our minds when we saw him coming gradually left us.

Many years later, I found out that he had been mercilessly bullied by his older brother. As with other bullies, he’d been taking out his own feelings of powerlessness on us.

What boggles my mind is how he could just as easily have been nice to everyone.

What is it that makes someone choose bully or not-bullying?

When we lived on one of the outmost islands of Hawaii, I had friends who asked me how my sons did in school, since they were the only white kids in their classes.

They were surprised when I said that they were totally unbothered by it.

The first day of first grade, my older boy hovered protectively over my younger son. Kids got the message.

I sent them both to Jiu Jitsu, and later, other types of martial arts. No one messed with them — no one ever tried, even though the bullies did their thing on other kids.

I asked them one time, if they had consciously chosen not to be bullies, or to be Good Guys.

They just looked at me like, duh, and walked away.

That’s how it oughta be, I think. That the choice to be a decent human being is so utterly normal that we don’t even need to think about it.

I want more of that.


Thanks so much for reading my story. I appreciate you!


© Angela Treat Lyon 2024

Image: The Fish Laugh at My Worm Down at the Dock on this Glorious Sunny Day
© Angela Treat Lyon 2024

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