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TRUST JESUS TODAY
Let me know what you think, be honest, be harsh :)
The Kirchner River flows continuously, careening off boulders in its midst, ricocheting off the bank, always forward. Life resides underwater: trout, catfish, and in the hills: trees, birds, coyotes. We hold poles draped in the floating stream, their lines plunged in hopes of something, something Devon has never caught before, something my father and I haven’t found in nearly a decade. “How’s the job son? Keepin’ ya busy?”
I hadn’t been called son in years. It formed a cutting jab, a strike in the shoulder, across the mouth, its taste bitter in my lower lip. I was thirty-eight and had a son now. I was a father. A damn good father.
“Good, yeah, busy. They’re moving me to executive sales next month.”
“That’s great. I always knew you’d make a name for yourself. That was always my hope.”
The compliment floated in the afternoon air, hung between us and drifted towards the water, unreturned. Devon snooped curiously downstream, his feet submerged in six inches of water. At seven years old he was everything me and his grandfather had been: inquisitive, hopeful, adventurous. We both watched him, twenty feet away by now, crouching on the bank.
I tried to show interest without affection, a difficult balance, and I felt I had failed. My father perked, showing no signs of taking offense, though the comment had been perfunctory.
“She’s great son, really nice.”
I stared at my son, kept my face averted from my father. Nice, that’s what he was looking for, nice?
He always asked about her, about us. I felt that he liked his daughter-in-law though he hadn’t been over since Devon was two, or three, one of his birthdays. He invited himself over that time. This, today, was Jessica’s idea.
“I love Jessica, she’s a fantastic wife, a wonderful mother.”
I hesitated, but refused to abstain.
“We’re gonna be together forever, Dad.”
I expected him to cringe at this, to take introspection and apologize. I forgot he never failed in finding a way to let me down.
“You wouldn’t understand son.”
He said this in a condescending, father-knows-best fashion and I was the one cringing now. I wanted to get up off the rocks, grab Devon and drive home to Jessica. I’d explain to her that we wouldn’t be seeing her father-in-law again. I watched, still livid, as Devon took two steps in, and slowly reeled his lure, smiling, casting again.
“I wouldn’t understand? I assumed you loved Mom. And I love Jessica, so I’m pretty sure I understand.”
He didn’t rebuttal right away, looked opposite down the river, like he was searching the water, the banks, the sky for a right way to explain.
“It’s complicated. And I’m not saying that like I’m proud of it.”
That makes the two of us, I thought. I rarely referred to my father. Sometimes I even made up stories to neighbors and co-workers that he had passed away years ago, in a heavy machinery incident, of liver cancer, at the Stevenson County Fair in ’88. I didn’t really want to go into it all. In that way, I suppose, it is complicated.
“And your assumption is correct, I did love your mother.”
He looked into me as he said this, then turned back to Devon and the river. His past tense of “did love your mother,” like the Kirchner River, was muddled, dark and unknowable. Did? As in did own a Dodge, did play minor league ball, did, but now things have changed? He shifted his weight to the right, massaging a knee with his thumb. He grabbed a bottle of water and drank, then reached it towards me, a silent gesture. I shook my head no, resentful, not in response to the water.
“Then how could you? I mean, why?”
I didn’t really want to know. Didn’t care by now. The deed was done. Mom lived at Felix Hills Apartments ten miles from our house. He lived in Charles, three hours away, with Katherine.
“Devon, come sit with your grandpa.”
He’d avoided the question, brought my son into the equation now. I would spend a lifetime protecting him from being like his grandpa. I scooted over, gave a spot for Devon to sit between us.
“I got somethin’ for ya’.”
He pulled a small box from his pocket, held it out to Devon, and looked up at me with a shrug. Devon flipped the top open, peered in and turned it over above his palm. A buck knife fell into his hand, engraved “DPJ.” He looked up at me, teeth wide, not flipping over the blade quite yet. I nodded in approval, began reaching down to help.
“Here Champ, let grandpa show ya how to do that,” and he flung it open, held Devon’s hand gingerly, placing the knife blade out. Devon held it and stared, a knight holding Arthur’s sword: with awe, empowerment. He ran towards the bank after thanking his grandpa. I yelled a “be careful” and he scoured the water for fish to impale, a Native American hunting dinner. I had thrown away my father’s knife-present years ago when I heard about a woman named Jeanine. I wanted nothing to do with the man by then. Now, his remnants were back in my family.
“Believe me, it’s complicated. We really don’t need to go into it all.”
For once, he was right, we definitely didn’t need to go into the details. I’m not sure I could handle it now, thinking of Mom making molasses cookies for us by herself at the apartment, watching Wheel of Fortune alone, trying to finish crossword puzzles in an empty bed. My image of him, gallivanting with Katherine, was all I needed. As far as concerned me, he was not a Jenson. We had different last names in my mind.
“I’m sorry, Josh. If I could, I’d do it all different.”
By “it” I implied he meant marriage, life. But by now, I didn’t know if I would want them still together, her with this man.
“Not a day goes by,” he paused, again reflecting in the flow of the river, as if the rest was unnecessary to voice, “that I don’t regret leaving Darlene.” Hearing her by name brought to realization how much things truly had changed. I felt pity for this man, saw disgrace in his eyes. My son wasn’t the only one I was protecting from turning out like my father. I thought of Jessica, at home, and wanted to kiss her neck, to play cards, to laugh. He put a hand on my leg, clutched gently, looking at me as I stayed on Devon. In the water I saw youth, innocence. When I turned his face was worn like the banks of Kirchner, waves crashing on the shore, years of fierce currents eroding canyons deeper and deeper.
“Don’t make the same mistakes I did, Son.”
I nodded, not sure how else to react, thanked him for the advice. We gazed at Devon crouching in the river, the three of us with smiles for different reasons. He held the knife in his left hand and darted with his right, snaring a four-inch baby trout. He wrenched it out triumphantly. We all found something today at Kirchner River, a first in a long, long time. We clapped for the boy, hooted his victory. Devon ran up the bank towards his dad and grandpa, fish in his hand, hope in his eyes.
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