Last Shout - Posted by: Mary Beth Fagan - Thursday, 09 May 2013 20:18
Beads From Baghdad
Beads From Baghdad
When the roadside bomb exploded, he was hurled some seventy-five feet from the scene, crashing into a table loaded with beads of every imaginable type.It seems he had struck one of the tables in the local bazaar, hitting it so hard that many of the merchant’s wares, namely the beads, were embedded in his face, which unfortunately was the first thing to make contact.
Jon remembered nothing of the incident except that one minute he was walking along, leading his patrol, and the next minute he saw this blinding light.That was it.No memories of the flight through the air.No crash into the table of beads.Nothing.There was just a blinding light.He was now missing both of his legs.
He had lost consciousness in the blast and it was not regained until he had reached Germany and the Ramstein Air Force Hospital, where he was fitted with the appropriate prosthesis; many months of painful rehabilitation followed until, with the use of a walker, he was able to move about a bit on his own.
But the rehab had not gone well, mostly because of the pain and the weird sensation that he thought his left leg was still fine. It was the right knee that gave him no peace.It felt like it was on fire all the time and he had trouble speaking because he could only gasp for air even though his body needed none.He had to be sedated heavily to sleep.In the daytime, he was given a morphine drip but eventually he was weaned from it even though the pain was so intense he could not focus enough to talk with anyone.
His doctors thought he was faking so he stopped talking to them.His wife grew weary of his complaints: she felt so helpless around him that she started to avoid his presence.Eventually she divorced him and he was alone.But he had known all about loneliness since his “accident” and he hardly missed her.
He was visited periodically by a social worker who one day told him he should go fishing.He stared in disbelief.How could he fish with all this pain?Ridiculous.But the nurse bought him a small fly tying vise and a tube of beads, the very same beads that doctors had removed from his face.
She told him that maybe he couldn’t fish but he could certainly tie a few flies.And so he did.He tied mostly midges, copies from the old days as a boy.
The arm of his wheelchair was where he mounted his vise, keeping his materials and tools in his lap.He had sent the social worker to the fly shop with a list of things to get.When she returned, he asked her through clenched teeth, how much it cost.She said there was no charge, that she had flashed his purple heart, discussed his case a bit, and that the salesman had said, “I think this has already been paid for, ma’am.”
But he hated things like that.People were always trying to pay him back for what had happened, like he did it for money or something.Nevertheless, he was able to crank out a few flies and he noticed that while he was tying, the leg- fire had calmed considerably.
In each fly, he always included one or more of the Baghdad beads.
Slowly he came to the idea that he would fish, even the thought brightened him somewhat.He would have pontoons mounted on each side of his wheel chair and he would simply get into his truck that he had learned how to drive some months ago, though he seldom did.He would muscle his gear into the bed of the truck and when he arrived at his secret lake, he would lash the pontoons on to his chair and roll himself down the ramp, into the lake.Maybe a day of soaking his leg in ice-cold water would be helpful.He thought that at least it couldn’t hurt, which, for him, was a very positive notion.
When he got to the ramp, he noticed it was very primitive and suddenly he became very unsure of himself.Would this work?Could a man with no legs actually fish?But he put these questions and others aside with the remark, “I’ll be damned if I’m going to drive all the way up here and not at least give it a go.”
As he finally shoved off from the truck, he knew things were all wrong.He could not brake the rig, given his weak arms, and he picked up excessive speed, such that he could not avoid a rock that was just under the water. When he hit it, the whole contraption rolled over and he was caught underneath with his head just above the surface.At least, there had been no blinding light.
Fortunately, a tiny woman had been walking her dog and she saw the whole thing.She did not come to his assistance but instead ran for her husband, a giant of a man, who came crashing through the woods, forsaking for some unknown reason, the path his wife had taken.
“Dew yew nee hep, mon?” said the giant.Jon hated receiving help even more that he did getting money or discounts, but here there was no choice.
After much struggling and shouting even, the two men got the craft righted and Jon pushed off to go fishing.For his fly, he chose a chironomid made almost entirely of tiny, very pearlescent beads and it had a small red tag at the thorax that was symbolic of the blood he had spilled during the war.Yes, that one would be just dandy.He rigged a small Duncan loop for the fly to swing freely and attached a tiny split shot about a foot above the hook.He measured the bottom to be 22 feet and so his leader was 21 feet long, and then he put on his indicator.
It took him a bit to remember how to cast but he was finally able to lob the fly a good distance from his “boat.”He settled back to enjoy the beauty of his surroundings and yes, his knee did hurt somewhat less, sort of like a bad burn from which one was recovering.
Nevertheless, he got out his hunting knife and placed it at ready.He would soon cut the pontoons and let himself drown.After all, he reasoned, you can’t fish all the time.
Then his indicator moved hard to the right in a semi-circle.What?He had a fish?When he struck the water blew up with considerable violence.He couldn’t see much but there, through all the froth and foam, was something wallowing on the surface.It disappeared and his reel sang like the Missouri.
He immediately worried that he would lose all his backing, but just when he thought all was lost, the reel stopped turning.The fish had mercifully halted.Now there was a more controlled fight where he pressured the fish all he could, being ever so mindful of his five X tippet.Hours seem to go by.
With time, a time in which he had not felt his pain in the slightest, the great fish finally hove into view.He had only seen salmon, King salmon, that were this large.He guessed the trout to be more than twenty pounds, maybe as much as twenty-five.
But the fish would not allow himself to be pulled to the boat.He just hung there in the crystal-clear water as if he were in air and everything, including Jon, was floating, well away from any earthly ties.
The fish would die in time and Jon knew this, and he did not want that to be the outcome of this unimaginable event so he cut his line with his knife.The enormous trout swam off slowly back to his submarine world.Jon deliberately let his knife fall to the bottom of the lake with the fish.He saw the necessity of fishing more often.
When he saw the social worker again, she asked him how he did.He said that he had caught nothing.
“Well,” she replied, “at least you are an honest man.I hate all those ‘big ones that got away lies’ that fishermen usually tell.”
“No, nothing got away,” he said with only the faintest of grins, his first since the bomb had struck him.