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The Bartina Redux

This is a story that got posted elsewhere, as a guest blog. It happened — and I wrote about it –years ago. Maisy was about 5. It never appeared on FTK, and I do not have it in my saved blog word files. I had to get The Way Back Machine to find it. I am reposting it to have a record of it, and ALSO because I am going to tell you about MOO-EY THE CHRISTMAS COW. And this story really explains the kind of human Maisy was, and why we did what we did re: Moo-ey. At 5 years old, Maisy looked something like this:

maisy 2008 1

On our 2008 family beach meet-up, we chartered a pontoon boat and spent a day toodling about the gulf with frequent pauses to wade and swim and shell hunt and snorkel and dig up hermit crabs and make elaborate sandcastles for them. In the late afternoon, armed with a box of tragic, chirruping crickets, we got out the poles and set about catching our dinner.

My son, Sam, immediately won the WEIRDEST CRAP DRAGGED FROM THE SEA contest by hauling up a VERY disgruntled Puffer Fish. The fish glared at us in a depleted and impotent manner, completely unable to PUFF without seawater around him.

Since neither my parents, nor anyone in my brother’s tribe, nor anyone in my family is a specially licensed Sushi Chef who has received the many hours of training needed to safely cut out the virulently poisonous glands in such a way that the first bite won’t cause excruciating death, we put him back.

After that, Sam and his two teenaged cousins each caught one or two disappointingly small catfish. We put them back, too, in the hopes that next year, when we returned, they would be a size worthy of the Fry Daddy and thus allowed to keep company with cole slaw and hushpuppies.

The only person who did NOT catch a fish was little Maisy, five years old, and, as the afternoon wore on, she became fussier and pink-eyed with fish-less self pity and exhaustion.

A mere minute or two before we were going to start up the engine and putt back to the boat docks, Poseidon smiled upon Maisy at last, and the pole she was holding bobbed and dipped in an unmistakable FISH ON THE LINE way.

With her dad’s help, she hauled up the most tiny spindly meatless catfish to ever get his mouth around a cricket. She was thrilled, and we all admired her specimen prodigiously. “Her name is BARTINA,” Maisy said proudly, and gazed with love upon the ill-named ugly whiskered teeny trash fish like it was made out of SUGARED GOLD. We took her picture with Bartina while Maisy grinned and said, “You are my best fish, and you picked me!” Then my dad carefully took out the hook and slipped Bartina over the side, where (s)he high-tailed it for the mucklands where too-small-to-eat catfish dwell.

He turned to start the engine, and just then, a hellish siren of sound arose, a soul-searing wail of total loss and misery. “BARTINA!” Wailed Maisy. “YOU THREW OUT BARTINA!”

“Oh, bunny,” I said, half laughing, “We didn’t throw it out. We let Bartina go HOME. Bartina can’t live on LAND.”

At this news, Maisy COMPLETELY lost her crap. All the way home, she bemoaned her lost beloved. “SHE WUH-WUH-WUZ MY BEST FRIEND,” said Maisy, and this had no basis in reality, obviously, but the exhausted little well of feeling behind the words were totally and disarmingly sincere. It was like watching the Little Mermaid come to understand that her prince could not inhabit her world, but instead of a prince, it was a buttugly runt catfish. It was the silliest sort of heartbreak, but from where she sat, the silliness was unapparent, and she was totally sincere.

For a long time after, weeks, even, we could not say the name Bartina without provoking a small flurry of wounded sorrow in Maisy. The loss, entirely invented, was VERY real to her. She could not explain why it upset her, so, but I got it. After all, she is five and I am forty, and so I recognized the impulse she could not define or name.

It’s part of growing up, learning not to become attached to things we hope for and dream in our heads, learning to stop recklessly pinning invented beloveds over some real world object or person, and then breaking against a hard surface when the thing disappoints us by being only itself. No boy ever broke my heart in high school. Instead, I broke my own heart against the wall between the actual boy and the one I made up. I think Scott was the first man I ever knew as himself before I loved him, and it took me a long time to figure out the difference, as I live so strongly inside my own brain. It took seven years of platonic best-friendship to figure out that he was my guy and had been all along.

Later on the night after we lost Bartina to the surf, I grabbed up the nets and the flashlights and my dad and I went out to catch crabs along the shoreline. The size of the crabs made up for the fish, and when we got back to our rooms, I set the clattery bucket of delicious blue-clawed fellows out on the porch. I didn’t bring them in and murder them and boil them and pick out all their delicious meats until Miss Maisy and her tender heart and her propensity to name the foods was safely asleep, innocence intact.

She will eventually learn not to love things that don’t have anything to offer in return. I’m her mother, and I know the only way she will learn it is by giving her heart away, and then getting back only pieces. But I saw no reason to help her begin the process that night. And I see no reason to help her begin tomorrow. There is time for all that later. Please Lord, much much later.

maisy 2008 2

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