We sat in the aluminum fishing boat, the sun beating down on our bare shoulders, the sound of the water lapping around the oars as the boat rocked gently from side to side. My brown hair pulled up into a ponytail allowed wisps to tickle my cheeks and neck, as the wind skirted across the lake. Mt. Hood stood tall and bright in the background, beetles knickered at each other in the distance and the smell of fresh pine trees permeated the air. My ex-husband rowed the boat with ease, as the muscles of his arms flexed with each stroke and his construction man hands gripped the handles of the oars. This sounds like the beginning of a romance novel. Alas, no.
“Let me row,” I said. It was over a decade since we’d become a couple and we had spent many days in this boat on the water. We began in Southern Oregon on the wild Rogue River, with him rowing and guiding, while I would smile, relax and read a good book, waiting for the next prime fishing spot. In 1991, we moved to Gresham, Oregon, just East of Portland and set out discovering the glorious fishing aspects of the Clackamas River. On this particular day we were camping in our favorite spot on Timothy Lake, located in the mountains, just southwest of Mt. Hood.
The husband raised an eyebrow. “Really,” I said, “I want to row. This is perfect!” It wasn’t the first time I would have rowed the boat. He had shown me how to navigate it on the river and since I was the product of a family of girls who could shoot, hunt and fish, I was proud to learn the ropes of trailering the boat and water navigation. The large lake was calm, the boat traffic light, with only a few other fisherman around us. This would be a piece of cake compared to navigating a river’s current.
He shrugged his tanned shoulders, smiling slightly – I thought, proud that the wife could row his boat. He muttered, “Okay,” and we began to gingerly switch places. He moved to the back of the boat, eased into the cushioned boat seat, opened a beer and I re-centered myself in the mid-boat, aloft the seat box. I gripped the oars, allowing my hand to slide down against the thick rope wrapped around the wood.
The husband said something, gave me some direction, to which I offered a snarky wife remark and rolled my eyes. He knew this was not my first rodeo. I set off, moving the boat through the water gently, feeling the oars, centering my weight, and testing the strength of the waters resistance. I played with navigation, reversing the direction of the boat, spinning us around – raising my eyebrow back at him. I could move the boat anywhere I wanted, as easy as I could navigate an automobile backwards or parallel park – I had never been directionally challenged.
I don’t know at what point I decided I needed to show off. Perhaps it was the heat of the day frying the frontal lobe of my brain where logic resides. I had started moving the boat through the water at a nice clip. Feeling the muscles in my shoulders strain, my forearms bulge (as much as an un-muscular young gal’s forearm can bulge) and my hands tremble as they gripped the oars. I remember wanting to see just how fast I could get this boat moving on my own. The husband begrudgingly gave a positive nod.
As a runner - er, jogger – er, runner – often the perfect powerful song will slide through my playlist and my spirit soars. My legs react and I feel as if I’ve surely hit that 6 minute mile. When in reality, I probably look like Dane Cook’s comedic rendition of a pedestrian fake running across the crosswalk in front of your car (look it up, it’s hilarious). I feel like the hare, my mind is the hare, but physically, I’m still the tortoise.
I imagine on that day this sort of scenario is probably what was actually happening with the boat. I had propelled us fast enough to create more of a breeze against our skin, to push my ponytail around my neck, but to the bystanders, we probably looked as if the anchor was down and a mad woman was at the helm.
I looked across the water, smiling, feeling strong and able. The oars were powerful, glided through the water with little splash – it was so damn easy. I wanted to make the husband proud. I looked around and spied a few other boats fairly close to us. I thought they were watching. I was in the moment.
BAM! Suddenly I couldn’t see anything but the blueness of the sky, not a cloud in what felt like tunnel vision. The sides of the boat no longer extended alongside me, but upwards towards the blue. I could no longer see the husband, as he was now blocked by the seat box, where I was no longer sitting. And my legs were extended straight up into the air.
At first humiliation hit me but I instantly squelched it with a big gut bomb of laughter. I opened my mouth and let out a big guffaw, shoved my head and shoulders up with my elbows and looked squarely at the husband. He had one arm bent across his mid section, while the other elbow rested on that forearm, his hand clutching the sides of his mouth, while he shook his head side to side and chuckled. I looked around at the other boats, and realized what they saw.
One second there sat an insane rowing woman and suddenly, this rower caught a crab and flipped right over. The passenger was left staring calmly at an empty seat, flanked by two upright legs.
This vision sent me into fits of laughter and the sound pealed across the lake towards the shore. I returned to my prone position, staring at the sky, feeling quite stupid, and a little mortified. I realized I couldn’t hide there forever so I swung my legs over and push myself upright in the boat. All the while, the husband sat there quietly with a sly smirk on his face.
There are only a few human traits that I really despise and arrogance is at the top of the list. I find it an ugly trait and regardless of how talented an individual is, their talent shines brighter when filtered through a humble demeanor. There is no doubt that I was overflowing with arrogance that day, without a shred of humbleness even searing my aura. Who knows, perhaps if I’d been successful, I may have become an annoying arrogant son-of-a-bitch. Thankfully, the great character checker in the sky knocked that chip right off my ass, and restored the rightful balance of humility to the universe.
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