Garden Road Catfish

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Lilacs and apple trees in bloom on Garden Road. / Photo by Jason W. Selby

Another birthday has passed, and my almost seven-year-old son Grant informed me that now I am old. This is the same boy who helps me deliver newspapers on Tuesdays, and on the trip back from Humeston through Cambria to Hwy. 2, after seeing the black graffiti on the back of the mileage marker sign that reads I love you, Grant said, “God must have put that there.”

My mother baked cakes unique to each year when I was young, and then photographed me blowing out the candles. She took her time molding, cooking and illustrating each masterpiece.

One May, it was blocks and mounds of frosting shaped like a giraffe, then Garfield, then a chocolate teddy bear with a maraschino cherry for a nose, then gummy worms on wooden poles luring gummy fish from a pale blue pond of icing, etc. Further on, dinosaurs appeared on earth in plastic form, leaving tracks when I removed them to allow my mother to cut and distribute this artwork to my brother and my sister, my cousin Matt Selby, and friends Travis Poston, Roman Nigut, Aaron Brees, Andy Tuttle, T.J. Jones and many others over time.

My father bought me leather work gloves as a present one year. It was implied I would therefore be helping him fix fence that summer after the last few weeks of school passed. Other years, he bought me fishing gear. That is why I fell in love with rain, when we couldn’t work in the field.

In one photograph from a birthday I could count in years on one hand, catfish hung from stringers between the swings of our playset. I remember pulling them in from the north shore of the east pond, an invisible force tugging me past the shallows and into a darkness I did not yet recognize; just because you cannot see the fish does not mean they are not there.

Across the world, in rivers fed by Himalayan snowmelt, catfish have grown so large they can devour men. Villagers send their dead on pyres into the current. The catfish eat the consecrated flesh, allowing these monsters to grow larger.

In the middle of our galaxy, a supermassive black hole, upon which trillions of worlds spin around, grows larger the more it is fed, yet this same god or demon—which does not follow the laws of nature, and is in fact beyond reason and time—gives life its shape, and without its consuming force our planet would not circle the sun. As a child, I had no idea what power held us in place. Words fail to describe it.

This year, my wife and I took our children to the museum, to the bowling alley and to the movie theatre, in that order. Jasmine needed to use the restroom during the film, but she was too afraid of falling into the toilet water, and perhaps getting stuck—it is wider than any potty she currently uses at home or at preschool—and therefore I had to leave early with my daughter. At home, Jasmine made me close the bedroom door because a cat on a poster with eyes she considers creepy was staring at her from the darkness.

The older I get, the wider the black hole grows. I cannot close that door. The only way to deal with this new reality is to adjust my perspective from fear to awe, which is the same way a child learns.