If you have been following the saga titled Tyler Corke, featured in Swing the Fly Magazine, you know that the two dirt bags chasing steelhead were bound to part ways. Well, here’s what happened to our protagonist in the years following that epic steelhead trip to BC.
Please enjoy and pass along. I know that we’ve all felt this way! Caution! Contains vulgarities.
by Jeff Mishler
It’s been ten years since Tyler Corke and I were friends. I use the term friends loosely. Very loosely. In that time I’ve settled into a more metropolitan existence. I moved out of the mountain cabin and found a small two bedroom house ten miles closer to town. The place has a small garage for my boat, a reliable toilet and functioning forced air gas heater. Heidi Klum never nosed her Porsche into the ditch. She never knocked on the door asking for help so I found the next best thing in a girlfriend: A beautiful spey casting single mother who calls after midnight, often. Tonight I’m stuck to the cell phone like a teenage boy viewing his first porn. She’s possibly the worst combination of lovely and abusive, preying upon my hope, ignorance, and knowledge of prime fishing water with a late-night wake up call to inquire about a possible change of plan. I’d extended an exclusive invitation to fish one great piece of steelhead water to the hottest female steelheader I know. Now, she wants to bring her ex-boyfriend. Obviously, she didn’t get the exclusive part of the invite. Yes. I suck at relationships. Yes, I date women with children. Yes, I fear intimacy. Yes I’m a dork for falling for her antics…six times.
Spey casting steelheading women are rare, and I’m a sucker for them. Lacey can jack a Spey line like a javelin thrower at ten thousand feet. She drinks scotch, carries a flask, ties tube flies and knows how to spin deer hair. She’s a size 6, five foot six, and just about perfect, on the outside. She’s also an alcoholic who sleeps with a lot of men. She’s independently wealthy and wishes she had a penis. Okay, maybe that last one is a stretch, but I cannot figure out why she does the things she does. I must project on to her that I want to be used and thrown out like a chunk of frayed tippet when the fishing is done and she returns to the private part of her “other” life. To really know her might be the worst thing I could hope for. But damn, does she look good in a pair of waders.
Her seven-month-old boy is not a foreseeable problem. I love kids. Breast feeding women are beautiful. Watching a mother play with her infant son is an almost perfect moment, every time. Really. The universe bombards us with a million messages a day and without our selective filters in place, seining the bad while letting the good pass through the barrier and then into us, we’d be insane. My filter just happens to be set on the “let a lot of bad shit through, but keep life confusing by dropping a few sentimental bombs now and then” setting. When I see Lacey breastfeed her son, the swell of emotion is overwhelming, and an earth shattering ka-boom rattles my soul.
So I’m stuck, with the cell phone in my ear, trying to unscramble the babbling at the other end. A din of thumping house music and drunken conversation bleed through, burying her words beneath a blanket of fun.
“What are you trying to say?”
“I was wondering how long of a drive it is.”
“Why does that matter? I thought we’d be out all day.”
“That’s fine. I’ll pump.”
“You’ve been drinking. Can you do that?”
Since when did I become a caretaker? She’s not my girlfriend. She’s not my wife. Her son isn’t my kid. What’s gotten into me?
“I have three bottles in the fridge. Breast milk. I’m talking about breast milk. Yeah I’m checking. Go get me another beer.”
“Who are you talking to?”
“Funny thing. Jackson is here. He’s in town for the week working on the waterfront rehab. We just bumped into each other.”
Jackson is the ex. He owns an excavating company.
“I thought he owed you money?”
“Yeah we talked about that. So, what do you think?”
“What do I think about your ex-boyfriend coming along, or how long of a drive do I think it is?”
So here’s my dilemma. I know at least five guys who would die to date Lacey. I’m already there. I don’t plan to marry her. But by saying yes, I’m there for as long as I want to be, unless she changes her mind, which she does often. Jackson can’t cast, so I’m not worried about him scooping or low-holing us. But he does get on my nerves.
Jackson is that type of guy who constantly pushes buttons. He looks for weaknesses by coming at you from all directions like a swarm of yellow jackets after you’ve stepped on the hive. Every time I see him, he opens the conversation with, “Lookin’ a little soft there. Need to get out and dig in the dirt”.
Then he goes into politics, or religion, or dams and conservation issues. He’s pro-capitalism, if he knows you’re not. He’s pro-dams, if he knows you’re anti. He can’t get under my skin ’cause I’m sleeping with his ex, and he’s not, as far as I know. The one time I got tired of his shit and called him on it, he just stood there, all six foot three inches of him and smiled his disgustingly perfect, toothy-white smile. He knows there’s nothing I can do to stop his antagonism. I hate that.
“Did he bring his gear?”
“Everything but wading shoes?”
“What size is he?”
“Big. Real big. Maybe a 13 or so. Jack, what size are you?”
I don’t have anything that will fit him. I have a pair of camo boot-foot neoprenes with rubber soles in an 11. But he’d probably slip and drown before the circulation left his toes. And why did she have to emphasize the word big? Heartless bitch.
“He’s a 12 but wears a 14 wading shoe.”
“What time does the fly shop open?”
“Nine or so. But I doubt they’ll have a 14. Do we really have to take him?”
“I just thought it would be fun. I can’t wait to fish with you again.”
So this goes on and on. My ear is burning. The battery is dying on the phone. I’m getting a brain tumor, and she’s trying to figure out where Jack is gonna get a pair of size 14 wading shoes at seven in the morning. Hang up. Just hang up on her. But hanging on every word in this conversation is my uncertainty about the relationship and my delusion that if I blow her off once, she’ll be done with me. And that is my problem because Lacy responds favorably when you ignore her. Indifference rides on cupid’s arrow, and when it strikes her, she is truly poisoned. Jackson has mastered this art. Pretending to care. Listening, but not hearing. Asking, then ignoring. I learned long ago that the only way to get the attention of the hottest chick in the bar is to make eye contact once, then never look her way again, no matter how drunk you get. For that night, it will drive her crazy, if it affects her at all. The difference between Lacey and other hot chicks is that it works on her every day, every time, but I can’t bring myself to treat her with indifference now that I’ve fished with her. She is that beautiful to watch.
At 9:20, Lacey and Jackson arrive. We load our gear and are coast-bound in minutes. Lacey sits in the back. Jackson rides shotgun.
“Lookin’ soft, man.”
“Jackson!” Lacey snapped.
“Is there an outside chance that you’ve practiced your cast since last time?”
It’s my only angle.
Indifference. Cue the overindulged backseat driver.
“But you’ll let him try your new rod won’t you? Jackson you gotta try this new setup. That short head loads the 8129 perfectly. Maybe that’ll help.”
So if I say no, I’m the bad guy. If I say yes, I’ll end up fishing his crappy underlined, unbalanced gear all day ‘cause Jackson feels generally entitled and won’t give my rod back until we’re heading home, and only then if I’m lucky. I don’t put it past him to stash my rod somewhere in his gear or mix up the rod tubes when we get home. Jackson just takes what he wants.
“I brought some lines that might load his rod better.”
“No worries. Whatever.”
Lacey is sitting uncomfortably deep in the cab and leans forward, resting her head on the side of Jackson’s headrest, her face is a foot from his. He’s looking through my CD case. She leans forward a bit more to see. Her head enters our space and I glance sideways. They look great together, almost perfect.
In the first run of the day I see that Jackson is struggling. “Here, give this a try.”
I take Jackson’s rod and hand him my outfit. I walk back to the boat, but stop to remind him: “You don’t need to use so much power with that head.”
“Yeah I got it,” and he proceeds to crack the fly through a bloody L on the forward cast, nearly taking his head off.
Lacey is working through the head of the run. Jackson is planted mid-run. I sit in the drift boat and drink some coffee.
Crack! I hear something solid against graphite. The lead eyes of an intruder have slammed into my favorite rod. I know that the rod will break before day’s end.
“Better check that rod! Sounded solid.”
Jackson hammers out another sloppy loop without pausing.
I walk back down to have a little chat with Jackson.
“So let me get this straight. I loan you my personal gear, an $800 rod. You drive your fly into the blank after a shitty snap T, and you don’t feel the least bit concerned about it. You don’t say you’re sorry. You don’t check for damage. You just don’t care that the rod will break in a couple hours ’cause by then you’ll deny you had anything to do with it. Is that it, Jackson?”
Lacey shows up.
“Hand me the rod.”
“Couple more casts.”
“Hand me the fucking rod.”
I walk out into the run and take it from his hands.
“What crawled up your ass?”
I take the rod, hold it at the first ferrule, find the impact mark and put a hand on each side of the check in the graphite. I gently bend the rod into a soft arch. and it shatters in my hands.
“You owe me a new rod.”
“I’m tired of this bullshit, Lacey. I’m not gonna be your guide, your go-to fly fishing bootie call, your steelhead bum boyfriend who makes you look cool at artsy-fartsy pansy-ass parties. I’m done! Why don’t the two of you go off and get married and put all of us out of misery ’cause it’s been obvious to me for some time that the two of you are perfect for each other!”
“Me, with him? You’re kidding.”
“No, or someone else. I don’t care. Just not me.”
I reel up the line, pick up the remaining rod piece hanging on the line by a snake guide, and head to the boat.
Sitting in the rope seat, I back the threads off the reel seat, take the reel off the broken rod, and start stuffing pieces into the rod tube. Lacey and Jackson walk up the riverbank separately—Jackson in front, smiling that perfect smile, Lacey in back, looking at me. Watching them approach, I feel perfectly present, relieved that this certain fate is past me. What I need now is a beer, a pool cue, a couple drinking buddies, and a bar, ’cause after my display of detachment, I know Lacey will now be that one chick glued to the far wall wondering why this one guy in the bar isn’t giving her the time of day.
“Why don’t you just put that reel on my rod. I’ll fish that instead.”
Is Jackson serious?
“You don’t get it. I’m done. We’re out of here.”
And then I let him have it, confident his big hands will pummel me before I finish.
“The only reason I agreed to take an asshole like you fishing was because I don’t mind being her bootie call. Can you blame me? But thanks to you, I clearly see who she is ’cause anyone who would go out of their way for you is not someone I want to know. So I need to be as far away from the two of you as I can get. Get in the boat and please stop smiling at me.”
Jackson, to his credit, kept grinning. He didn’t smile. Just grinned. It was more unnerving than the toothy smile because I could tell he was using restraint. He didn’t have a reason to deck me. I was just being honest. But I’d seen other guys laid out for calling someone an asshole. Pile on another comment about staying in Lacey pants and chivalry could have played the destructive role. Jackson climbed aboard, slid his seat over to balance the boat, and poured himself a cup of coffee. He faced forward for the rest of the trip.
Lacey, however, didn’t follow suit. She ran her mouth the entire time, from the moment she sat next to Jackson for the float out, during the loading of the drift boat, during the ride home, and even after I left them alone in the driveway to transfer their gear to her truck.
“What, you think you can be an asshole to me? What did I do to piss you off? You think you’re easy to be around? You have no idea what I put up with every day. What’s with you guys? Why can’t you just be nice to women? Why does every man think they can just sleep with a woman then treat her like shit?”
On and on it went until she spun her entire life into a fantasy-filled ball of torment caused by her selfless, loving devotion to every man she’d ever known, only to be jilted, used, abused…whatever.
Indifferent. That’s how I felt as I pulled the front door closed. Inside my home, through the large pane in the living room, I watched Lacey yammer on and on. Jackson was trying to toss his waders into the canopy, but she stood toe to toe with him, her body planted at mid-tailgate, still trying to get a rise. Jackson remained indifferent. Gotta give that guy credit. His coolness is unnerving.
There are few things in life more threatening than the tirade of an obsessed, nefarious, lactating sociopath bent on making your life as miserable as hers. I didn’t get a restraining order because I didn’t think she could physically hurt anyone. She did park her truck behind mine a few times, pretending that crossing paths in the parking lot of my local grocery store was just a coincidence. The second time it happened, I walked to her driver-side window and confronted her. She said something about having to make a call and closed the window in my face. She drunk dialed me a few times and left long messages accusing me of abuse, then in the same breath asking to go fishing again. She emailed me a few more times attaching pictures of us together on the river. Maybe I’m not seeing her right, I thought. Maybe I’m jaded. I do have this tendency to attract passionate women. Maybe that’s just the way it’s going to be. Then I’d slap my face and yell into the mirror, “What the hell are you thinking?”
Clarity, in small doses, moves your life forward. It’s not like our breakup was unforeseen. We’d never talked about commitment, or the relationship, ever. The chapter in my life called Lacey left me wondering how people, me included, can put so much energy into something so obviously wrong: a relationship, a career, or a project, which from the beginning, is unstable, uncomfortable, stressful, or just plain hard, and then when the reality of its demise rolls through, feel profoundly hurt.
What’s that all about? Really? Hurt is from the heart, but it can also be from the head. I guess we just can’t see truth when those few profound moments find their way into the folds of our respective timelines, when we see something beautiful and decide, I need more of that in my life, regardless of the consequences. Sadly, we have this capacity to convince ourselves, after the fact, that what was a horrible episode in our life was pleasurable and healthy. Considering how short life is, that is screwed up.