Opening my inbox, I noticed I had received another rejection letter—which I suppose is preferable to no reply—from a heartless literary agent. It seems not everyone is as enamored with The Boat as I am, but like a proud father or hopelessly lovesick teen, the object of my affection will always be special to me and I’ll never understand how others don’t see what I assume is so obvious. This idiosyncrasy isn’t exclusive to my writing; being evident throughout my life in my music, movie, food, and people preferences as well. “I can’t believe you don’t like this song. It’s the best song ever.”
But as it is, rejection is part of the writing process and ultimately an integral part of life. If you haven’t been rejected, then you haven’t lived. I suppose I haven’t experienced rejection any more or less than others, but the effects seem to stick with me longer than most. It might be said, and has been on occasion, my feelings are easily hurt. True. I recall an incident from my childhood—probably not the first, but the one that lingers in my subconscious—that serves as a great example of the pain and hurt rejection can cause.
I was seven or eight years old at the time and in our neighborhood, on our street, were a number of kids within a year or two of my age. This factor made the neighborhood vibrant and teeming with action, but not all the action was fun. Sometimes there were frictions between kids, which often led to conflict; with the end result being kids running home, with tears flowing down their cheeks, looking for Mom or Dad to lick their wounds and protect them from the neighborhood bully. One such bully in the neighborhood was Neil. He was a year older than me, in the same class as my sister, and I recognized a tendency in him resembling that of a cantankerous dog; one minute he wanted to play and have fun, but in the next he might bite your leg and chase you around the yard. I avoided Neil.
One day, I was playing in a neighbor’s yard and wandered near enough to Neil’s driveway, and when I ran by I thought I heard him say, “Hey Ronnie, you wanna go fishing?” At first I thought he must have meant another Ronnie—there were three of us living on the block—but when he called to me the second time, I drew near and asked a couple of follow-up questions. “Are you talking to me?” When it was determined that he was indeed talking to me, my next question, once he had explained the offer, was, “Why me?” He never directly answered the question and I later discovered the truth; all the other kids he asked couldn’t go. Once I said yes—and there was never a doubt that I wouldn’t—I then had to go home and get permission and then find out if I even had a fishing pole.
When I told Dad what had transpired down the street at Neil’s house, he at first didn’t believe me. “Are you sure it was you he was asking?” Since I was the only kid standing there when he said it, I answered, “Yeah Dad. I was the only kid standing there, so it must have been me.” Once I had convinced him, Dad was very enthusiastic about the trip and loaded me up with a pole, tackle box, and food and drink. He then patted me on the rear and told me to go have a good time. I walked on air as I made my way down to Neil’s, knowing that all the other boys in the neighborhood were sure to be watching out their windows and were likely stewing in their jealousy at my good fortune.
When I arrived at Neil’s house, I noticed his car was already loaded and in addition to his father, I recognized another boy in the back seat of the car. It was one of the other Ronnie’s in the neighborhood. The car was running and as it backed out of the driveway—almost running me over—Neil rolled down his window and said, “You can’t go. I found somebody else to take.” And from there the car pulled out onto the street and sped away. I stood there staring at the car and it didn’t take more than a few seconds for the tears to begin falling. I was crushed and my heart was broken.
All the way home I cried and when Dad noticed me being home, he didn’t seem all that surprised. He tried to console me, but I would have none of it. I retired to my bedroom and while lying on my bed, nearly drowning in my tears, I thought of a thousand scenarios of how I could pay back the bully down the street. And I thought of becoming extremely ill and on my death-bed and how sorry everyone would be when I was gone from this earth. Looking back, I now realize something good actually came from the heart-break; after this experience, there wasn’t a rejection in the world I would ever have to face that I couldn’t handle; with the exception of my fiancé throwing her engagement ring in my face and calling off our wedding. But that’s another story.
There was one other silver lining; Dad, knowing how hurt I had been, a few days later arranged for a family fishing trip at a pay-per-pole lake. It was a fine gesture on his part, but I don’t think he fully realized what he was getting into. In a small boat filled with four whiny kids, and Dad being needed to bait hooks and untangle lines and having to repeatedly hear “I’m hungry” and “I’m thirsty,” he finally lost what little patience he had and rowed us back to shore. But I had caught some fish and my fate was sealed. From that day on I would be a fisherman. Thanks to Neil and the fishing trip that never happened.
*This story is one of many featured in my book Little Heathens.