Growing up Catholic, I never really “got” the notion of purgatory. What was it? A place of rest? A timeout? That middle ground between life and death? Almost heaven? Almost hell? Both? It’s a nebulous concept and it’s hard to understand. The sanctioned explanation is that purgatory is a place souls go after death to, “undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.” I still don’t get it, and as a foul-mouthed, vice-ridden, lying fisherman, odds are long that I’d ever land there. But I have been bonefishing a bunch. That I get, and I think bonefishing and purgatory may be the same thing.
Purgatory is being in the well of a Bonefishing skiff. Your partner is up on the deck, scanning for fish and saying prayers while you are in the back seat doing what? I don’t know, whatever you can think of to take your mind off the fact that you are not fishing and your alleged buddy is messing everything up.
Agony is the only word to describe the situation when he misses three easy bones and one huge barracuda in the span of 10 minutes. I love the guy, but I want to kill him. Kill him dead. I think about how I would do it. What I would tell the cops. What I would tell his wife.
There are only so many cigarettes I can smoke back here. There are only so many Kaliks in the cooler. I have already eaten my peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Please, get your cast together. Get your hook set down. Listen to the frigging guide. Cast when he tells you to cast. Strip when he tells you to strip and set when he tells you to set. Just catch the fish. Lordy, it’s hard but it ain’t that hard.
You must be getting tired. You must be getting thirsty. Your legs… they gotta be aching. Don’t you have to pee? I am not an impatient man, but I’m no saint and we do not have all damn day out here. You’ve already been on the deck for an hour. Miss one more and at least have the common courtesy to step off—to give yourself a timeout and think about what you have done—to the guide, to the flat, to the honor of the fish and, most importantly, to me.
Finally, it’s my turn to embarrass myself. I get up on deck, strip line off and start looking for fish. I find one and blow the whole deal in a spectacular manner. I feel bad about screaming the first word that leapt into my mouth in such an awe-inspiring place. (It was actually a short paragraph of really, really bad words.) I’m genuinely remorseful and I stare at my bare feet. After a deep breath, I turn and tell the guide that I’m sorry; that it feels like cussing in church.
“It is, man. It’s just like that,” he says.
My soul is crushed. I reel up, step off the deck and back into purgatory. The joy of heaven will have to wait.