The fish is out of water

When I made it to high school in the spring of 1984, I was a small fish in a big ocean. Seniors would try to sell us incoming freshman tickets to a rooftop swimming pool which did not exist. And everyone spoke of the other “Fish”. “Fish” was the nickname of a legendary upperclassman. For all we fish knew, “Fish” was big man on campus. The buzz around Fish was legendary. He got his name by swimming across the pond at Peter’s Colony and Josey on a dare. He took a mannequin to prom. He would do anything.
In the eyes of a little fish, he was the king of the big ocean.
He was 3 or 4 years ahead of me, and he left Newman Smith shortly after I got there. I never got to meet him. But I never forgot about the legend. Fish left an indelible mark on my high school years. He was a character that stood out from the masses. That was what stuck with me. He was a true nonconformist in every sense of the word. And in my high school years, nonconformity carried a lot of weight with me. It still does. It always will.
Fast forward to 2013. I am browsing Facebook, looking for any type of Newman Smith page that might have information about my upcoming 25-year reunion. I wasn’t invited, probably since I flew under the radar of most of the Jocks, Preppies, and Douchebags. But I was going anyway.
I stumble across a page for Newman Smith grads of all years. The very first post that I read says “Fish is in Brookhaven Nursing Home. He is going to the VA Hospital on the 16th of October. He loves to have visitors.”
My first thought is, “How can someone so young be in a nursing home?” My second thought is, “BINGO. My time to meet him has come.”
I drove out to Carrollton on a Sunday morning. I was in a great mood; we were leaving on vacation in a few hours.
I arrived at the nursing home and went in. Elderly people were in wheelchairs in the hallways. Moving at a literal snail’s pace. Just glad to be out of their bed, this was probably the highlight of their day. I feel guilty for walking.
I knew that Fish’s real name was Scott McElvane, so I asked directions to his room. The staff wondered if I was there to pick him up? No. Was I family? No. “Just visiting.”
I walked into room #310, and saw Fish in a fetal position watching the television. He looked up at me and asked where I was from. “Newman Smith. I am here because I always wanted to meet the legend. I saw on Facebook that you like to have visitors.”
A smile broke across his face.
He leaned up in bed, a pillow below his bent knees. He was obviously in a lot of pain. He was wearing the kind of diabetic tennis shoes that are oversized, loose, unconstricting.
I proceeded to explain why I was there, and he came around quickly. I asked him about prom. “Who did you take to prom?” “I had four girls that wanted to go, and I couldn’t decide, so I took my mannequin,” he said. Confirmed. HIS mannequin? Nice.
“How did you get your nickname?” I asked. He told me that he was in the sixth grade and got caught in a rainstorm that included not only rain, but minnows. He proceeded to eat some of the minnows that fell from the sky, and the nickname “Fish” was given to him, and it stuck. It certainly did; I never met the guy and here I am 29 years later.
I asked him if he swam across the pond in Carrollton. He said that he did, and he also swam across Lake Lewisville.
“This guy really is a Fish,” I thought.
What he told me next hit me like a ton of bricks. He was waiting for his wife to pick him up in a few minutes. They were going to see his Mother’s viewing at the funeral home; she died last Thursday. Of all the years I had the opportunity to meet Fish, I pick the worst possible time. Stunning.
I am taken aback, and I apologize for picking such an inopportune time. He told me that his mother was at peace now.
He told me that he had married a Japanese woman that he met while overseas in the Marines. He had two children. One died last year at the age of 20.
So he loses his child, his mother, and gets put in a nursing home in the matter of a year? Life is not fair. We all know that.
But sometimes life just deals you blows, over and over, as if testing how much you can handle. In his position, I would have folded up. Completely.
But not Fish. He was having a jovial conversation with someone that he didn’t know five minutes earlier.
“If you could have anything to make you more comfortable here, what would you want?” I asked.
“A new wheelchair–my wheelchair is really uncomfortable.” He lays back down, stretching out his legs and lowering his head to his pillow. He is in a lot of pain.
He tells me that he is friends with the current principal of Newman Smith, Mr. Pouncy. Mr. Pouncy was a teacher when I was there, and in the ensuing years, he has established himself as one of the most respected administrators to ever call himself a Trojan. I have never heard a bad thing about him. Interesting.
I talked a little more wth Scott, and I decided to let him have some time to himself. His wife was on her way, and he needed to clear his thoughts before going to his mother’s viewing. I shook his hand, and let him know that I was sorry about his mother, and I would come and see him when he gets to the VA. Count on it.
I got to the parking lot, my mind a blur from the preceding conversation. I felt guilty for getting in my truck and driving. Freedom. Something we all take for granted. For me, a lot less now.
After our vacation was my 25 year reunion. Friday night was a football game, and Ashley, Owie and I went to Standridge Stadium. I was intent on finding Mr. Pouncy. I wanted him to know about Fish. Screw the football game.
I finally saw him in the third quarter, standing by himself against a wall. I introduced myself and told him about Fish.
He knew that Fish was in a nursing home, but he had not had the time to see him; he was too busy. Understood.
“What happened to him? Does he have a crippling disease?” “No, he was working on a pool with his son and a pressurized piece blew off and hit him in the head, causing a traumatic brain injury.” I told him about Fish’s request for a wheelchair, and wondered how we could get something together. He urged me to go back to Facebook and see if I could round up some support.
So I will.
Fish thinks that the VA will be a lot better than Brookhaven Nursing Home. And that may be the case. And it may not be. Our government is currently SHUT DOWN. Bastards.
Fish thinks that he will get a better wheelchair at the VA. That may be the case. And it may not be. Our government is SHUT DOWN. Fucking bastards.

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