Wilbur King lived in Middletown, Ohio. He raised five spectacular daughters. The fifth one, Shannon, was the first love of my life. It was 1980. We were 22. Wilbur scared the shit out of me.
Before I met him on my first trip to the King homestead, all I knew about Wilbur was that he worked in a steel mill, and that he had a bass boat on which he went bass fishing. When we met, I learned two more things. I learned that Wilbur had powerful, constrictor hands. And I learned that he scared the shit out of me. But not because he had rearranged my phalanges. It was nothing more than the way he looked at me, a steely stare. I didn’t understand it until years later, when I realized that to him I was just one more luster wanting to do a daughter.
Shannon’s mom had a really stupid idea. She said to Wilbur, “Why don’t you take Tommy out fishing with you in the morning?”
Fast forward to 6 a.m. the next day. I was awake. This was deeply wrong.
I climbed into Wilbur’s truck and off we went to the lake, just a couple of guys who would each much rather be alone right now. The first thing that happened was that I didn’t say anything, and by doing so, I had set the tone for the morning. Wilbur followed my lead. For the next two hours, he either didn’t have any urges to speak, or he resisted them all.
Okay, that’s not entirely true. When we got to the boat, some sounds did come from Wilbur’s face. “Get on the boat,” I heard him say.
I jumped into the conversation. “Okay,” I said.
Another thing he said was, “Untie that rope.”
“Okay,” I said, trying to sound hearty despite the trembling.
Soon we were in the quietest place I’d ever been, adrift on a sheet of liquid glass. Wilbur was fishing. I was just sitting. I’d probably been in places this quiet before. It’s just that I made too much noise to notice. Not today. I was frozen in terror by the tension of the human silence. If I had spoken then, in Wilbur’s temple, during the heart of his ceremony, I believe the sheer force of the will of Wilbur would have struck me dead.
After a while, he packed up his equipment and he steered the boat to shore. When we were up against the dock, I knew it was time to get off the boat and I did so without even having to be told.
“Here,” Wilbur said, as he tossed me a rope which I then tied to the boat-holding rope-wrap thingie.
“Got it,” I replied, with just a touch of sailor vigor.
When we were back at the house, we went in the side door, which leads you through the kitchen. Mrs. King was standing at the sink. I was right behind Wilbur, so I was able to hear it when he walked by his wife, touched her on the shoulder, leaned into her ear, and said, “I like this one.”