Remember that feeling of being a kid and exploring the wide world around you with your friends or family? Picture it: a group of kids running around the neighborhood or the woods out back, laughing and teasing each other, living in their own fantasy worlds. Maybe you were that kid, or you now have kids who are doing this sort of thing outside your house! Life was so much more simple back then, wasn't it? No responsibilities or deadlines or worries or bills to pay off. Well for the young protagonist of our story, there was one very, very big worry on his mind.
First, let's introduce the young Clark and his truly wild childhood experience. Clark was only seven years old when his story began. That's such an innocent, naive, and impressionable age. He considered himself to be fairly ordinary as far as other seven year olds went, but there was one massive secret he tried to keep from those around him. Some people might characterize this as a phobia. Clark was seven, so he didn't do as good a job hiding his deepest worry as he thought he did. But that's besides the point. What really matters is Clark's greatest fear being right outside his window. And how a very close person completely exploited that fear just for the giggles. Turns out Clark would be the one to have the last laugh though, waiting an impressive amount of time to get some satisfying revenge. Or was it really revenge he was actually after? Keep on reading to find out!
Growing up, nothing terrified our poor Clark more than the briny depths of the ocean. Or at least a nearby lake or something. Pools were okay since they had steps and clear signs for when you were too deep. But Clark was a terrible swimmer, and his worst fear was being submerged underneath some terribly strong currents. Luckily for Clark, his family lived on a large farm with a massive mountain creek along one of the fields. He conveniently lived right next to what could he believed to be his certain downfall, at least in his naive seven-year-old mind. Technically, he was only staying with part of his family part of the time here. You see, his parents divorced when he was two, and his father had remarried and had more children. So every summer, Clark would visit his dad and half-siblings in the countryside.
Wayne was Clark's older half-brother, a burly fourteen-year-old who towered over Clark's seven-year-old self. The stark age difference meant that Clark and Wayne didn't have all that much in common. Wayne was a little more gruff. He was entering a pretty moody phase of adolescence, and he wasn't as tolerant of Clark's general silliness as the other siblings. Wayne wasn't very close with Clark, but that had nothing to do with being a step brother specifically. Wayne and Clark's father and stepmom really wanted the boys especially to bond that summer but spending more time playing together. Unfortunately, Wayne had something more nefarious in mind for young Clark. Also, Wayne knew full well how terrified Clark was of swimming in deep parts of the creek. For some reason, Wayne still insisted everyone instinctively knew how to swim. Fourteen-year-olds aren't really well known for their understanding of human functions.
There was this massive rock at the edge of the creek that Clark and his half-siblings would often fish from. Clark's half-siblings loved to jump off the rock, into about ten feet of creek water. But once you jumped in, the only way back out was to swim downstream and find a good foothold. Clark always sat on this rock in fear of how deep the water was below. Turns out today those fears were about to become way too real for him. Seriously, I would hate for someone to do this for me, and I can properly swim! This was destined to be a very fateful day for our young Clark. This day would go on to shape the rest of his adult life!
One scorching summer day, Wayne decided all of the kids should go out into the backyard and jump into the creek, knowing fully Clark had zero intentions of actually doing that. But this time, Wayne was feeling much more proactive than he ever had before. Clark will never forget how "He started teasing me and eventually picked me up. I was scared, but thought surely he wasn't actually going to throw me in."
Well, Clark was completely wrong about that. Wayne inched over to the ominous edge of the creek and threw Clark in like a sack of potatoes. It was the most terrifying event Clark could have experienced. Thankfully, Clark was able to thrash around in the water and scoot along towards the shore. But during this entire process, he was screaming at the top of his lungs, desperate for anyone to save him and put an end to Wayne's shenanigans. Luckily, someone had indeed heard these cries for help, and they were determined to put a stop to this once and for all.
Imagine someone taking advantage of your worst fears like that! Clark must have been overwhelmed with terror in those fraught moments, his trust in his stepbrother completely shattered. It was Clark's worst fear come to like, the murky creek water rushing over his head in a tumultuous fury. At least he had tried swimming before and was able to move with the current, eventually grabbing enough to find a sold spot to latch onto and climb onto land. It could have been so much worse, thank goodness Clark was able to get himself out of danger! But would there be any hope for these two young family members to repair their already fragile relationship?!
Clark's stepmom, overhearing all of this commotion, ran out of the house, hearing what sounded like actual murder taking place. Instead, it was her poor stepson, with a very deeply rooted fear of swimming, stuck in that creek. Also, seriously, what the heck were the other siblings doing during all of this? Clark's brother and other step-siblings were right next to Clark and Wayne. Were they sympathetic to Clark's anxieties? Or were they conspiring with Wayne to terrorize this innocent child? The stepmom was able to take Clark back inside, but from that day on, he developed an even deeper phobia of swimming. Just even being at the beach or the local YMCA's pool was too much for poor Clark to even handle! It was going to take a lot of effort on his part to work through these feelings. Clark didn't quite remember what Wayne's punishment was, but Clark's stepmom definitely had some harsh words for her teenage son. There was no way that this scheming boy was going to get away completely free from his crimes!
It would be difficult to work with such intense and fearful emotions, but it was not impossible. It took many years, but once Clark was in college, he worked up the courage to enroll in swimming lessons. But swimming lessons were only the start of a very wild journey Clark was about to embark on. I think Clark put it best himself when he mentioned, "Now I'm a biologist, and have traveled all over the U.S. working in streams and lakes. I have logged over 9,000 hours underwater (SCUBA), which is an insane amount of time and could only be done because I worked full-time literally underwater."
Yep, somehow this guy turned his fear of swimming into a lengthy and esteemed career, spending thousands and thousands of hours in an environment that once made him shake uncontrollably with anxiety. Exposing himself slowly yet surely to that which completely terrified him seemed to actually do the trick! But that wasn't the only wild twist to this family drama, as Clark was about to experience more family drama with an unforeseen twist!
I think Clark put it best when he wrote, "I think I only saw Wayne two or three more times in my life after I left for college."
That one sentence pretty much covered the relationship between Clark and Wayne over the next few decades. As they grew up, they grew further and further apart. There was already a pretty big developmental difference between the seven and fourteen-year-old, and they didn't really seem to have much in common to start with. Once childhood ended, their relationship definitely crumbled apart. Even though the two of them only really saw each other once every few years, Clark still did care for Wayne and wanted the best for him. Unfortunately, Wayne passed away just last year, after battling cancer for two very long and arduous years. It was an immensely difficult process, and Clark mourned this loss with his other siblings and step-family.
Clark remembered traveling back to the funeral and specifically catching up with Wayne's daughter, grandson, and the other step-relatives. He was really trying his hardest to be supportive, even though he was seeing a lot of family for the first time in years. But Clark didn't go to the funeral just to mourn. He was also there to carry out a secret plan, one that he refused to tell any other family members about. He hadn't planned for this to take place, but once he first heard about the funeral, the wheels started turning in his brain, and this next steps became abundantly clear to him.
Wayne had been cremated per his request, and most of his ashes were buried in a small cemetery in the Ozark Mountains, near Clark and Wayne's childhood home. But notice how I said most of the ashes. That's because before the funeral officially began, Clark gathered a small amount of the ashes for his own purposes. Clark will never forget how, "The day after the funeral, I asked my other brother if he'd like to go visit our dad's old place on the creek. We made an afternoon of it with his three sons. The driveway was a mile long and gated, so we hiked in. We brought food to sit on the rock above the creek and have lunch, and tell my nephews stories about growing up there."
It was a perfect way to honor their childhoods and support one another. But once Clark's brother and kids weren't looking, Clark took out a small plastic bag with tiny amounts of Wayne's ashes inside. Clark then tossed Wayne's ashes off of that very same rock that he had been thrown from almost forty-two years ago to the day. Part of Wayne was going to forever be tied to that fateful creek. But Clark never intended anything mean-spirited with this gesture. If anything, it felt quite cathartic, and it was a way for Clark to honor Wayne's memory. But still, Clark didn't want to cause any more damage or hurt to the family, so he never actually told anyone else what he was up to. Except for everyone reading this on the internet! Was it revenge after that fateful day decades ago, or was it another response entirely on Clark's part?
And so ends the story of how Clark waited over forty years to get back at his stepbrother. I know this story title revolves around vengeance but was it actually revenge? I see it as a way for Clark to playfully honor his brother, honoring the childhood memories that they shared together. Both Clark and Wayne grew apart as they grew up, so Clark didn't have as many memories from adulthood to honor Wayne by.
But what do you think readers? Was this completely in poor taste? What else should Clark have done during this somber family event? Or was this a healthy way to honor someone's memory, playfully acknowledging a shared history? Becoming a professional scuba diver may not be the most efficient way to confront a phobia, but I've never scuba-dived, so what do I know?