“Could it have been the head of someone in a boat accident?” Doubt, fear, and imagination are a powerful force able to keep you from sleeping for days on end.
Growing up I had a variety of unique jobs. I had the quinticential lawn care job, but I also co-founded a business when I was about 12 years old with my brother. Each summer we would rent out turtles for turtle races in a nearby tourist town. We saw the money others were making and wanted in, but we needed some capital. So we headed to the lake and caught frogs. Those frogs, once delivered to the bait shop, gave their lives for the purchase of swimming pools into which we would place our next catch, the turtles.
From there the business grew until we were making thousands of dollars each summer. People would contact us to drive across the state to host turtle races for festivals and fairs. But fame and fortune come with its price tag, and that price tag was hours and hours out in a canoe on the nicest days of summer catching turtles. When all your friends are out swimming and you are looking for amphibians, it can be rough. But looking back on it that was a very formative time of my life. I got to see a world I would have otherwise missed. I never would have seen the deer drinking by the river. I would have never seen the eagles and ospreys snatching fish in front of our canoe. I never would have seen the kingfishers and beavers, the muskrats, and herons. I never would have seen the floating head.
One afternoon my dad and I were floating through one of our most lucrative sections of the river when we came across a strange formation. It was about the size of a volleyball, but green and with the texture of a brain. It was floating on the surface, with about two thirds of it under the water. As we passed I pushed it with my paddle, watching it bob back up to the surface.
Minutes later we came across another strange object, but this one much more identifiable, a billfold floating on the weeds. We retrieved the saturated leather and its soggy contents, tossing it in a bag and then on the floor of the canoe. It was only after we had returned home that the questions started to arise. Memories of the green mass bobbed on the surface of our consciousness. Were the billfold and “the brain” connected in some way? Had this been some kind of boating accident we had come across?
We couldn’t go back the next day, or even the following, but later that week we headed back out, if for no other reason to help us to sleep better at night. Imagination turns to speculation and speculation to reality. By the time we had returned to the scene of the crime, we were ready to call the police.
We entered the inlet and scanned the surface, and there it was, the floating brain. We paddled slowly over to the mass and we rolled it over with the end of our paddle, expecting to see eyes or a nose, or some distinguishing marks of the man we had seen on the soggy drivers license.
There is very little you can assume about yourself about the first time you see a dead body not prepared for burial, much less out in the wild. Movies dramatize it or diminish it. When you see a lifeless body in real life, everyone reacts in their own way.
But today wasn’t my day. My day would come years later on my first day working as a mortician’s assistant. Today the paddle just nudged some odd aquatic growth, the size and shape of a human head, but with none of the scarring effects.
I don’t remember if we ever got a note from the man whose wallet we retrieved and mailed back to him. Maybe we did, and maybe we didn’t. But I will always remember finding “the brain.” I’m glad it wasn’t his.