Friday, August 5, 2011

*The Best Part Is Jumping In*

They say it's gonna be a scorcher today.  Wanna go swimming?  I know the perfect place.  The water is so beautiful, it looks toxic.  Like a cocktail of Midori and Blue Curacao.  Sort of like if you mixed a blue raspberry and a lime Slush Puppy. 
            The water temperature's always just right.  Not so cold your heart stops when you get in, but not warm as a summer puddle either.
            The best part is jumping in, but first you have to climb the rocky, dry path.  Watch out for the pull tabs though.  They'll slice your foot right open.  Make you bleed like nuts.  Take turns watching where you're going and glancing down.  A tetanus shot might be a good idea too.  In case you get cut.  Or bit.

For starters, you gotta know the way.  Keep your eye out for a big ole farmhouse, white with dark green shutters, on the left. The property looks like a farm. Has a split rail fence around the front yard and a barn in the back. 
            My girlfriends and I always stopped to see the guys who hung out there.  They were wild.  Cute too.  In that I'm-bad-and-I-might-just-ask-you-to-be-bad kinda way.  They lived life more outdoors than in.  Up at the swimming hole.  Out in the woods.  Down on the river bank.
            They took us in the barn once and I saw one of the scariest things ever.  Saddest too.  They had a pit bull in there.  Back before it was cool.  Before Michael Vick got caught.  They couldn't let it out 'cause it was crazy vicious.  It'd kill anything with four legs. 
            It was the guys' fault.  They made the dog that way.  Taught it to hate all animals.  They'd take a rag and use it to pick up something dead.  Then they'd beat the tar out of the dog with it.  They started small and worked their way up.  Squirrels to possums to groundhogs.
            The dog got out once.  Took down a goat.  After that, they put one of those super mean collars on him with big spikes that dug into his neck if he made a wrong move.  Chained him inside the barn.  I never understood why the dog hated the animals the boys beat him with.  Why didn't the dog hate them?  Heck, why didn't we?

The wild boys were the ones who showed us the swimming hole.  We'd heard about it but we weren't sure where it was.  All we knew was to cross the bridge from West Virginia to Ohio and turn right.  After that, the gravel road up the mountain would be somewhere near a gas station. 
            We passed the Esso station and that's when we spotted the boys.  Sitting at a picnic table out in the yard, in the shade.  Suzy pulled her car into the driveway.  We sent Laura Jane over to ask for directions.  Boys'll tell her anything.  
            Laura ducked between the top and middle split rail and sashayed over to the boys in her white bikini and blue jean short shorts. 
            The biggest guy whistled.  "Well, well, well," he said. "What have we here?  I seen that same sorta swing on a back porch once."
            From the car, we watched Laura flash her Ultra-Brite smile.  The windows were down so we could hear her too. She flipped her almost black, bra strap-length hair and said, "You boys know where the secret swimming hole is?"
            "You mean the filled-up strip mine?" the youngest one said.  I thought he was good looking.  Kinda reminded me of John Denver, only smaller.
            The other boys seemed to tense up.  Their eyes got all squinty.  Like they were miffed.  Little John Denver ignored them.  He grinned up at Laura Jane, stretched out his arm, and pointed.
            "Go back the way you came but drive real slow," he said.  "In between here and the Esso,  you'll see a rusty oil drum.  When y'all get to it, keep your eyes peeled 'cause the turn's right beyond it."
            The biggest boy shoved Little John.  "Aw, man!  Why'd you do that?  We don't want no girls up there."
            "Says who?" Little John said.  He turned back to Laura.  "I can take y'all up, if you want."

Our new friend's name was actually Danny.
            "Why's it called the strip mine?" I said from the back seat.
            "'Cause that's what it used to be," Danny said.  "When there was no more coal, they flooded it."
            He turned to look at me.  "Wait 'til you see it.  The water's the coolest color ever."
            He led us up the steep, granola-looking trail.  Held back brambly branches so we wouldn't scratch our shaved that morning legs.  All of a sudden, the path ended.  We stood at the edge of a sandstone cliff, twenty or more feet over the opaque and aqua water.  The Mountain Dew in my stomach simmered.
            I peeked over the edge.  "How do you get down to the water?" 
            I can't believe I asked that.  I slapped my hands over my ears 'cause I didn't wanna know the answer. Heard him anyway.
           "You jump, silly."
            I pursed my lips and swallowed the jawbreaker-feeling lump in my throat. Danny took a step toward me.  I blinked.  Before I knew it, I was hurtling through the air.  Beside Danny.  I backstroked, over and over.  Trying to . . . I don't know.  Save myself?  Make it back to the cliff's edge?
            When I hit the water, my eyes and mouth slammed shut.  I felt my hair float over my head as I sank.  I opened my eyes and saw the light through the teal murk above me.  I pushed water down to get up.  To the light.  To the air.
            I broke through the water's surface like a baby being born.  Whipped my head around. Tried to locate Suzy and Laura Jane.  They waved from way up there.  My legs fluttered beneath me like beaters on a mixer.  I cupped my hand and circled it over and over, toward me.
            "Come on!  Jump in!  The water's awesome!"
            I spotted Danny.  He was floating on his back about ten feet away.  Eyes squeezed shut, mouth in a goofy grin.  I stretched out and did the same.  Pulled little puffs of air into my lungs so I could stay on top of the water.

            "I love this place, Danny," I said, even though I wasn't sure he could hear me. "It's perfect."

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