Willow Creek

I remember when Stacy and I would go down to Willow Creek to skip rocks. I’d get mine all the way across; hers would only travel about half the way before descending out of view. “No one’ll ever try to skip that one again,” I’d say as the stone tucked itself in to the muddy creek bed. Stacy was the master of the hop, skip, and kerplunk.

For three summers straight we had claimed the big willow spot as our own. While most of the kids from school were off on their tropical vacations or taking swimming lessons at the members-only pools in the city, we were catching silverback crayfish to use as bass bait and perfecting backflips off the derelict rope swing. Our mothers had given up their attempts to scrub the mud out from under our fingernails for the three months we were out of school. It was our spot, unknown to the rest of town due to its elusive location. You could get there by walking about a half mile upstream in the creek, thanks to the heavy briar bushes on either side. The plants were so thick with clandestine arrogance that they dipped their vine-like fingers into the stream from the banks. The other way to the big willow was less difficult to navigate, but even more exclusive. Stacy, her brother Timmy, and I had cut a secret path through the woods behind Mr. Larkin’s northeastern cornfield, which bordered their mother’s property. It was only a five minute walk from their house to the grass and deep pool kept cool by the umbrella of the big willow.

This one day Stacy and I dared each other to go off the rope swing wearing nothing but the skin God’d given us. I went off first, sailing onto the surface of the deep pool and nailing a textbook belly-among-other-body-parts-flop. As I resurfaced, furiously rubbing my chest and stomach to ease the sting, I turned to see Stacy beside herself in a giggle fit. “I’d like to see you do any better,” I shouted, treading myself afloat. She shook her head, her face flushing rosy. She hesitated a few minutes before crossing her arms and reaching for the fringe of her Strawberry Shortcake tank top. As she was about to remove it, Timmy emerged from the brush to convey the message from their mom that she was to come home for lunch. We were protected under the innocence of pre-pubescence, but no doubt would the older brother instinct in him relay our nudist tendencies to their mother, and by extension, my father. How he never noticed my tee shirt and cutoffs heaped in plain view next to the tree, topped by my fruit of the looms, is beyond me.

Later that same week Stacy got a wicked cut just above her eye. Somehow I had convinced her I could clear her head with a skipping stone while she was swimming back from a jump. Never in our combined 15 years of life had either of us ever seen so much blood. On the autumn day her mom packed her and Timmy up to relocate for a new job, the wide gash had faded to a faint scar hidden beneath the rim of a baseball cap. That evening, as dusk descended on the deep pool where a hooked nightcrawler dangled from my bobber, I plopped down beneath the big willow filled with the scornful hope that the scar would never disappear. Decades later that hope remains, the scorn replaced by serene nostalgia.

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