There is no other way to put it: I was proud of my discovery. As the new kid to West Linn, living in the poorer part of town (poor by West Linn standards, not by any other standard), scrawny and fidgety and not so good at sports, I was struggling to fit in and make friends.
I had been quite popular at Clackamas Elementary, where we were all around the same socioeconomic level, but West Linn had been an adjustment. A year of being bullied and I was preparing for fourth grade, hoping for better.
The coolest thing about West Linn, Oregon—at least when I was a kid—was how close it was to the river. Where the Tualatin and the Willamette Rivers meet was only about a mile from my house and when my mother wasn’t being overprotective, I was allowed to make that trek from 16th street down the gigantic hill (which in winters would turn into the world’s most hazardous sledding locale) to the bank of that river. I couldn’t swim without an adult present, of course, but there was always an adult present.
It was on one of these days—a blistering, humid day where the sun’s existence was not in question, where I journeyed down the hill and made my way for the river. But, where I would normally hang a right and go towards Willamette Park, I made a bee line for the shade. I would approach the river this way, avoiding the sweltering heat and the risk of melanoma (and, yes, at nine years old, I knew what melanoma was). But, I didn’t get far.
Just inside those woods, in a clearing, I saw a rope hanging down from a tall red birch. I examined the rope tugged on it to check it strength and looked over the ledge. There was water, and it looked like deep water, but I had to be sure.
I crab walked down the embankment and sank into the water. I was instantly up to my neck. If my mother discovered me like that, swimming without an adult, I would be a goner. But, I managed to get out alive—only to re-enter the water posthaste via the rope swing.
Wow, it was glorious. Who had put it there? Was I trespassing? I probably was, but I didn’t care. A couple more swings into the water. I tested my mettle with some tricks—hanging upside down and dropping, running start followed by a tumbling and awkward backflip. I was a regular acrobat. An Olympic gymnast.
I knew this rope swing was the key to popularity. And this, of course, is immensely important to a kid. So, I let the word out and, sure enough, all of the kids soon found the discovery. My discovery. And we all took turns acrobatting and splashing and having a great time. And, school was better for me after that. And, it turns out, West Linn is a great place to grow up.