There is nothing much to do in a small town except get in trouble, or at least do things that are inevitably going to head in that direction. “That’s not true,” parents will say, especially when the small town is a tiny jewel of a resort up in the Colorado high country. “You could go skiing. Or mountain biking. We live in a beautiful place, and you’re very lucky.”
Some nights we were very lucky indeed. The night someone had gotten his hands on a completely full keg, for example. It was full of Keystone, but this didn’t dim our enthusiasm by any considerable margin. We hoisted it into Diana Fairfield’s Vanagon, where it tumbled around for a few bumpy miles, along with four un-seatbelted teenagers and a number of mismatched socks.
The dirt road that ran along the creek was as familiar to any of us as the streets in Old Town that had proper street names like 11th and 12th, as well as the winding roads up around the mountain that were called things like Après Ski Way, Val d’Isere Circle, Ski Trail Lane. The straight stretch of the dirt road went by a house or two, small and tucked just inside the trees, with half-finished woodworking projects jutting out from under blue tarps. Then up and off into the woods, but not before it curved around the reservoir.
Diana drove the Vanagon up to the farthest point on the road before it dipped back down toward the creek, at the peak above the reservoir. One of the boys with us flung open the sliding door and another car careened up behind us; four more boys piled out.
On the far side of the reservoir, the rope swing dangled high above the water’s still surface. After an awkward, multiple-point turn, Diana angled the Vanagon’s lights in a vague gesture toward the far shore. The other car’s driver did the same. Four beams of light, two sets, crossed somewhere in an approximation of the swing and its trajectory. The boys from the other car set off, swimming in the darkness.
I was a terrible swimmer and had been all my life. More than a terrible swimmer, I’d developed a fear of the water that would get exponentially worse in a gym class scuba lesson. The purpose of this lesson eluded me at over 5000 feet above sea level, but it was mandatory and the embarrassment it served was the death knell for deep water. I had never jumped off the swing but had eyed it as it listed in the summer breeze, had thought about it, had wondered what it would be like to launch myself from it and soar into the dappled reservoir water.
Somewhere along the way — maybe a story someone told me or something I’d made up to terrify myself —I’d heard there were twisted metal rods in the reservoir that stuck up from the floor and out from the sloping sides. If you swung wrong, didn’t dive properly, canonballed down in the night, anything was possible.
As the boys jumped, hollering and splashing, a jolt of jolly fear set in to the Vanagon crew. Someone might hear us, and we were the ones with the keg. Back in we piled, into the hull, and with the side door still open Diana swung the Vanagon forward down toward the dirt road’s exit. We all screamed, half in earnest, and held on to handles with one hand, keg with the other. An itinerant sock flew out.
An arm swung the door closed, and as we drove away I could hear one final splash. I turned to look, and as he sank into the dark water I imagined him, pinned forever to the bottom, waving goodbye.
(cross-posted from Medium)