The best days of summer were after school had started. I knew this and no one else did. While the other kids were wrapped up in football and band and decorating for the fall dances – all those things that the county had arranged for them to be wrapped up in – I escaped. On the best days in late September it was warm enough to swim by two o’clock. I couldn’t slip out every day, even old Miss Franklin – who knew what I was up to – wouldn’t have sit still for that. But once or twice a week, sometimes even up into October, if the sun was bright and there was no wind, I could not resist. I could not sit behind those walls any longer.
At the one-fifty bell I darted out of the fire door behind the gym and ran to my Honda 50 hidden in a hedge and flew away to the river in the last of the year’s warm sunshine.
The beach and the rocks and the tree swing were empty of course, and all mine. The water was very cold, but cleaner and fresher than in July and reminded me that what I was doing was out of due time. I was stealing time and stealing beauty, and knew that I was one of the few in the world strong and lucky enough to do it. Nothing was ever sweeter.
The further along the year went, the shorter my time in the water. I’d rush out of the blue stream, tingling all over, and lay myself down on a flat rock that tilted west and soak up the warmth of the sun and the warmth of the stone and shiver until I dried out and then, almost always, fall into the deepest sleep.
I have never really abandoned that world of sunny larceny. It has stayed with me through career and family, light and dark, sickness and health.
After the cold set in, I stayed in class. When I rode my Honda past my swimming hole, on my way to somewhere else, I would gaze at the river and at my rock and at the tree where the swing hung over the water and I would long for another day of it.
I still do.