From Dallas Doctor’s “World Without Love ~ A Collection of Short Stories that Together Tell a Story” (pages 35-36):
The Bad Kid
by Dallas Doctor
Billy Waters was the bad kid in the third-grade. Billy Waters always wore hard, black, pointy shoes — the kind of shoes the hoods wore down at the pool hall — and Billy’d kick you with those hard, black, pointy shoes whenever he got the chance. Billy Waters sassed the teacher and terrorized the girls and smoked cigarettes behind the gym and got sent to the Principal’s office. Billy got sent to the Principal’s office a lot.
Most of my classmates (myself included) lived in abject fear of Billy Waters since he first came into our lives back in first-grade. He made our lives Hell whenever he could. And it seemed to be getting worse. Most of us kids naturally assumed that sooner or later Billy was going to do something truly terrible — it seemed inevitable — because his bullying grew increasingly blatant and became more and more predictable as we progressed through first, then second, then third-grade. The only tolerable thing about third-grade was that, thankfully, for some reason, by then, Billy didn’t come to school very often — he was absent most days. Whenever you did see him coming though, you knew something bad was going to happen – a slug or a kick or a shove – somebody was going to get it. We all knew he was going to pick on somebody. I always hoped it wouldn’t be me.
My fondest desire during the summer of 1962 was to be placed in one of the fourth-grade classes that did not have Billy Waters in it. And there was reason for hope. Billy never did his homework and he was absent so much that most of us thought there was a good chance he would never make it to the fourth-grade at all.
And we were right. Billy never became a fourth-grader.
I was feeding the baby calves destined for slaughter at my Uncle Don’s farm outside Letha, Idaho when Aunt Lula called me into the farmhouse and told me to pick up the phone. Back in Oregon, Billy Waters had been swimming with his family at High Rocks on the Clackamas River. Billy jumped into the river and never came up. Billy’s father went under so many times trying to save Billy that Billy’s father drowned, too.
I didn’t know how to feel.
The bad kid was dead.
And somebody died trying to save him.
I couldn’t figure out how to feel.
I knew I should feel something. I just wasn’t sure what it was. I think mostly I felt bad about not feeling bad.
But what definitely surprised me most was the totally-unexpected idea that somebody had tried to save Billy.
I couldn’t understand that part.
I was only eight; I wouldn’t turn nine until after school started up again in September.
Billy never made it to nine. He was eight when he died. In the Mormon church, eight-years-old is old enough to be baptized and forgiven for all your sins – that’s what they told me at Sunday School. But, of course, since Billy’s family didn’t go to church, he never was baptized or ever forgiven for all his sins.
Not until that day in the Clackamas River.