There was once a boy named Ocean who was frightened by bears and refused to go to the local swimming spot in the river by himself. One time, he’d ridden his bike down the dirt path, past the lone bench, over the first tiny creek and to the bigger creek only to see a menacing mama bear. This kept him from going swimming alone again.
He’d bring his siblings, but they were too young and most lived with his dad and “his new wife.” (These little ones had interesting names too, like Phoenix, and Coral and Star and Nova.) His parents, he explained, were once members of the Rainbow people. They’d landed in Montana, but he’d since spent little time here. He’d lived with grandparents in Minnesota, and an uncle in the woods.
He liked living with his uncle best. He taught him how to shoot a gun. If Ocean had a gun now, he wouldn’t be scared of going to the swimming hole alone. But Ocean’s mama found out about the uncle and the gun and went to the woods to collect her eldest son. There would be no more “crazy uncle” time.
So, Ocean hung around the path to the watering hole, waiting for someone he thought he could trust to accompany him. If there were other people, the bears would likely stay away. That’s how we found Ocean on that warm August day. Flip flops and toes covered in dust, a towel around his skinny neck and a loneliness in his eyes.
Were we going swimming, and if so, could he please join us?
Of course he could. While I tried to sip wine and read a magazine, and Finny happily floated along in the icy water ignoring the whole scene gleefully, Ocean told me his story. He was nervous about going into the 7th grade the following week. He hadn’t spent much time in this neighborhood, even though he loved living with his mom and being back in Montana. He missed his dad a lot too. His dad now lives in Kentucky.
And so, we kept him entertained, challenging him to build cairns for us. We dared him to build one with 10, then 12 and finally 15. By the time he was done, a good hour had passed. The freckles on the tops of his shoulders were dark and his smile was wide. He’d succeeded in finding company, he so needed.
Dear 7th graders of Missoula — be nice to Ocean. He is a good kid who deserves a break. There are mama bears lurking in the shadows watching over him.