My side projects, which are actually projects since they’re for work, have taken over so I cheated a bit today. I’m using part of a story that I wrote a million years ago. It’s rough so please, pardon my parlance.
It’s unnerving whenever you wake up in a strange setting, but when that setting is a bumpy ambulance and you have a stranger flashing a light in your eyes, the stress is a bit much for anyone.
“Where am I?” I asked out of reflex, but the oxygen mask muffled my question.
“You were in a boating accident. Can you tell me your name?”
Boating accident? I didn’t like boats. Not just because the paramedic told me that I had been in an accident, rather because they seemed so unsafe. Obviously. What was I doing on a boat?
“I wasn’t on a boat?” It would’ve been defiantly except that I muttered it and my voice went up a little at the end. It was all still a little confusing, but slowly things started to make sense again.
I was at the lake trying, in vain, to get a tan. I was fairly white and pretty confident that any incoming solar radiation would deflect right off of me. If everyone was as pale as me, global warming wouldn’t be a problem. Nevertheless I parked myself in a more secluded part of the beach. I had been reading a book called Nothing of Consequence, by one of my favourite authors C. Amherst, when I heard some yelling out over the lake. I assumed it was a boisterous teenager, carrying on as most teenagers do. Sure enough there was an idiot on a boat arguing with someone in a canoe about 30 meters from shore. Then the person in the canoe, who proved he was also an idiot, stood up.
I don’t like boats, but I knew better than to stand up in one. The idiocy was compounded by the absence of any life-jackets. So when he stood up, the canoe responded appropriately by capsizing.
My next conscious thought was, fuck this water is cold, as I waded/dove into the water.
The adrenaline kept me warm up until I reached the boat, it was a clumsy pace but I had a feeling the idiot in the boat would not be any help.
“SHIT SHIT SHIT.” he said, proving my hypothesis.
I knew I couldn’t dive down far enough and then help him back up. Our comparative sizes didn’t offer me much hope of doing anything, but I could try.
“Get me your anchor and a lifejacket!” I shouted.
“Sure.” He said, regaining enough composure to be useful.
He threw a lifejacket to me.
“There isn’t an anchor!” Alright so he was almost useful.
I took a quick respite with the help of the lifejacket, and told him there had to be an anchor on the boat, likely in the bow. While I don’t care for boats, I did have a thing for trivia, and Alex Trebek had during one particularly bland episode of Jeopardy, assured me that an anchor was required on boats of a certain length. Bless him.
“Shit Shit Shit…Oh, here it is!”
“Hand it to me!”
“DUH!” I wish I had been a little more eloquent, or that I had the time to review this plan; but you can’t win them all.
He gingerly heaved the anchor overboard and waited just long enough for me to get a grip on it before releasing it.
I hadn’t even steeled myself enough to take one deep breath before I got pulled under. My arms, which had been burning from exertion and freezing from the water, now spiked with pain as one tried to hold onto the anchor and the other onto the lifejacket. The process of getting dragged to the bottom of the lake lasted a mercifully short period of time.
I adjusted my grips and began to search for the idiot in the canoe.
The lake wasn’t tremendously deep, but was still surprisingly dark. I couldn’t really make too much out through the silt, but saw a faint red trail through the miasma. The guy couldn’t be too far from where I was, so I hugged the lifejacket tight, and heaved the anchor in my best guess was his direction. The bottom of the lake was a thick layer of silt that began to make seeing harder and harder. The sense of self-preservation and began to kick in bringing with it fear and doubt. I gave it my best shot, I could just let go of the anchor and resurface.
No one would fault me if I couldn’t do this. People would miss me if I died.
Died, the word resounded in my mind conjuring forth all sorts of unproductive images of life.
That’s it, that would be all. If I didn’t get air soon, I would be dead.
But then so would he.
I pushed that Darwinian sense of survival aside and took another agonizing step and there he was.
People look funny when they’re underwater. Their hair floats and waves in the water occluding their faces. It’s almost playful.
Except that this was cold and dark so there was no playfulness here, just life and death.
I grabbed him and found him surprisingly buoyant. I got as close as I could to him, wrapped my legs around his chest and let go of the anchor.
The trip up was considerably slower and my vision began to tunnel. I readjusted my grip on him so that I could free up my legs to help the ascent. It was agony, but we breached the surface.
I don’t know how long I was under, it felt like a lifetime, but was likely under a minute.
My vision started coming back to me in waves. The guy in the boat managed to stop yelling “Shit” long enough to grab the recently rescued guy from my grip. Mercifully I still had the lifejacket to I could stop panicking and just float for a moment catching my breath.
But only a moment.
“SHIT he’s not breathing.”
Do I have to do everything?
I crawled hand over hand to the back of the boat to where I could pull myself up. Slowly, I made it into the boat, to find the bottom of the boat a sickening rust colour from blood.
“Put him on his back.” I said, terse and breathlessly.
I stumbled to his side and got a good look at him for the first time. Without the murkiness of the water I was shocked to realize that he was someone from my high school. Lee was a nice guy of the upper-middle class in world of high-school popularity. Not a king of the cafeteria or star of any team, but likeable enough.
I reached for his neck to see if there was a pulse, no such luck.
I strained my mind for what to do. CPR was something I’d seen done before on TV. The real life mechanics were slightly different than the stage bastardization. From a TV show, I recalled that the optimum tempo for chest compressions was the same as the tune to Staying Alive. Tilt the head back before you begin. I didn’t recall the speed for breaths, but I just told the idiot in the boat to breath.
I barked a few orders at him as best I could, telling him to breath into his mouth and plug his nose. I sat at an odd angle and began pumping. The routine was hard to do on a boat, harder still because I was still feeling weak from coming down from the adrenaline. My arms felt heavy and my head light. The boat rocked on the water, compounding my nausea.
Just as my tunnel vision began to return I heard the sputtering and gagging of a person searching for breath through water.
Relief washed over me for just a moment, until I passed out.
Then I woke up, and a paramedic was flashing a light obnoxiously into my eyes.
“Yes you were in a boating accident, you might have a concussion from when you hit your head. Just relax, you’re in good hands.” He said, ignoring my insistence that I had NOT been in an accident.
“No, I saved the other guy!” I declared, gathering my wits.
There was a silence as they looked at me. If ever there was a prime candidate for damsel in distress it would be me and Lee, while not Abercrombie and Fitch material, could pass for a lifeguard at a local beach in a pinch.
This was surely what they were thinking, but had the sense to humour me until they got to the hospital.
I was stable they had said, I just passed out from the exhaustion. I figured the blood didn’t help. I’m not good with blood. In fact just thinking about the rust coloured puddle creeping across the bottom of the boat was enough to make me feel faint.
Better to think of the other things that happened today. Reading on the beach, that was calming. Shit, I left my stuff on the beach. My parents’ might have picked it up, but that wasn’t likely. I had done my best to sit far enough away from people so as not to blind them with the glare from my skin. Surely they noticed the ambulance though and were following behind, hopefully.
“My parents?” I asked.
“They’re following behind us.” The paramedic said, the nice one who hadn’t tried to blind me with his flashlight.
“How is he?”
“He’s got a concussion, but he should be fine.”
“Good.” That was all I figured I ought to say. There was some more silence, that under other circumstances might prompt me to feel awkward and say something even more awkward. The radio squeaked and the driver announced that we were arriving at the hospital.
We were wheeled into adjacent bays in the ER and awaited the doctors.
“I’m cold.” I moaned, just realizing that my shirt had been left behind at the beach. This caught the attention of a nearby nurse who seemed to think it was symptomatic of my frail looking body’s imminent passing. Confirming what they already suspected that I was the dying one.
“So you were in a boating accident?” She shone a light in my eye.
“No I saw a boat accident and saved him.” I said gesturing to Lee in the next bay.
She stopped and regarded me a moment checking a paper on her clipboard. She was not as good at hiding her skepticism.
“Really.” It wasn’t a question.
“There he is!”
“Oh thank god he’s awake.”
“What were you doing in a canoe…”
“Without a life jacket young man?”
That was my father and mother respectively. The doctor smirked. I suppose this will be an uphill battle.
“You’re his parents?”
“Yes, will he be okay?”
“I think so, we’ll do a quick x-ray to see if there’s any fractures, but he might be concussed.”
“I didn’t get hit on the head!” I shouted slightly agitated, but they seemed content with ignoring my claims.
“I’m going to order a the x-ray just to be sure.”
When I got back from the x-ray I saw Lee on the way to get his own x-ray. He seemed much more lucid now and I think he recognized me. Likely just my face from the halls, not who I actually was, which was fine. He was alright, that was the important thing. I nodded as we passed.
“Hey.” He said to me.
His ‘hey’ commanded some authority and the nurses stopped the gurney.
“Hey, how’re you feeling?” I felt weird. I had saved his life. What do you say after that?
“You saved my life.” That’s what you say to that.
“Yeah I guess so.” I replied, grateful that someone was finally corroborating my story.
“Thanks.” He said, it still sounded weird.
“Next time don’t stand up in a canoe.” My friendly advice seemed more like cutting criticism. “And wear a life jacket.” It made it weirder. He just laughed, feebly, but it was still there.
“I promise.” He said looking me straight in the eyes. This was the weirdest part. People don’t look me in the eyes. It makes me feel self-conscious. Not because I think you can see a person’s soul or some other metaphysical bullshit. Rather, it had a certain intimacy that I really wasn’t used to.
“You should probably go.” I said, cutting the conversation off abruptly.
“See you around Ivan.”
He knew my name. Despite the anti-social behaviour I may have been exhibiting, I left wishing that had gone differently. Maybe I had wished he wouldn’t notice me so I could go on being anonymous at school. At least that way I wouldn’t have to act weird as we passed each other in the halls. Now he probably would feel obligated to be nice to me in at school.
I do not care for this.
“Ready to go kiddo?”
“Yeah dad.” I said as I watched Lee get wheeled into the x-ray room.
“So, you were the one who saved HIM?
“Hmm. Well that’s an amazing thing you did. You’re a hero”
“Yeah…” Attention was not my favourite thing, and I have a feeling I would be getting a lot of it soon.
My mom was particularly quiet on the ride home at first, seemingly gathering her thoughts and emotions.
“You could have drowned!”
“I think it was cool.” My brother, Steven, chimed in, taking a moment away from the game he was playing on his iPhone.
“It was stupid.” I knew I got my anti-social conversational skills from my mother at moments like this.
“Mr. seemed grateful.” My dad pointing out the obvious.
“Did anyone get my stuff from the beach?” I asked, wanting more than anything to fall into a book.
“Oh, no we didn’t.”
“We had to hurry to the hospital for… why did we go to the hospital again?” My mom had gotten to the level of sarcasm where it’s best to just ignore her.
My phone was in my bag with my parents stuff so that was in the car. It was really just my t-shirt, towel, and Nothing of Consequence.
“Did you forget anything important?”
“Just Nothing of Consequence… Er. A book I’m reading.”
“What’s it called?”
“This might sound like a good opportunity for a bad joke, but it’s called Nothing of Consequence.”
“That seems funny… what’s it about?”
“Nothing of consequence I’m sure.” That was my brother, comedic genius.
“Well I’m sure we can pick up a new one for you.”
I zoned out, which was another gift of the anti-social. I thought back on how I had saved Lee’s life. It was sinking in slowly, I had saved a life.
“The life of a person who is better than you.” That was that nagging voice in my head. The one which periodically pointed out my inadequacies and failings. “If it was you that was drowning, you would have died.”
The problem with this voice was that I knew it wasn’t a voice. It wasn’t something I could argue with. It cut through any sense of jubilation and turned the unresolved emotions in the atmosphere against me. It was something I didn’t want to think about right now, but was drowning in.
I wish I had my book right now.
I was distantly aware of my parents calling my name.
“Hello? Maybe he did get a concussion.”
“Did you want pizza tonight Ivan?” I resurfaced.
“Oh sure, yeah that sounds good.” Pizza makes things better.
My phone, competing for my attention, buzzed in my sweater.
“1 New Notification.” The screen read.
I turned it on.
Lee would like to be your friend.
In spite of the juvenile idiocy of it, I smiled.
I didn’t accept, not right now anyway; and turned my phone off with a sigh.
When we got home, we ordered pizza. Nothing special but after the excitement of the day I think everyone tried to just get back to normalcy.
Tried, but failed. At one point my mom jokingly forbade me from going near water ever again.
“Well next time I’ll just let him die then.” My mom blanched, my dad made this weird squeeking noise; and Steven just looked down into his pizza.
The word die shut down conversation for the rest of dinner. Nothing else was said until I went to bed, early and exhausted, when I muttered goodnight.
I lay in bed that night, my phone charging on my stereo. It was hard to sleep after everything that had happened. I was anxious for some reason. I wanted to talk to someone about this. Normally I’d call Mal my neighbour, confidant and friend; but she was on vacation somewhere. Ottawa, I think, visiting her mom’s family. It might seem like an obvious solution to try and talk to Lee , but it felt odd to talk to him at all especially since he was the cause of the anxiety.
I think it was that look he gave me in the hospital. The way he looked me in the eye and more importantly the way I couldn’t look away. My guidance counsellor had said it was important to name things. Not like dogs or your car or something stupid like that. Name behaviours and actions, like how saving Lee was ‘stupid’ made it easier to deal with.
At first I thought it was a matter of attraction. To a teenage boy the default answer to any of life’s questions would be something sexual. Normally anyway. This wasn’t what it was, I knew Lee isn’t my type. I don’t like blondes and braces do nothing for me. To prove it I grabbed my phone and opened his friend request. His profile picture was of him and a few friends making stupid faces at a concert. It was likely a band I didn’t know. My musical tastes were undeveloped and unexplored. I listened to the radio more than anything. Looking at the picture made me feel worse for some reason.
“More inadequate.” The voice offered insidiously.
I didn’t want to admit it, but yes. More inadequate. The best thing to do would be to forget it happened. Move on. Stop thinking about he, it and everything that happened today.
“Good luck with that.” The voice whispered its goodnight.