Lifeguards are terrified of their first rescue and I was no exception. After I got certified, I spent every waking moment anticipating the ‘save’ that I’d inevitably have to one day execute.
The day it happened I was stationed by the deep end at the local pool (see “the time I was hit on by a special ed minor”) when a small, brown haired, five year old boy wandered up to me and asked if he could please take the deep end swim test. He had a little speech impediment and was cute as a button.
I was eighteen at the time and this other lifeguard, Ben, was lurking about 10 feet away observing me, and the little boy. Ben was a couple years older than me – the kind of local NC guy who had an unapologetic sprawling southern accent and yelled thing like ‘whoo boy!’ while blasting the Allman Brothers during pool clean up.
Ben and I exchanged a look, both knowing what was about to happen. I asked the boy if he was sure he wanted to take the test, praying he’d say no, but he nodded emphatically and said, ‘Yeth.” I told him to enter the pool by the wall and swim from one end of the deep end to the other. As he swam, I stood on the edge of the pool, holding my red padded flotation device.
I was relieved to see his doggie paddle was pretty strong…for about four seconds. As the kid neared the halfway point of the test, he started to lose speed, floundering and getting closer and closer to the edge of the pool. He put his head back, his face looking straight up and started splashing, insanely. I expected him to scream, but that would take too much energy. He was quiet. Then he sunk below the surface, splashing and pounding back up, gasping for air.
I stood over him, trance-like, staring down and thinking about the life-guarding book. He was currently in the “active drowning” stage and I was amazed to see he looked exactly like the hand drawn descriptions I had studied in order to pass the exam. Uncanny.
Then I heard Ben with his smooth honey accent.
“Meghan. Get in the water.”
I didn’t move. I couldn’t. My heart was beating against my head and I had no idea what to do. I was petrified and could only stare at this child.
“Meghan. Git in the water.”
I looked at Ben, desperate. He repeated himself loudly, his face turning red. Seconds passed. I couldn’t. He reached for his own float. Then he screamed,
“MEGHAN GIT IN THE GOD DAMN WATER.”
So I did. As soon as my feet hit the pool I remembered exactly what to do. I went to the kid from behind, put the float between our bodies, scooped him up under the armpits and swam both of us to the edge. As soon as I grabbed him he stopped flailing. Kicking, splashing, nothing. He just relaxed and was like putty in my arms. I helped him out. The whole thing took about 20 seconds.
Ben and I put a towel over him and asked if he was ok. He nodded shivering. Then the kid threw the towel off and ran to the shallow end, jumped back in and started playing with his friends. Ben just stared and me and shook his head slowly.
Finally he said, “That was a textbook rescue… once you actually got into the water.”
The next day all the lifeguards indulged in teasing/ insulting me about the rescue. No one could believe I’d waited so long to get in the water, yet they were simultaneously impressed by my “textbook” performance.
When our head lifeguard (and my brother’s best friend), Eddie (see ‘the time i got hit on by a special ed minor‘) found out, he looked up from applying tanning oil to his forearms, and gave me a withering look that I remember to this day.
I felt like shit but there was nothing I could do. I’d panicked. At least I’d gotten the kid out…
The second time was better though. The second time I jumped right in.