To Be Honest
Josie kneels over the man, her back foot scooted beneath her with the front leg propped in a kneeling position. She assesses the scene, taking note of all the details; the man who’s not breathing, the AED beside him, and the people surrounding her. She taps the figure on the shoulder and shouts, “Are you OK?”
The people all around with blanked-out expressions, nobody says a word. They watch the process.
Trust me: nobody ever really drowns anymore.
“Somebody, call 9-1-1!” Josie says. She turns on the AED and wipes off the man’s chest with a towel to ensure dryness. Attached to the man’s chest, a name tag reads “Dumby.” Attaching the AED pads, she plugs in the connector. “Everyone stand back,” Josie says. “Stand clear.”
She pushes the “Analyze” button on the AED and lets it read Dumby’s heart rhythm. The AED says, “Analyzing heart rate. Do not touch the patient.”
And then: “Shock advised. Charging. Stay clear of patient.”
The AED tells Josie to deliver the shock and she presses the button, her finger up against the orange button of the AED. The AED says, “Begin CPR.”
You’re supposed to care, to pay attention because this is supposed to be a vitally important moment in your life, but really, I just can’t get into it.
Trust me: he’s gonna be fine.
Josie opens Dumby’s airway by tilting his head back, and she checks for breathing. Shaking her head, she places one hand over the other, her clasped hands right over the middle of his chest, right in between the nipples. She pushes hard. Fast. Good form, with her shoulders directly over her hands, her arms perpendicular to the floor. The compressions two inches deep, the rate around one hundred twenty compressions per minute, Josie counts, “One, two, three,” counting, “four, five, six…”
Across the room, some pudgy girl with short-cut brown hair reads the newspaper. The headline reads, “Chocolate: the New Mineral.”
With the man’s head tilted back, his nose plugged, Josie delivers two rescue breaths. She wraps her purple lipstick-stained lips around the man’s. She blows twice. The Breath of Life.
And then, back to the compressions.
She completes five cycles to no avail. Josie leans back, satisfied. The man’s still unresponsive. Unmoving.
Trust me: Dumby’s fine.
Fine, with some purple lipstick around his plastic lips.
“Well!” Mrs. Terry, the instructor, says, “Good job Josie. You’re all set. Your certification will be delivered in the mail sometime in the next few weeks. You’re dismissed.” Mrs. Terry wipes off Dumby for the next person, and asks, “Okay, who would like to go next?”
Between the only other two people left for CPR training in the room, the newspaper-reading girl and some guy who won’t take his sunglasses off, the girl raises her hand. Josie, all finished, skips over to me and says, “Okay, I’m done! Thanks for waiting for me. Want to head back to your place?”
I nod, and just as we’re about to leave, the pudgy girl, leaning over Dumby, she says, “Are you OK?”
Josie and I amble on to my house—meaning, my parents house—from the lifeguard training session, and as we pass Richton park, she asks me the question. She asks, “Can you tell me a bit more about your uncle?”
And I ask, “Which one?”
Applying more purple lipstick, checking her reflection in a hand mirror she carries everywhere with her, she says, “Ashton Kutcher.”
Trust me: he’s definitely my uncle.
“Wait,” she says, “I change my mind. Tell me about your cousin, Ryan Gosling.”
You can totally trust me.
I kick a rock in front of me and say, “Oh, him. I spent all of last summer with him. Great guy. Nice tan. Told me he didn’t really like the way he was depicted in ‘the Notebook.’ A lot of people thought he came off more as a psychopath.”
Josie nods to this. Believes it all without hesitation. The purple-lipstick-narcissist queen, she adores me. She has to. I mean, after you tell someone all about your parent’s summer home, the one with fountains sculpted by Michelangelo himself, the one with a fence made of gold, they have to love you.
Telling people all about the aunts and uncles—Chris Evans, Harry Styles, Kim Kardashian, Angelina Jolie—they just gotta love me.
In school, popularity contests aren’t won anymore by being yourself. You need to be something more. More sublime. Grander. What you gotta do is, you improvise. It’s not really lying—just exaggerating some facts. Embellishments.
And so, walking down Atlantic Avenue with Josie, I say, “Did you know Ryan Gosling let me drive his 1973 Chevy Malibu?”
And she says, “No way. The one from his movie Drive?”
“That’s the one.”
Josie says, “Gosh, I freaking love you.”
Trust me: I know.
However, when the lies become too ambitious, too drawn out, that’s when people might call you on it. Like Izzy, who says there’s no way my uncle is Will Smith. Or Mr. Cotton, who says he’s met my parents during parent-teacher conferences, and that they wear clothes from Goodwill, not Gucci. People call bullshit.
But not Josie. She loves me.
Trust me: honesty isn’t the best policy.
Street by street, lie by lie, we turn onto Tenth Street and stroll up my driveway. Josie asks, “Come on girl, why does your family still have the Christmas lights up? It’s April.”
“Oh, right,” I say. “That’s because we don’t stay here too often, just during the school year, and mom’s too lazy to hire any groundworkers lately. Ignore those.”
Josie opens the front door to my house, and within the first eight seconds of entering, my mom already breathes over us. She greets us with fully dilated eyes, while my dad sits on the faux-leather couch reading a newspaper. The headline reads, “Xanax: the New Steroid.” Mom, standing in the mudroom in front of us with her hands clasped, she says, “How did lifeguard training go, sweethearts?”
“Fine,” I say. I am not talking to her right now. She’s the one who made me take the class in the first place, even though I already have a job.
“Oh, that’s lovely, so lovely,” mom says. “Can we get you anything? Some popsicles? Sandwiches?”
Even as Josie and I go upstairs to my room, mom keeps calling, “Celery and peanut butter? Fruit? Fruit snacks? How about some…”
In my room, Josie throws her purse and school bag on my bed and gets comfortable for the rest of the evening. She’ll most likely stay the night tonight, just as she always does; she likes to sleep in my bathtub. Tells me it makes her feel… amphibious. Josie takes out her laptop from her school bag and puts on Netflix, the movie Thor playing with Chris Hemsworth in it.
I say, “He’s my second-cousin, and might I say, he’s got a really big hammer if you know what I mean.”
Josie giggles and leans back against my bed, snuggling against it. As for me, it’s time for work. My job after my job training. Trenton High gives their students laptops for school-related purposes, and with mine, I open a blank document.
Mom and dad don’t consider writing for the school newspaper “work,” and neither do I. For me, it’s not considered work, but something I thoroughly enjoy. My gaze fixates on my bedroom wall, my mind running through the possibilities. And then it hits me, just like it always does. Typing away on the keyboard, with Thor playing in the background, I write the headline: “Peaches and Pubic Hair: Selective Breeding.”
And then the opening line: “Peaches used to be covered in pubic-like hair, and the Pilgrims created the lightly fuzzed modern peach through selective breeding.”
You can trust me here: it’s all bullshit.
During fourth period English class the next day, Mr. Evans sits at his desk reading the school newspaper through his dollar store reading glasses. He peers over it, looks at me, and mouths, “This is genius.”
Trust me: I write lies.
It wasn’t even me who suggested adding the fake news section to the school newspaper. Word got around about my words. You know, the exaggerated ones. Embellishments. Mr. Evans was the one who approached me for the position, saying I’d make a perfect fit for the job. Meaning: I live a lie. Ergo, it should be easy to write what’s not true.
And, trust me: he’s right.
Some girl seated in front of me reads last week’s copy. The headline reads, “Coffee: Made from a Nut, Not a Bean.”
Maybe the reason I’ve gotten so good at lying is because of the adjective. The one that describes my life. That is, boring. Or, uneventful. Most people have at least one event, one amazing occurrence, one bad thing or good thing, one story that they hold onto to make people sympathize with them and like them. But not me. Not with my overprotective parents. Not with my upbringing.
Even as a kid, I’d lie. Never really grew out of it. Sometimes I’d say to some adult, some authority figure, that my parents died. That my dog died. That they were going to die. Mostly, I just got regarded as the creepy kid with an imagination. All kids fib a little, right?
And so, I lie.
And, I write.
With class transitioning from fourth period to fifth, Josie stops me in the hallway. Somehow, she made time to dye her hair purple. Probably during lunch period. This girl with her purple hair and lips, she says, “Girl, I can’t wait to start lifeguarding! I hope you don’t mind, but I set up our first shift together on Friday at four.”
“That’s fine,” I say. “Did I tell you about Michael Phelps, my third cousin twice removed?”
If you ever work at a beach, here’s a tip: lower your expectations.
Or, if you’re just, like, breathing in general. Lower your expectations.
Josie and I, we’re the only two lifeguards today, and we’re already two hours into our shift. Already, the expectations are lowered. Nobody really drowns anymore. Nobody ever really needs any help with anything, especially here at the beach. Josie lays on a towel watching Netflix on her laptop, and I sit next to her with a pen and pad, coming up with more ideas for the paper.
Trust me: nobody really drowns anymore.
The days are shorter this time of the year, and already, the sun sets over the river, and in its waning light, the combined effort of the cooling day and dense sand envelops the beach, the beach enveloping its inhabitants—an elderly couple walking a german shepherd, parents with two little girls who wear matching outfits, and a teenage couple who lazily float in the river. The loss of light also comes with the loss of people; these are the beach’s only occupants.
On my notepad, I write, “Sand: Dirt in Disguise.”
Josie rolls over with her laptop, holding it above her so she doesn’t get sand in it. She picks up a pebble and tosses it at me. She says, “I’m bored.”
Well, lower your expectations.
“Girl,” I say, “I wish my aunt were here. She invented time travel, and maybe she could make this shift go by a bit faster.”
Josie tilts her head up to look at me. She says, “Well, call her up.”
I tell Josie, “I can’t.” She’s in a different time period, obviously.
Josie puts on a Brad Pitt movie—my uncle three times removed—and I go back to writing. I write, “Breaking News: Looking at Clocks Makes Time Go Slower.”
And, just as I write “Slower,” things move faster. There’s a girl’s scream, high-pitched. Josie tilts her head up for a better look. I drop my pen. The teenage couple floating in the water, only the girl is visible. She’s pulling something onshore.
“Someone, please help me!” she calls. The something she’s pulling, it comes into view. Her boyfriend, or what must be her boyfriend.
Josie’s on her feet now, and in her hurry, she drops her laptop on the sand. I’m up too now, and with sand kicking up in a rooster-tail behind us, grain by grain, we sprint towards the shore.
And no, not in slow motion like you’d see in a Zac Efron movie. Ah, Zac. My good uncle Zac.
The man lays on the beach sprawled out, his long hair parted to one side with the rest ensconced in the sand. The girlfriend says, “We were just swimming and I don’t know what happened but we took acid beforehand and maybe had some mushrooms and we were just swimming and I don’t know what to do but please save him,” going off on a tangent, all of this in one swift burst of a sentence, impossibly fast.
The girl’s eyes are red. Her face, puffy. LSD. Shrooms. Maybe raise your expectations.
And then it hits me: this could be it. My one event, my one story for people to hear. The truth. No embellishments.
Already, I’m thinking of the headline: “Lifeguard Girl Saves Drugged Guy.”
Or, maybe: “Lifeguard Girl Suffers from PTSD Due to Dead Addict.”
I weigh the pros and cons. What might sound better? What situation might make for a better story? Embellishments.
“Hey,” the girlfriend says, “are you gonna help him or not?”
Trust me: he’s gonna be fine.
With the elderly couple and their dog, the parents and kids, and Josie and me, a miniature crowd forms. The Crowd of Us.
I say, “He’s gonna be a-okay, folks! He’s just passed out.”
I say to the girlfriend, “He’s okay. Don’t worry.”
You can trust yourself. You’ve been trained, you know what you’re doing. You’ve taken all the courses. Know all the facts. If someone doesn’t perform CPR, the survival chances of the victim decrease seven percent in every minute of delay.
With my hands clasped over each other, my shoulders above my elbows, perfect form, I begin compressions. Must remember: chest compressions should be around a rate of a hundred to a hundred twenty compressions per minute.
The parents say to their daughters, “Look away, girls.” I don’t look if they’re looking.
I complete a cycle and give the breath of life. When doing mouth-to-mouth, the victim receives oxygen concentration of sixteen versus the twenty to twenty one percent received by ambient air.
The elderly gentleman says, “I’m calling 9-1-1.”
And I say, “Don’t. He’s gonna be fine.”
To Josie I say, “We don’t have an AED, do we?”
Applying lipstick, fumbling with her hair, she says, “Nope.”
For every minute that passes without defibrillation, survival chances decrease by seven to ten percent.
Pros of this guy surviving: I might be deemed a hero. He might let me have some LSD. Some shrooms. Maybe he’ll give me some money, I dunno.
Pros of this guy dying: I’ll receive sympathy. People will shower me with love. I won’t have to work at the beach anymore.
Really, there’s no cons either way. A win-win situation.
Compressions two inches deep at the same rate as before, I work on my second cycle. Within zero to four minutes without response, there’s unlikely development of brain damage.
Within four to six minutes, there’s only some possibility.
I ask, “How long has he been unconscious?”
The girlfriend says, “I don’t know… ten minutes maybe?”
Ten minutes and over, there’s probably brain damage.
Trust me: he’s gonna be fine.
I finish my compression cycles, and the boyfriend is still unresponsive. I say, “Josie, help me carry this man to the lifeguard station.”
“Is he dead?”
“Just help me carry him, would you?”
She shakes her head but does as I ask, with her lifting him by the armpits and me carrying him by his bare feet. The elderly man calls to us, “Can I call 9-1-1 now?”
And I say, “Not necessary. He’s just passed out. Thank you, though.”
Josie tells the girlfriend to wait on the beach, and we carry the boyfriend to the station. Inside, we lay him on the coffee table with his head propped up by a lifejacket.
“Girl,” Josie says, “is he dead?”
Wiping some sand off my shorts, off my shirt, I say, “Nope.”
I say, “I can handle this. At least one of us should be on duty. You can head back out.”
She shrugs and leaves, and I’m left alone with the boyfriend.
Pros and cons, pros and cons.
Pros and pros.
I check the guy’s pulse. There’s nothing, but then, there it is. An infinitesimal throb. And, as if by some other-worldly impulse, the man opens his eyes, wide as can be, and he says, “Where am I?”
“Lifeguard station,” I say.
“Oh, man,” he says. “Am I dead?”
And I say, “Yes. Yes you are.”
“Darn.” And then, a tangent like his girlfriend’s: “We were just doing some acid on the beach, and then some shrooms, or was it the shrooms first and then the acid? Anyway, we were swimming and she was blowing bubbles and turned into a fish and I asked her why she was a fish and then, like, boom. I wake up here.”
And I say, “Shut up. You’re dead.”
“Wait, I’m dead?” he asks.
“Yes, now go back to being dead.”
He wiggles a bit on the coffee table, uncertain, but he says, “Okay,” and he falls back asleep.
I can see the headlines now.
I walk over to where we keep the lifejackets. The ones for kids. They’re softer, would work better. I pick one up, one with seashells and starfish and other childish designs on it, and I stand over the boyfriend. With the lifejacket, I cover his face, pressing hard. This, what I’m doing, you learn all about it in the lifeguard classes. Asphyxiation—the process of being deprived of oxygen. The boyfriend, he doesn’t even struggle.
Trust me: I finally have a real story.