Reasons why I’ll probably die alone, episode 6
I always catch the last cold of the winter. Sometimes the first too, but always the last. It lingers, lasts long into the Spring, so that in April I am still coughing my lungs up.
One year it lasted into July, month upon month of misery, up until I was traveling to Maine, to undergo an intensive four day course to certify me as a lifeguard before starting work in a summer camp.
On the plane over I had made a conscious decision not to be a lifeguard. I couldn’t really swim and I didn’t want that kind of responsibility anyway. Now I sat on a jetty in board shorts watching my new colleagues diving into the lake.
This part of their training was the part where a kid has gone missing and they have to search for a body underwater. It was maybe eight or nine feet to the lake floor, and they were taking deep breaths and diving down and coming back up again smiling with handfuls of mud and old coke cans to prove they’d made it to the bottom.
I knew I’d made the right choice. I’d been flown out early especially for lifeguard training, and now I was sitting in the sun, and watching the girls dive. It was wonderful.
It didn’t bother me much back then how my non-participation looked to others, and they all seemed nice and didn’t seem to mind that I had effectively given myself a four day holiday that involved sitting by a lake while letting the hot July sun burn my pale rake-like physique. In addition to this, I was the only guy that had flown out this early, so at the forefront of my adolescent mind was an adolescent thought: I had a chance.
After two solid months of hacking and coughing, my cold cleared up in a single afternoon. It was a sign, a good omen — things were finally going to fall into place for me, maybe this summer I’d fall in love.
After that first day on the jetty, the girls discovered the groundskeeping assistant shirtless, digging a hole for some important reason, and I knew I was done for. My strutting hubris suddenly had a coronary.
“Isn’t he gorgeous?” They’d say as we passed him on the walk from the cabins to the mess hall.
“I don’t know, looks kind of shifty to me,” I said.
No one was listening, they were waving at the shirtless fool, and he stopped digging to wave back and wipe the sweat from his freckled brow.
Anyone can dig a fucking hole.
He was called Sean and I thought he was stupid and had a stupid name and I thought all people from Ireland were stupid too. He looked like he’d just walked out of an ad paid for by the Irish department for tourism. Interaction between the regular staff and the grounds staff was verboten, so I didn’t think it would be a problem.
Unfortunately, the uneven trundling of my wheels on the arduous journey of life has taught me that things which are forbidden tend also to be irresistible.
In addition to my earlier assertion that anyone can dig a fucking hole, it must also be said that few can look that good while doing so.
And so I was done for. The attractive, soon-to-be lifeguards found me invisible while this emerald isle impostor continued to pretend to ignore their sickening, affectatious displays. It was not until one of the coordinators, whose job it was to discourage intimate relationships of any kind, essentially stole his belongings and moved them into her private cabin, and then invited him into her bed for the next six weeks, that things finally started to look up.
Then I was visible again. The only problem was that by this time I was sat in a cabin trying to teach kids how to play guitar, or on a field, trying to teach kids how to play football. I had no time to run after women.
After a month, the rotation changed and I decided I would paddle after them instead. The camp ran a canoeing class which I managed to sneak myself onto as a supervisor. The rules stipulated that anyone going out on the lake was required first to pass a swim test — this was mandatory for all staff and kids. In addition to chickening out of the lifeguard training, I had also dodged the swim test. Perhaps by doing something verboten, I would become irresistible.
My co-supervisor was called Penny and for about a week we had a pretty good time. She basically led the class, and I paddled like mad and pushed kids out of their canoes. It was a lot like the Swiss Family Robinson, in a way. We were like a family brought together so that we might survive the elements, finally washing ashore on a little beach where we could dry ourselves off and light a fire.
Full disclosure: it was nothing like Swiss Family Robinson, the 1960 film adaptation in which a family of five flees the Napoleonic wars to New Guinea but they get shipwrecked en route and have to decide whether they should make a life for themselves on a desert island or return to civilisation.
I thought it might be the start of something new and idyllic, is what I’m trying to say. Well, it wasn’t the start of anything, we got along just swell, but there was nothing else to it. Outside of that class, I don’t think Penny spoke to me once, but she would smile and nod at me if our paths crossed, which along the waning arc of human contact I will have throughout my life, is something positive — or I try to tell myself that.
A week into the rotation they discovered that i hadn’t taken a swim test and i was put in charge of making sure kids didn’t kill or maim other kids on the archery range. It was like getting shot in the heart.