I always a nice girl, polite, maybe a little shy in a way that made me seem unapproachable. Always a go-with-the-flow, don’t-rock-the-boat kind of person, never one to cause a riot.
Until you put me in a red swim suit and give me a whistle, then I’m bossy and loud. The summer after high school I got a job as a lifeguard at a summer camp protecting pasty white teenagers from the depths of a murky lake. One of the stations I worked was this 30 foot long inflatable rectangular pillow that extended out into the deep center of the lake called “The Blob.” Kids would climb up on the large platform that was positioned over one end of The Blob, jump down and climb out to the other end of this multi-colored launching device. When the next kid would jump off the platform on the near end of The Blob, the first kid would be flung high into the air, right into the lake.
We had a weight limit, for safety reasons. Only a 100 pound weight differential between Blobbers was aloud or the launch would be too extreme for the the one who was being flung. A late afternoon, just a few minutes before the end of the afternoon swim session, a camp counselor came to me asking to bend the rules. He wanted to launch the smallest girl off the end of The Blob, just to see what would happen.
I said no, “You are huge, she is tiny. That doesn’t end well.”
He resisted, telling me I wasn’t being cool, “Why are you being so lame?!”
“You easily have 200 pounds on her, she’ll get hurt. Don’t do it.”
Two minutes later I see her on the far end of The Blob, hands gripping tightly to her lifejacket. Knees curled. I look up at the platform, a small kid was about to jump. But my relief turned to hot white anger when I saw Big Guy Dumbass Councilor push him out of the way and cannon ball onto the blob. Tiny Girl was sent so far into the air that everyone in line gasped. She flailed, her tiny arms windmilling. After a ten story descent into the water, she landed flat on her back with the loudest slap I’ve ever heard, it echoed across the lake. She lay in the water, frozen without moving. I immediately jumped in and swam out to her. She was in shock, but ok. She was silently sobbing, limp as I pulled her back in. I put her on the dock without saying a word, took off her life jacket, she had giant welts on her lower back and was having a hard time moving.
I looked up at Dumbass, who was still on The Blob. “Dude…” was all he said. I shot him the nastiest look I could muster and yelled to everyone in line that The Blog was closed early.
At dinner that night, we had sliders. I was still in my swimsuit, with white shorts, hair still wet after barely making it to the dining hall after filling out the Incident Report. I sit at the staff table, with a clear view of Dumbass. I stared at him, eating my sliders with a vengeance. Another lifeguard, who’d been working the pool that afternoon noticed my wrath, “Jackie, what the hell? What did those sliders do to you? Jesus, you look pissed.” Something about eating small little burgers that makes me feel powerful, in an “I’ve got this” sort of way. Don’t mess with me when I’ve got a whistle. Or sliders.