bout ten years ago, I went upstate to visit my parents. I’d been having a rough period with some woman I’d gotten entangled with at the time, and was kind of uninspired and out of sorts. I needed to escape Manhattan and get my head together. Besides, it was the ass-end of summer and the city was hotter than a coal brick oven. Anyway, after a few days I wasn’t feeling any better and to top it off I was bored out of my mind. My parents were also getting on my last nerve, criticizing, at length, every aspect of my existence.
One afternoon, we were all sitting around on the porch arguing as usual, and it just got to be too much, so I decided a cooling swim at the local pool might help relieve some stress. When I arrived, it was crowded as hell with urban refugees and local brats, but I found a little corner in the grass and laid out. The summer rays felt good on my shoulders, and soon I became more relaxed. Like I said, the spot was full of kids, but one particular group caught my attention, a bunch of young, skinny marinky, teenaged boys bounding about like the hormonal colts they were. You know, showing off in front of a handful of girls around the same age, giggling on the sidelines with flirty encouragement.
I could identify their leader straight away; he was taller and better looking than the rest, bronzed and lean, with a gorgeous head of hair streaked blonde from the sun. He was your typical golden boy, the kind so unshakably secure in his own skin, you knew he’d never have the need to resort to any base Darwinian tactics to improve his status in the herd. He was born superior, that’s all. It wasn’t his fault. Still, watching them all cavort around like they owned the place, like they owned the world, it began to get me down in the dumps. I’d recently turned thirty, and you know that’s a big landmark in a person’s life. They say if you haven’t achieved any of your personal goals by then, chances are you never will. I hadn’t that’s for sure, if anything I was even more mixed up and rudderless than I’d ever been. I kept watching though, sort of fascinated.
There was a tall lifeguard tower at the side of the pool, with a seat and a small platform jutting out about ten inches or so. It was empty. At his friends urging, the leader snuck up to the top, then sprung off the platform in a tight cannonball, hitting the water with a tremendous splash. All his friends clapped and hooted, egging him on to go again. I’m not sure whether they had noticed it, but from my vantage point, I’d seen that when he made the jump, he’d only missed nailing his head on the edge of the pool by about half an inch. Right then I should’ve done something. Instead, I just wondered where the hell the lifeguard was, and why he hadn’t rushed over to stop them. He was probably off somewhere trying to get fucking laid. To my horror, I saw the kid approaching the ladder once more, his wet foot pausing on the first rung to shout something I couldn’t quite hear to one of the sycophantic monkeys lined up on the soft grass – cheering in safety. I could’ve stopped him, I had plenty of time. All I had to do was jump up and race over, warning him that he had nearly killed himself the last time. I could’ve at least screamed to try and scare him away; it was my responsibility as an adult. I could’ve done something, but I didn’t.
I’ll never forget the sound his skull made when it came down on the concrete; a sickly, loud, smacking thud. I had turned away right as he had made that final leap, my heart in my throat. In an instant, a couple of older boys in their late-teens dashed to the scene to drag him out of the pool, now red with his blood. I couldn’t look. All I remember is praying that he hadn’t smashed that glorious face of his. Like a coward, I got up and rushed to my car, feeling like I was going to faint. As I sped away, I could hear the sirens already approaching.
I could’ve saved him…I could’ve.
I never even found out whether he survived the fall, or if he had, whether it left him disfigured or a cripple. All I know is, if there’s a hell, that one unforgivable moment of inaction on my part punched my ticket – for eternal purgatory at least.