18 January, 2011

Deep Water Brian

Here is another short story I wrote for my creative nonfiction writing class last semester. It is based on an event that happened in my childhood. The names of the characters have been changed but those who read it will know it even if it is not entirely accurate.

Deep Water Brian

Brian was a good kid. He tried his best to fit in but his only connection with the outside world was through church. Kind of odd calling church part of the outside world but that’s where he made all of his friends, if he had any at all. He was pale, scrawny and had a nerdy part in his ugly brown seventies hair cut. He was my only home-schooled friend and therefore I assumed that all home-schooled kids were weird because they lived in houses that smelled of apricots and urine. His family made gum out of dried up toothpaste stuck to wax paper. Sometimes they would dress up like pioneers, paying tribute to their Mormon heritage. They spent endless days watching The Sound of Music pretending to be the Von Trap family. The hill they lived on was probably dead from the sound of music because it was mostly sung in minor. Depressing.

You could say I was somewhat of an in-betweener when it came to the weird kids like Brian, and the socially acceptable kids. I couldn’t quite get over the magic of being a child in the third grade so when my nine-year-old maturity level would down grade to a seven-year-olds, I was disowned by the cool kids and would have to hang out with kids like Brian whom I was picking on the day before. This didn’t bother me too much because I could freely play Peter Pan in the trees of his backyard without getting laughed at. I would swing between the branches, hanging on for dear life with my skinny little arms. The swords we played with were made of wood with gold colored jar lids slipped through them to give off magical properties when the sunlight reflected off the surface. The gold jar lids also protected our fingers from bruising and breaking while we swung at each other when bouncing on the trampoline, trying to fly away to the second star on the right.

Brian’s dad had a computer and if we were well behaved we were allowed to play Oregon Trail. We hunted more often than we traveled. (Goddamn bunnies. You’re so fast! Three or four bullets wasted and none left for the slow buffalo.) I can’t imagine what else his dad could use the computer for. Couldn’t have been any more important than hunting green digitally outlined animals. Sad thing is, I ended up really killing Brian’s bunnies that year. Well they died in my care and I felt responsible. Some neighborhood dogs ate their faces off. I saw their mangled bones sticking half way out of the bent cage walls. I shuddered when I saw them. They were like hairy shells, empty and soulless. Such a scary thought to be dead.

Being my friend did not have many perks. My toy collection consisted of broken GI Joe’s and toy cars I usually found while roaming the garbage-laden fields next to my dad’s car lot. If I had anything of value to friends it was the pool membership at Lindbergh. The Pool was the place to be during the summer and it was the only place my family could afford a membership to because they had ten kids to feed. It was in the shape of an L and had a diving board. I say, “Had a diving board” because some fat guy ended up breaking it off. There were no lifeguards, so adult supervision was required. Just down the hill from the pool area were BBQ pits and a basketball court shaded by trees. Ironically, this is where the grownups spent most of their time, out of sight from the children swimming in the pool.

I remember the day I invited Brian to go to Lindbergh with me. He had on the ugliest looking 70’s shorts, kind of a sky blue with a nasty orange colored stripe down the side. He wore a brown leather belt to hold them up. They were most definitely hand-me-downs from either his older brother or father. I don’t know why that bothered me; I always got my shorts from my older brothers, but at least mine had the mark of Vans Skate Boarding Co. His towel was equally as nasty. It had holes in it and was marked with stains, or perhaps it was just dirty. I think a washing machine could have saved half of his reputation.

We drove to the pool in the back of my brother’s Chevy S 10, which we deemed “The Cow Truck” because of the grey primer spots on the side. As usual, my gold lab who we named, Kitty, would cut across the field and meet us a quarter of the way there. She would run down the road and chase after us until we stopped and picked her up. There were times that we could go a couple of miles, stop, and about a minute later she would come around the corner. “Stupid smart dog. Now you’ll just have to sit there and watch us swim from outside the gate”.

When we arrived, I ran immediately into the bathroom. All of the excitement about jumping in the pool got the best of me. Although we had a membership to this pool, it probably wasn’t the kind of pool you would imagine needing a membership to. The light blue paint on the bathroom’s walls was pealing from years of disrepair. There were cracks on the concrete floor and the urinals were stained with brown rust running off the pipes. One quick pee and I was out. I didn’t have time to wash my hands. I was too busy dodging the wasps that were hanging around the garbage can.

You know that unwritten rule about not eating before going into the pool? My family never followed it. We started off by sitting down and having Tang and pizza. There’s nothing like a full belly before jumping into a pool, and when it comes to pizza, kids don’t lose track of how many slices they eat. I love to brag. I must have had four slices that day, a big meal for a scrawny little nine-year-old.

After finishing my feast, I ran up to the diving board. I could feel the wet and bumpy texture under my feet. This always caused a tingle in my hands and hips making me afraid to slip and loose my balance. I could almost pee again. I couldn’t quite get a bounce out of the diving board because of my weight, but a good run straight off the end was enough of a thrill. I kept myself in the shape of a torpedo, slicing through the water and sinking to the abyss of an eight-foot-deep pool. The tap of my toes would amplify through the water when they touched the bottom. I pushed off with all my might while cupping my hands and flapping my arms downward. I always tried to resurface like Ariel from the little mermaid, chest forward, head back, and a deep breath. What nine-year-old boy didn’t think Ariel was a hot?

I swam to the side of the pool and pulled myself out to see what Brian was up to. I saw him sitting on the steps of the three-foot-deep end. I had been swimming all my life up to this point, so I assumed Brian had too. I ran to where he was sitting and jumped in the pool doing a backside method, a popular pose I learned from the cool kids at school. This motivated Brian to slide down into the cool water and walk out a little. He was too concentrated to talk much, and when I tried to splash him in the face he got pissed off. He even threatened to leave the pool. He wouldn’t brave going past the four-foot mark, and if the slant of the pool eventually got a hold of him, he would have to slowly doggy paddle back to the shallow end or make for the side. I hung out with him for a little while but only because I felt sorry for him. Pathetic wimp. Grow some balls and come out further. I couldn’t take much of Brian’s willingness to be a pussy so, I left him for more daring waters.

I would try to swim underwater from one end of the L to the other without coming up for air. I remember passing Brian, watching him continuously doggy paddle back to the shallow end. It seemed like he was having a hard time, but it couldn’t be all that hard could it? He was splashing like crazy, but his head was out of the water and he was making good progress on his way back.

Four minutes passed and I was getting bored with myself, so I thought I would regroup with Brian and play some basketball but I couldn’t see him on either end of the empty pool. I guess I was the only one left swimming. My family was eating by the gazebo. He probably wimped out and went over to the kiddy pool with the other bed-wetter’s. Nope, not there. I looked down towards the basketball courts; he wasn’t there either. Maybe he was actually using a toilet to go to the bathroom. I looked down in the water. Standing by the six-foot-deep end I saw a blurry blob in the shallow end of the pool. I yelled out “Brian” but of course how was he supposed to hear me if it was him 4½ feet under water? My first impression was, “He’s holding his breath,” but I was just trying to console myself. He wasn’t moving, and my knees went weak.

I ran and jumped in the pool calling his name in panic. “Brian!” It felt like an eternity flying through the air just to hit the water. No torpedo, just a big splash of panic. Swimming to the bottom of the shallow end seemed more difficult than I remember. I had to swim head first to get a hold of him. His hair looked soft and was ghostly waving around. I was afraid to touch him, and when I did we was so stiff. Bending his joints was like trying to open rusty scissors. I grabbed him by hooking my right arm under one of his armpits so I could get a hold of his chest. Kicking off the bottom of the pool, I was able to resurface to catch my breath. I was kicking my legs as hard as I could and paddling to the side of the pool with one arm. I was gasping for breath, trying to shout out my dad’s name, who was sitting under a near-by gazebo. Eating food with everyone else.

When I finally hit the side of the pool, the gulps of chlorine stopped and my dad was there to pull Brian out of my arm. My older brother Richard was there to help me out of the pool too. He pulled me over the side, and I sat there on my hands and knees trying to catch my breath. I remember my dad asking me what happened and all I could say was, “I don’t know.” My mind was in such a panic, there was nothing else I could think about except for, “Oh God, please don’t be dead!”

I had learned the process of CPR in cub scouts, but I had never seen it used in real life. How many people can say they have? My dad started by turning Brian on his side and scooping his finger inside his mouth to make sure he didn’t swallow his tongue. It was then I first realized how pale he was. How blue his lips were. He looked like a dead fish. My dad began with the chest compressions while my brother Richard blew air into his mouth. I could see Brian’s chest rising with every breath. You know that story about the rabbits? Brian became one of them at that moment. A shell, soulless. “Stupid Brian. What were you thinking? You’re so stupid.”

A few moments in, my dad decided to run across the street to call for an ambulance while Richard continued to administer CPR. Some bearded guy with long hair named Charles from across the street came over and helped Richard. He was an EMT so he knew exactly what he was doing. He kept saying, “Come on, Come on.” He seemed so calm. He had probably seen worse.

Over three minutes had gone by when Brian threw up right into my brother’s mouth. Chunky orange juice was all over his face, and I saw my brother spit up a bunch of it on the pavement. Brian was gasping for breath like someone had hit him in the stomach with a bowling ball. More orange juice and pizza spilled out of the side of his mouth and he was coughing and shaking uncontrollably. My dad wrapped him in some towels and Charles was trying to ask him questions. Brian was crying. It sounded like high-pitched hum, the kind you would hear from a whimpering dog. Kitty sat there watching through the fence, probably more interested in Brian’s crying than all of the people gathered around to watch the scene.

Sitting there, watching all of this my mind was a haze. Was he all right? Was he normal? I remember hearing stories of people who had drown and were brought back to life. They ended up having brain damage because they were under too long. Brian started crying out for his mommy. Even though we were nine-years-old, it was still Ok to call out for mommy in a time like this. The next best thing to mommy came. I could hear a siren in the distance. It was coming closer and even though Brian had been breathing for a couple of minutes, I felt much more secure that a machine with flashing lights painted orange and white was speeding down the street.

The ambulance backed up to the front gate and the paramedics ran out. They placed Brian on a plastic stretcher and strapped him down with white bands, including his head. It looked so uncomfortable. He had an oxygen mask put over his head. The plastic would fog and un-fog as he took his breaths. It all happened so fast. Before I knew it the ambulance was speeding away. Kitty was howling, trying to sing along to the tone of the sirens like dogs always do.

I felt kind of lost. My dad went back across the street to call my mom, to find out how to get a hold of Brian’s mother. My brothers and sisters were all crying beneath the gazebo. I could cry when I was made fun of, I could cry when I scraped my knees, but I could not cry when someone almost died. So I pretended. I sniffled and squinted my eyes the best I could. I put my face in my hands and rubbed my face to make it turn red. I was afraid that it wasn’t believable, but when my dad came back he saw me standing there by the pool and gave me a hug. That was when I really started crying.

My older brother, Tom, rounded up the rest of my brothers and sisters and drove them home in the cow truck. Dad drove Richard and I to the hospital to see Brian. Living in the small town of Eldorado we had to drive to the closest big city, Placerville, which was a good 15 minutes away. We drove through Old Town where all of the historic buildings were. For some reason this always put me at ease. I think it was because it reminded me of Christmas. I could imagine all of the lights strung up on the buildings and the snow blanketed over the town Christmas tree. It didn’t matter that it was the dead of summer. I could still see it all. It was my way to break away from what had just happened. Imagination was a kid’s best defense against fear.

We drove down Cedar Ravine, and as we did, we passed by our church. I could feel God looking at me as we passed him by to drive a few more blocks to the hospital. Was he blaming me for being such a bad friend to Brian? Did he want me to repent for calling Brian stupid in my own thoughts? I decided to make a little repentance prayer so I didn’t feel so guilty when I saw Brian. “Dear God, please forgive me for calling Brian a pussy and a stupid and please make him Ok.” That was enough to ease the guilt.

I walked through the front doors of the hospital. There was a pregnant lady in a wheel chair being checked in to give birth. This all seemed routine for me. After all, my mother did have ten kids. The halls were white with a light green stripe down the side. I followed my dad until he told my brother and I to sit down on a bench nearby while he went in to talk to the doctor. It was the first time Richard spoke to me since the incident. “Dude, he threw up in my mouth. It was so gross.” I kind of laughed, but I quickly wiped the smile off my face when my dad came back out. “You can go in the room now.”

The doctor was standing next to Brian’s bed. It reminded me of the scene from ET where Elliot is laying in the hospital bed dying. “Are you okay?” I asked. He responded back with a “Thank you.” He even sounded like Elliot with that wheezy voice. He closed his eyes and just lay there breathing. He was hooked up to a bunch of tubes and wires that I had no idea what they were for. I went back out into the hallway and sat there with my dad. He kept telling me how proud he was of me.

We were there before his mother. I remember her coming down the hallway. She had wiry grey hair and ghost wide eyes that naturally gave her the look of being scared or worried all day long. There wasn’t much of a difference in her looks that day except maybe the way she expressed her mood through her movements. She hugged and thanked me over and over again. That’s all I remember of her. For years the thanking would go on every time I saw her.

Everyone around wanted to congratulate me. After a while, I began to question whether or not I played such a big role in saving him. All I did was pull him to the side of the pool. However, his mother thought it was enough to recommend my older brother and I for a life saving award presented through the Boy Scouts of America. There was quite a big ceremony. Charles was there, and for some reason I remember there being a few people there in orange service suits. They could have been the paramedics but I’m not sure. I was just stoked at the medals they presented us. It made me feel like I was in the army. Mine had a red outer ring with a gold colored center and it hung from a red and white striped ribbon. I’m sure my buck toothed grin stretched a mile wide when they pinned that thing to me.

Remember what I said earlier about the hero being nothing without the sword. Well that day I found out it was true. My medal was proof of that. It made me feel like a real hero. In my mind I placed myself in the final scene of Star Wars A New Hope where Luke and Han receive their medals. I imagined I was Luke Skywalker; my brother Richard was Han Solo and Charles was big, harry and bearded so naturally he was Chewbacca.

Everyone cheered but the end credits didn’t come. Did Brian and I end up as best buds? Did I learn my lesson about knowing who my real friends were? No. It was only a few years later that I had entered JR. High. Through those years a kid can’t be any fiercer in his adolescence. It must be in the hormones. You’re so afraid that you’re not changing fast enough that the only way to speed up the process is to become an ass hole like the eighth graders were to you. So, naturally, Brian would suffer for years to come. I continued to give him hell and may have contributed to him becoming an airplane-stealing criminal. But that’s another story. Just pretend that I’m still Luke Skywalker for now.


Tyler said...

That's a really good story Jeff. I think someone reading it that never knew of those involved would appreciate it more. Your writing has definitely gotten better over the years.

Knowing the situation well, it's hard for me (personally) to know what your true feelings were at the time (I didn't know, at 9 years old, that you used the word "pussy"). I was kind of bothered at first with all the name changes, but then I realized: this is not a true story, then it made it all much easier to read.

I love how you ended it with your friend being a person that stole airplanes (as if to reference to the barefoot bandit).

Anonymous said...

why is my name Richard? I look more like a Blade or a Mavrick. Anyway you left out one detail. Remember that goose egg on Brian's head and how he got it. Dad though maybe Brian hit his head on the bottom of the pool. You and I remember dad, without realizing it, hit Brians head on the corner of the pool when he was lifting him out.

Jeffrey Dean Root said...

We all remember details differently. I know I learned the word "pussy" from Andy Sensari in the third grade. I wanted to be part of his posse. I thought he was cool. Hey Tyler, remember the Darjeeling Limited, "The characters are all fictional." Anonymous, I didn't remember dad bumping Bryan's head but that's pretty funny now that you mention it.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm the only one who saw it. Dad pulled him out of the water and hit his head on the side of the pool. After that dad noticed the head injury and said. Look at that goose egg on his head. He must have hit the bottom of the pool when he jumped in. I never told dad that was his fault. Or maby dad thought he was a pussy too and thumped his head on purpose. What a pussy.

Richard out.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Tyler that your writing skills are progressing in the most bestest way.


Jeffrey Dean Root said...

haha. Oh Richard, make me laugh some more

Anonymous said...

We came up with Earth Day so we would have one day every year that would remind us what planet we were living on.


Cap said...

I love this story. You get a real sense of the story from a childs perspective -- cruel and brutally honest, but also meaningful and important. I really enjoyed it.

Jennifer and Rod Deitrich said...

I read this & felt the whole mood very easily...you explained & described the gross stuff so vividly! It actually reminded me of a kid across the Laural Lane that my little brother, Dan played with. So I read it with him in my mind...he was that kid to me. Great writing I think...so colorful, rich and descriptive. You really have such a child in you...