I was the lifeguard on duty. At blind camp some of the campers could see well enough to try waterskiing, and one boy, an albino kid in his mid teens, was pretty good at it. He had seriously restricted tunnel vision, but he could see the boat and the shore well enough to pop up on one ski, carve his turns, and jump the wake at a pretty good speed. He’d been doing it for several summers now. But like most teens, whether blind or not, he was overconfident.
hot August sun
sparkling on the lake—
wafts of cornbread
When his turn was done, he let go of the rope near the dock as the camp boat cut power. But he was too close. Before he slowed down, he wobbled on his ski and pitched down into a wooden piling. Head first, without raising his hands, his head snapping back. After the splash he lay there in the water, unmoving, the water turning red. His lifejacket kept him afloat, face down.
on my fingertip—
If he’d cracked his neck, this was serious. Hoisting him from the water without stabilizing his neck could cause permanent paralysis. But he was unconscious, about to drown. I had to jump in, tip him over, and brace his head from behind with my hands reaching up under his armpits.
But, with no lifeguard training, the camp director acted first. He reached down from the dock, yanked the boy up by his armpits. I still shudder at the memory of the director lowering him down, the kid’s head whacking the dock as it flopped loose from his shoulders. The boy spluttered blood, howled in pain, and began to breathe. Already someone was running to call an ambulance.
shimmers of light
on the distant blacktop—
The boy had broken his jaw, and it was wired shut. That was a blessing in disguise—in the camp dining hall he was such a motor-mouth. Later he told us that he’d wanted to spray everyone with a sudden turn just before the dock. That was who he was, unlimited and arrogant, just a blind teenager wanting to be a regular teenager.
light seeping in
under the cabin door—