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The buzzer rang and the swimmers dove into the water. I watched my sister with great intensity, not wishing for anything but the best. Her head bobbed up and down as she swam faster and faster. Even now, watching the recording, I was holding my breath and forcing my eyes not to close so I didn’t miss anything. She caught up to the leader right as they reached the other side of the pool. Jordan went under the waves and pushed off the wall. She passed her competitor. She wouldn’t be in the lead for long, in about two seconds she’d go under. One. Two. Jordan fell to the bottom of the pool, my heart sunk. She was so close. She didn’t come back up.
After everyone finished, a life guard dove into the water. He was too late. Jordan was already dead and it was all caught on tape. I remember sitting in the bleachers at State Finals, my mom clutching my hand the entire time Jordan swam. Then screamed when Jordan didn’t come back up. I remember feeling completely empty and confused, not believing what my eyes saw. I was probably dreaming, I rubbed my eyes but opened them to the same thing. I remember an hour earlier, hugging Jordan and giving her one white rose for good luck. She thanked me and said that in two years, I’d be at State. I laughed and said probably not. Then she left to change and stretch. That’s the last time I ever talked to her.
I remember watching the life guard pull her limp body out of the pool. Jordan was completely lifeless. I sat in the bleachers waiting for her to cough up water and be okay. She never did. The recording caught all of this, the cameraman didn’t stop. So here I was, with my parents watching my sister die again. We were sitting on the sofa together, two candles lit, and tissue boxes on the ground. We decided to watch the recording on her birthday, my dad thought it was a bad idea, but my mom insisted.
The life guard, who later introduced himself as Gage, began doing CPR. Jordan didn’t respond. He tried again. Nothing. Sometimes, I feel bad for the girl who won. She didn’t get any applause or screaming parents because everyone was watching my sister die. Gage yelled for some one to call 911. My mom jumped to her feet and ran out of the bleachers, my dad following her telling her to just stay here. I sat there frozen, just looking at Jordan’s body. I wanted her to start breathing again, but she didn’t. A bunch of people surrounded my sister so I couldn’t see her anymore. They lifted her onto a gurney and pushed her out of the pool area. Everyone was silent, besides my mom who was balling her eyes out. The cameraman zoomed in on Jordan being rolled away then clicked off.
We sat in silence, remembering everything that happened after the recording. I didn’t want to remember it. My dad running back up to me in the bleachers and grabbing me by the wrists and forcing me out of the school. The confusion stirring up inside me. Jordan couldn’t be dead. It’s not possible. We caught up to the gurney and my mom was holding my sisters hand as they pushed her body down the hallways. No tears rose to my eyes when I saw Jordan. Lifeless. Her body slowly losing color, her lips slightly parted, and her eyes closed.
Soon, we were wrapped in the coolness of the night waiting for the ambulance. My mom crying softly, my dad stoic and still gripping my wrist. Gage attempted CPR again, with the same result: nothing. Jordan wasn’t responding. He stroked her face and cursed under his breath. Down inside, he knew it was too late. He was probably blaming himself for not saving her sooner. If I was him, I would be thinking the same thing. I wasn’t mad at Gage for not diving in sooner, if he dove in he could’ve hurt one of the other swimmers. Plus, there was the possibility that Jordan was finishing the race underwater. I stole a glance at him, his eyes were focused at the ground.
The ambulance pulled up, sirens blaring in our ears. Two men got out and put the gurney in the back and let my mom inside. She gave us a small smile before the doors closed and the ambulance left. The remaining people stood in silence, unsure of what to do now. Gage came up to my dad and I, frowning.
“I’m sorry about your daughter. If I got in sooner...,” his voice cracked. “I’m Gage.”
My dad nodded, “Mr. Curtis.”
Gage looked at me, “I’m really sorry.”
“It’s not your fault,” I said weakly.
His head dropped, “I could’ve saved her.”
“Maybe she didn’t drown.”
“What does that mean?”
“I don’t know.”
“Lydia, I think I’m going to catch up to your mom. You should stay here and wait, just in case.” My dad shifted on his feet, looking up at the stars.
“Yeah, I’ll just watch the end of the races.”
“I’ll come get you as soon as we know what’s going on. Be safe.”
“I will,” I said as my dad started to jog off to our car. Now I was alone with Gage and a couple other stragglers, none who seemed to want to talk.
Gage turned to me, “Why couldn’t you go to see her?”
“I don’t know.”
He nodded, “Do you want something to eat? Or something?”
My stomach grumbled, I haven’t eaten anything since four. I glanced at my watch, it was almost ten. I wouldn’t mind eating something. “Sure.”
“I’ll take you to McDonald's.”
“Shouldn’t you go back inside though?”
Gage shrugged, “I probably won’t be able to after letting your sister die. But anyways, my car is this way.”
I turned to my mom on the couch, wondering if the silence was over and I didn’t have to remember what happened anymore. My mom was crying, eyes closed. It would be rude if I left in the middle of whatever this is. I just didn’t want to remember. I was scared then, I’m still scared now. But I stayed put on the couch and closed my eyes.
In Gage’s car, we sat in silence as he drove to McDonald’s. I was shaking, Jordan would go to the hospital and be fine. The doctor’s would do something and she’d be breathing again. She would look at my parents and say she never felt better. Jordan wouldn’t be dead. She couldn’t be dead. I looked out the window, watching the trees and buildings zoom by. This was just a dream.
We pulled into the parking lot and Gage put his hand on my thigh. I jolted around, no one has ever touched me there. Not even my ex-boyfriend, Tyler. He pulled his hand away, noticing my unease. I got a good look at him, he was still damp from diving into the water. His clothes clung to his body. Gage had brown eyes, just like Jordan. His hair was dark brown and he was really tan. I sighed.
“Let me go change in the back then we’ll head in,” he said.
“Change in the back?”
“Uh, like, behind you. I brought extra clothes along and I don’t think I should go in there all wet.”
“Okay, I’ll just look outside,” I mumbled.
Gage touched my shoulder, “You don’t have to.”
I stared at him, did he want me to watch him change? Was even going to McDonald’s a good idea in the first place?
“No, not like that! You could go in the restaurant and use the bathroom and decide what you want to eat. I’ll meet you in there.”
“Okay,” I said, getting out of the car. I walked into McDonald’s and decided just to sit in a booth and wait for Gage to come in. My head hurt, everything wasn’t making sense. First, Jordan was winning, then she has under, then she was pulled out dead. Now she was being rushed to the hospital and I was with some lifeguard who offered to buy me food. Jordan has gone under before because she swallowed water, but my dad did the Heimlich maneuver and she was okay. Why didn’t Gage try that? If he did, maybe Jordan would be okay.
Gage walked in and sat down in front of me, “What do you want to eat?”
“A McChicken sandwich is fine, with fries,” I answered, glancing away from him.
“Okay, be right back.” He slid out of the booth and got in line to order.
I didn’t understand why he was being so nice to be. He doesn’t even know me. Was this his way of saying that he was sorry about my sister? I looked over at where he was standing, hands in his pockets waiting for our food. He was just trying to be a gentleman. I bet if I said I wasn’t hungry, he would’ve just left me alone. Thinking about it, I wouldn’t want to be alone right now.
“Here’s your food, I bought you a drink too.” Gage handed me my fries and chicken sandwich. “What do you want to drink?”
“Sprite’s fine, thanks,” I said while I unwrapped my food. I took a bite out of my sandwich and Gage came back with our drinks.
“So, I don’t think I know your name.”
I nodded, not sure what to say.
“How old are you?”
“Seventeen.” Gage took a bite of his Big Mac and looked at me intently.
“What,” I laughed.
“Nothing. What school do you go to?”
Gage’s mouth dropped open, “Fairview?”
“I go there too!”
“Yup,” Gage replied. “It’s a nice school. I thought you looked familiar.”
I drank some of my soda, Gage looked kinda familiar too. When I was sitting in his car, I thought I knew him from somewhere but I didn’t think much of it. “Did you know Jordan?” The question just popped out. I didn’t really mean to ask it. It wasn’t right for me to even say anything about her.
Gage frowned, “I did.”
“I was in AP math with her. I never really talked to her, I just knew who she was.”
I nodded, pushing some fries into my mouth.
“But, I heard she was a really nice person and that she taught swim lessons to little kids on Saturdays. Also, that she was the best swimmer Fairview has had in about ten years. The one time I did talk to her, she told me that one day she wanted to be in the Olympics. She said it was her dream and she’d do anything to achieve it. I also heard from one of my friends that she wasn’t gonna ever be in a relationship because it would sway her away from her goal.”
“Jordan told me her dream once too. We were walking to the gas station down the street in the middle of the night to get marshmallows for the bonfire, that’s when she told me.”
Gage just nodded, “Are you done with your food?”
“Yeah,” I said, putting my trash on the tray so he could throw it away.
“I’m really sorry about what happened. It’s all my fault and I’m sorry.”
I followed Gage to the trash can, “It’s not your fault.”
“How do you know?”
Startled by his response, I stopped walking. I didn’t know. If he dove in sooner would she still be alive? It could be his fault, but I didn’t want to believe it. Maybe it was something else that killed her. Gage didn’t mean to kill her, and technically he didn’t kill her. He didn’t save her.
“Okay, let’s head back just in case your dad is waiting to pick you up.”
Not wanting to speak, I just followed Gage to his car and rode in silence. I’d get back to the school and my parents would be waiting there with smiles on their face. Jordan would be okay, she just had to stay overnight at the hospital. We’d all go home and sleep without worrying about her. In the morning, we’d pick her up and take her home. Nothing would change. She would be okay.
When we got back to the school, most of the cars were gone and the school looked locked up. I got out of the car and headed to the main entrance. Gage shut the car off and followed me. Sitting on the stairs to the school, I wrapped my arms around my knees.
“Are you cold?”
“I’ll be fine.”
“You have goosebumps, take my sweatshirt,” Gage insisted taking his navy sweatshirt off and wrapping it around my arms.
“Thanks,” I said, staring at the parking lot. My dad wasn’t back yet. Maybe Jordan was okay and they were all on their way right now.
Awkward silence fell over the two of us. I stole a glance at him, he was looking at me. Caught red-handed, he turned away. A smile formed on my face, the first one all evening. Gage brushed his shaggy hair to one side and put his hands on the stairs. I moved my right hand closer to his, not understanding the feelings bubbling up inside me. I just met him and knew hardly anything about him. But yet, I was interested in him. He was mysterious and understanding. Sensitive and charming. I made my hand bump his on ‘accident’. Gage turned at me, his eyes locking with mine. My face burned, I was blushing. He moved his hand over mine and kept it there.
“You have pretty eyes,” Gage stated.
I smiled. His body shifted forward. My stomach started churning.
“Thanks.” Head lights flashed on my face, a horn honked. My dad was here. I turned my head and bit my lip. “I better go, my parents are here.”
“Wait, let me give you my number,” Gage insisted, “call me whenever, okay?” He read off his number and I put it in my phone.
“I will,” I whispered.
“Maybe we could hang out sometime?”
“Yeah, well I better go. Thanks for everything,” I said, taking his sweatshirt off.
“Keep it. See you around, Lydia,” Gage replied getting up and running to his car.
I waved goodbye and got in my dad’s car. My mom was crying. Jordan wasn’t okay, I didn’t even bother asking. The car ride home was silent, except for my mom’s heavy breathing. Nobody said anything. I still didn’t feel sad about what happened. I still haven’t cried, was that bad? Weren’t you supposed to cry if one member of your family dies? I would assume so, but I’m not. We pulled into the driveway and we all got out of the car. My mom took my hand and lead me into the house.
All the lights were off and my cat, Toby, was sitting on the floor in the kitchen. My dad flipped the switch and we all shook our shoes off. One pair was missing from our pile, Jordan’s. Her pink Nike shoes with the blue laces. The pair that cost about fifty dollars. The shoes with all her “good job” stickers. Our pile looked small now, we couldn’t even call it a pile. A clump maybe, but not a pile.
“She didn’t drown,” my dad said, nervously, glancing at my mom.
“Oh,” I replied. “She’s okay then?” I knew she wasn’t, but maybe, just maybe.
My mom answered with sobs as she sat down at the table.
“She’s dead.” My dad put his hands on my mom’s shoulders and massaged them, trying to calm her down.
“Her heart just stopped.”
“The doctor doesn’t know yet, we have to go back tomorrow and see the results of the autopsy.”
“I’ll call the school and excuse you from your classes for awhile.”
“A month or two.”
“Your mom will need to be watched at home and comforted until we’re positive she’s okay,” my dad whispered and rested his chin on my mom’s head.
Did he think my mom would kill herself? Does my mom need me to babysit her? Shouldn't my mom be comforting me? But then again, I’m not crying or sad. Yet.
“How about you head up to bed and get some sleep, you’ll be coming with us tomorrow.”
I nodded and went upstairs to my room, I didn’t look in Jordan’s. We’d go to the hospital tomorrow and Jordan would be alive. The doctor’s were just pretending that she was dead, weren’t they? She couldn’t be dead. She was healthy. Strong. Jordan should be here with me, not in some hospital. She wasn’t even hurt, she was alive. I felt the tears rise. Jordan is okay, I kept thinking to myself, it’s just a mistake. But she’s not okay, she’s dead. I let the tears fall and didn’t even try to stop them.
I woke up to my alarm going off, the constant beep reminded me of the swim buzzer. I shook, it’s been a whole year and loud beeping noises scare me. Flash backs come flooding to me and I would just set them aside. My bed was warm, I didn’t want to get out of it and go to school for the first time in months. Going back would just lead to questions about Jordan, I wouldn’t have any friends anymore anyways. But I promised my parents I’d go to school my senior year and finish strong. What a stupid promise to make, I wouldn’t be able to pass my classes.
Last year, after Jordan died, I was pulled out of school for two months so I could cope and watch over my mom. Then, I was excused for another two months because my mother became suicidal and I had to watch her every waking moment of every day. After that, school was out of the question because watching over my mother was an emotional train wreck. Both of us were put in therapy, we’ll just say my mother’s thoughts of dying went into my head.
I’m better now, or at least, I’m pretending to be so I can get out of therapy. That’s torture, sitting in a wicker chair pouring out your feelings to an old women who could really care less. She had wrinkles all over her face and talked really slowly. I always felt uncomfortable with her, but my parents couldn’t afford anyone else. My mom loved her and my dad wouldn’t have changed therapists even if we had enough money. The therapy was originally just for her until my dad caught me cutting myself.
Basically, my whole life changed within a year and going back to school wasn’t something I would voluntarily do. I wouldn’t go back at all if my dad would’ve let me but he said it was time to move on. Of course, he was talking about me, not my mom who should move on to. But he’s concerned about my mom, it’s scary how we had to go through and get rid of everything that she could use to kill herself. No knifes, scissors, and we had to hide our shoe laces. My dad hired a long term babysitter, who was a nurse and social worker. Her name was Anna, she would come in the morning and stay until my dad came home at night. I wish I could just stay with her all day and waste away the years in me, but my dad wanted to see one of us get better. He chose me.
There was a pounding on my door, I sighed and got out of bed. I put on some clean jeans and a hopefully clean shirt. I pulled my hair back in a pony tail and went to the bathroom. The house smelled like coffee and bagels, my stomach grumbled. I washed my face and brushed my teeth and went downstairs. My mom was sitting at the table reading the paper, Anna was putting butter on a toasted bagel.
“Morning mom,” I said when I walked past her. She didn’t reply. “Hey Anna.”
“Ah good, you’re up. I put a bagel down for you because you’re running late,” she replied, handing me the plate.
“Thanks.” I took a seat next to my mom. Lately, she hasn’t been talking to anyone, not even my dad or Anna. Anna said it was just a phase, I was hoping she was right. “Did my dad leave already?”
“He was gone before I got here.”
Anna rubbed her forehead, “Lydia, we won’t be home when you get home, your mom has an appointment with Shirley at three. I’ll have a snack out for you if you want.”
“Nah, the girls might want to go out for coffee or something and catch up,” I lie.
“That sounds like fun!”
“Totally, I’ll have to ask them. If not, I can handle it, thanks though.”
“You better get going, you don’t want to be late,” Anna said.
“Yeah, bye,” I took the bagel off the plate and grabbed my keys. School here I come, are you ready for me? I know I’m not ready for you.