It’s an unusual summer at the Jersey shore. The waves are mighty, the rip tides treacherous. Lifeguards have been dragging swimmers out of the water left and right. My sister Laura and I can’t remember the water ever being so rough. Both underemployed, this summer we’re spending much time at the beach, watching rescues unfold by the dozen. Bearing scrupulous witness, I’ve narrated every one.
“Check it out!” I whisper, elbowing Laura in the ribs. “Over there, at two o’clock.” I point surreptitiously. “See that kid sputtering? He just lost his balance. I think the guards are going in.” Then, moments later: “Did you see that? Good gravy, that poor fellow really got dumped!” Then, on the heels of this: “Hey, the guards are taking the rowboat out! Someone must have really drifted. Can you see who it is?”
In the beginning, Laura shared my enthrallment. But now she’s lost interest. Worse, she’s engrossed in a novel. At times, I must entertain myself.
One afternoon, I decide to take a walk down the beach.
Having hiked a good distance, I feel entitled to a dip. Laura is big into the buddy system; she would not approve. But the sun is hot, insistent. Sweat is pooling in my belly button, trickling down to my crotch. The water is cool on my ankles; the surf beckons. And (I look, just to be sure) the lifeguard stand is right behind me.
Sorry, Sis. I’m going in.
So. I duck under some waves, riding the crests of others. When there’s a lull, I leap and dive, dolphin-like, throwing my butt up in the air. My legs follow suit. As the tide’s rhythm becomes my own, all the accumulated pleasures denied me in daily life course suddenly through my veins. It’s like I’m on Prozac, times one-hundred. Without the sexual side effects. Except. . .
I wish the goddamn whistling would stop.
Well, I guess it can’t be helped. Some poor schmuck is in trouble out here. I’m not unsympathetic, but mentally, I shake my head. It never fails to surprise me, how many people underestimate the power of the ocean. I just don’t get. . .
The whistling grows more urgent. And, to my ear, more piercing.
Both lifeguards have risen to their feet. One is peering through a pair of binoculars; the other is gesturing for the floundering swimmer to move in closer to the shore.
I wish I could get a glimpse of the struggler. If I can help, great; but if not, at least I can hover where the action is. I want to look around, but can’t afford to take my attention from the waves, lest I get knocked silly and tossed mercilessly about, ingesting mouthfuls of salt water, seaweed and sand. This, while trying to keep my bathing suit on.
But I can’t shake my curiosity.
I’m the one who needs fucking binoculars.
And that goddamned whistle. . .
Again, I look to the shore. I know it’s not possible — I’m a strong swimmer! I’m great in the surf! — but comprehension intrudes.
The lifeguards are whistling at me.
I begin swimming toward the shore. Casually, at first (“I’ve got this”), then with increased vigor. I make no progress. I put more power into my kicks. Still, I remain in the same spot. If anything, the lifeguards appear smaller, farther away.
The tide is probably pulling me out.
Realizing this, I’m both nervous and resigned. I’ve watched enough summer news segments to know: You should go with the current until it releases you. It almost always does. They key is not to panic.
This is my plan. And I’m sticking to it. But then. . .
Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God.
The lifeguards are jumping off their stand, grabbing rescue gear, and racing toward the water.
They’re running directly toward me.
This cannot, must not, happen.
If Laura finds out I was rescued, I’ll receive lectures, comments, intolerant looks. Almost as bad, she’ll tell my parents and all of our friends.
My quality of life will be ruined.
Furiously, with all the strength I have, I wave the lifeguards back. “No!” I yell. “I’m fine! Go back!” But they’re having none of it.
Does a woman not have the right to refuse rescue? To die peacefully among the waves, free of mortification and judgment?
No, it appears.
A woman in need of rescue is denied this basic right.
The Blue Emergency Phone | Demoted →