Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Lifeguard (11/09/06)
TITLE: The Defining Summer
By Brad Paulson
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The summer of ‘78 was my defining year. My family had moved to a larger home, away from my old school and my friends. The only redeeming factor of the new house was a neighborhood pool. Memories of those first days lounging by the pool side come flooding back every time I smell chlorine or coconut tanning oil. I was thin, painfully underdeveloped and friendless, but I tanned well. Several girls, close to my age, came to the pool often, but their attention was devoted to Troy, the lifeguard. Befriending me was not a priority.
Memories of Troy conjure up images that are much too perfect to be accurate. Time has a way of touching up our mental pictures. His muscular frame, angular and firm, was softened by the bronze color of his skin. Blonde hair and blue eyes completed the picture, Hawaiian Tropic poster-boy. Good natured and cordial, he always said hello, although he never knew my name. The other girls went to great lengths to win Troy’s affection. Observing their efforts with secret hopes of their humiliation and failure, I quietly kept to my beach towel dreaming of far away places where Troy and I could run away. Hope sustained me all summer, but as summer neared its end and the new school year loomed menacingly close, my hopes began to fade. Two weeks before school started, my hopes were shattered.
I’d left the pool early that day for my twice weekly torture appointment with my orthodontist. Troy had finished his shift at the pool and mounted his trusty ten speed bike to ride off into the horizon. The eye witness accounts varied, but the end result was that a car struck Troy sending him head first into a large oak tree. While my orthodontist was tightening my braces, Troy was being airlifted to a hospital that specialized in brain trauma injuries. I wasn’t informed until the next day. Troy remained in intensive care until school started. No one but his immediate family could visit him. I waited eagerly for every report. Few were positive. Eventually they moved him to a hospital near our house, I was allowed to visit him with some of the other kids from the pool. He hadn’t regained consciousness since the accident. There were numerous tubes and wires keeping him alive. The doctors thought that hearing our voices might stimulate a response. Most of us had never made a hospital visit before. None of us were prepared. Few of us ever dared to venture back.
Troy’s mom rarely left his side and my heart ached for her. My mother suggested that I volunteer to sit with Troy to give his mother a break. His mom gladly accepted, so I went several times a week. The helium balloons and flowers eventually stopped arriving just like the other visitors. His mother and I had several nice talks, but most of the time she would excuse herself and leave Troy and me alone. I talked to him and prayed for him, always hoping for a response. Closing my eyes I could see him wake up and tell me he had heard every sweet word I had spoken. I treasure those visits, thankful for every one of them. He never did respond and he probably never heard a word I said, but I felt close to him. My young heart was full of love, love that went unanswered.
In early December that year, Troy’s condition worsened. There were several intrusive surgeries offered, but the strain on his family had been so great that they decided to let God’s will be done. I never got to see him again. His funeral was a closed casket. I still weep sometimes when I recall how much I wanted Troy to love me, and how powerless I was in trying to make it happen. I realized how God must feel when we fail to acknowledge his love, and how He grieves when His love goes unanswered. I promised God that responding to His love was going to be the purpose of my life, the defining factor of my faith. That summer, in an odd way, Troy helped me receive more love than he could have ever given me.
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