“He has no pulse,” wielding an index and middle finger, my mom’s perfectly round eyes catch me in the doorway. I run to the kitchen, snag a sandwich bag, and tear a small hole in it as I bolt back upstairs. Darting into the bedroom, an autonomous part of me assumes control. I drop to my knees beside the body of a young man, ‘Zed’, about six years older than me.
“They say to do–” I’m already on it, mom. She continues speaking into her phone as my robotic persona assesses the purple figure against my knees. No response. No breathing. No pulse. His arms remain clenched over his torso as I attempt chest-compressions. “1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and… 19 and 20.” I lay the makeshift mask over his cold lips. “[Inhale] one thousand 1, [exhale] one thousand 2,” his chest hardly rises, but his throat gurgles with fluid and air, “[rest] 3, 4, 5, [Inhale] one thousand 1, [exhale] one thousand 2, [rest] 3, 4, 5.”
Zed’s best friend through college, ‘B’, paces hysterically in the hallway. It’s the house B grew up in, and where they both live. My subconscious held onto every word he choked past his tears. He had found the corpse I pounded on in futile resuscitation. He found his best of best friends purple and stiff, jammed between his bed and desk. He pulled him onto the floor. He was inexperienced. I am a machine.
“1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and… 19 and 20.” Two rescue breaths, and I continue compressions. It’s surprisingly easy to stay focused. I know Zed is dead. I know the paramedics will call it when they arrive. I know he is blue, purple, cold, stiff, and dead. Still, I know I must not stop.
Zed taught me not to stop when it hurts. “You just have to play through the pain,” he told me when he was more peachy than purple. That was the first and only time we played guitar together. Zed was the singer and guitarist in a band of revolving names, and I felt foolishly beneath him as I stumbled over a rhythm of chords while he slammed his pick against all six strings, his left hand dancing across the frets. My hand hurt after just one song.
Don’t stop. “1 and 2 and 3 and 4 and… 19 and 20.”
Zed’s voice was not pretty by far, and some notes buzzed while others rung, but he projected and smiled and had fun. I always wanted to be what he was– confident. “It doesn’t matter how anyone but me thinks I sound,” Zed made the second note of the lesson, “and I don’t always like the way I sound, but I can enjoy it.” Sing freely, play freely, and be free.
Two more rescue breaths and I hear the paramedics bound the stairwell. They flood the room, sweeping me to the wall.
“How many cycles have you done?” A heavier-set EMT reminds me I was counting.
“Only about one.” I can’t believe it was only two minutes. Ashamed that after 3 years as a lifeguard I forgot to sum the cycles, and more embarrassed by my lack of preparedness, having no CPR mask, I sneak the mutilated sandwich bag into the garbage on my way out.
In the kitchen, I reconvene with my mom and her boyfriend (head of the house), and his son (B) and his girlfriend who arrived sometime in the last two minutes. They’re all hysterical, yet I remain stoic. I stand among the people who lived with and loved this young man– his second family– it is not my place to add to the sea their eyes cast from waterfalls over each other’s shoulders, collecting under the amber light. I’m an island in the ocean; always have been.
A police officer starts asking us questions as a black bag floats past the kitchen doorway.
I arrived at the house only a few hours before the tragedy. This is the last weekend before I travel to Uruguay for a month, and the weekend I attempted bringing all my friends together for the first time. Those three hours were frantic in preparation. I ran wall-to-wall in a similarly autonomous manner. One thing halted my momentum– a flick of my hat brim which kicked it halfway off my head. Nothing hanging on the wall was near it and nothing snagged it from behind… I looked up the stairs.
Zed, six years older than I, who slowed his rockstar-life to jam a few songs together, invaded my thoughts. A sense of panic brushed my throat. I wanted to knock on the first door on the right, to see if he’d answer and see if he’d join me a second time. He was a role model; an idol. I was just a kid– clenching my fist as I moved past the stairs, leaving my confidence behind. …Idiot.
Three hours later mom’s boyfriend says my friends have to go. The party doesn’t start if the rock-star doesn’t show, I suppose.
We all have a soul. Some of us see it when we’re alive, some die first, and some feel it in every breath. Zed’s soul tipped my hat, alerting me, sharing a moment of its panic while his body stiffened. My friend wanted help, and I heard him, but did not listen. …Idiot.
A Wiccan friend of mine visited the house a year later and felt a presence. Again, I immediately understood what it was. With a makeshift Ouija, we verified my suspicions; its identity and the tipping of my hat. That subtle signal was all the physical power a frantic, separated soul could muster. It was a grand, futile final attempt, as I did not take his whole lesson to heart… be confident, idiot.
We discovered how much happier and free Zed is. He swims in beauty, free of his life’s demons, and I can’t feel entirely guilty about that. Unfortunately, it did not free myself. It was also a secret held for five years, now. He is more distant– more free– so it is time to let it out.
In all we do:
1… be confident