Wednesday, October 27, 2004

High price to pay

The summer I turned 12 I spent most of my days at the bayou swinging from a rope and splashing into the muddy water. On occasion someone would shout out “nutra rat!” or “moccasin!” and we’d race back to the dock and climb out of the water. Other than that, it was harmless fun. At least it was until Ray showed up with a can of Krylon.

Raymond was 16 but had failed 4th and 7th grades so he was still at the junior high with us. He wasn’t stupid, just rebellious. If someone told him he was scared, he’d prove him wrong. If someone told him he couldn’t do it, he’d show him he could. Raymond liked being the first to break the mold in our little group. And that day when he showed up with a can of pewter grey spray paint I figured we were in for an artistic treat of some sort that was sure to get my ass whipped when my old man found out.

It was my turn on the rope when it happened. I grabbed on, took a couple of steps back and let her rip. I swung out over the bayou and let go, hitting the water several feet below with my best splash yet. Surely nobody had topped that one. When I came up I expected cheers and applause but instead it was quiet. Jason and another boy, Kelly, were standing beside Raymond as he sprayed the paint into the inside of the cap. I swam over to the dock and by the time I pulled myself up I heard him explaining proper sniffing technique to the others.

“Hold it over your nose like this.” And then he placed the cap over his nose and inhaled.

I stepped between Jason and Kelly, water pouring down my body and soaking the boards while I panted from the swim back in. I watched Raymond’s eyes close and he slowly lifted his head back with an almost smile.

“That’s great,” he told us.

Ironically, it didn’t look great to me. Raymond held the cap out to Jason and that’s when I felt the fear. Don’t do it! But saying that out loud would make me a chicken and I was no chicken. I literally crossed my fingers behind my back and hoped Jason knew better. We both knew his old man was way stricter than mine. His old man would kill me, too, just for letting him do it.

Jason declined. I exhaled. He said he wanted to swim then snatched the rope and swung off the dock into the water. Raymond called him a few choice names that intimidated Kelly into agreeing to try it. Ray offered to show him one more time how it was done. He sprayed the inside of the cap for several seconds then held the cap to his nose and sucked in hard, holding it there for multiple breaths.

That’s when it happened.

His eyes rolled back into his head and he fell to the side. Kelly and I both jumped on him, shouting his name and shaking him. Jason climbed onto the dock and said he was going for help, then high-tailed it to Mrs. Peveto’s house, the nearest neighbor.

I remember Ray’s face, the blue lips, open mouth and pewter grey semi-circle across his cheeks where he'd touched the cap to his skin. He was warm and solid and looked like…well, he looked like Ray. Why shouldn’t he, he was still Ray, right?

Right? “Ray?”

Kelly cried and started hyperventilating. I didn’t know what to do with him or with Ray. I just knelt there, dripping with river water, scared and absolutely motionless.

I don’t know how much time passed or what the paramedics said when they arrived. I just know Ray never moved again.

Any time I watch a show or movie with a scene where CPR is being administered I wonder…what if I had just tried it. Could I have saved him?