It was the Summer of 2003. The days were long and the nights were longer. Sixteen-year-old Helene worked part-time as a life guard at the neighborhood pool where I grew up. Immediately upon sitting high above the pool in my lifeguard chair, I would imagine the scene from The Sandlot where Wendy Peffercorn spins her whistle while gazing at the sea of children below her feet. I would reinact this scene, sometimes hitting myself in the head with the whistle.
I admit I was a lousy lifeguard. The reason why I worked there is because I was paid $6.50 an hour to talk to the dreamy pool manager and drink sonic slushes. Also, we were on 20 minute intervals, so I only had to be on the stand for 20 minutes at a time.
My parents were in London this particular summer and this meant I could pretty much do whatever I want with my time. I was a good kid, though, they had nothing to worry about. Well, except for one small problem: I was a horrible driver.
I knew I was a bad driver. Almost immediately when I got my license I got in a wreck where I hit a pole in the rain on the way to a friend’s surprise birthday party at Joe’s Crab Shack. The surprise was ruined and so was my car. Not totaled, but beaten up.
The day I worked at the pool was a Friday. It was a sweltering, sticky, Texas day. The kind where your butt clings to the leather seats and you have to peel yourself out of the car. I sauntered into work at the pool that day; it was payday, after all. There was one boy, a reddish hair guy a year older than me. He liked me, but my eyes were on the pool manager, naturally.
That day he asked me out, finally. He had been hinting around for weeks to go out on a date but today he decided to really ask me out. I respectfully said no. I really just didn’t want to go see 2 Fast, 2 Furious when Freaky Friday was playing and would be waaaay better. Plus he always stared at my chest in an awkward way that made me feel uncomfortable in my one piece, red, lifeguard issued swimsuit.
My shift ended and I handed the whistle to the red head. “Well, see you later.”
“Yeah, whatever.” He huffed. If only I just told that stupid boy yes, the next thing that happened wouldn’t have been such a big deal.
I go straight to my car, excited for the weekend and a paycheck. I backed out of my parking spot while simultaneously turning up Chingy’s “Right Thurr” and rapping to myself. I wasn’t paying attention like I should. That’s why when I heard the crush of metal on metal. I couldn’t tell if it was the song, or I hit the Oldsmobile parked crookedly beside me.
I turned off the music and tapped my fingers on the steering wheel. I squinted my eyes and peered in the rear view mirror. Did I really hit the car? Hmm. I tossed the idea back and forth in my head. But my parents were out of town and I didn’t want them to be mad at me. So, my teenage logic told me to leave. I left.
A few hours later, I get a call on our home phone from an old lady who’d like to pay for the damages to her car that I hit. She was short with me, but after all I hit her car and then ran. But, how did she know it was me?
The next day at the pool, the red head was off, the pool manager told me what happened. From the lifeguard stand you not only get a good view of the pool, but a view of the parking lot. My suitor saw me hit the car and leave. On the chalkboard near the clubhouse he wrote in large letters: HELENE HIT YOUR CAR. HER NUMBER IS: 867-5309 (but he put my actual number.)
That day I learned two lessons: don’t hit and run; don’t turn down boys who seek revenge.
P.S. I’m going to Flagstaff, Arizona today to hike the Grand Canyon and check out other scenic views. Follow along with me on Instagram: @heleneinbetween