As I pull up to the front of the green awninged apartment building, my nerves set in the way that I have fine-tuned them to. During my four years of driving this ambulance, only now do I feel as though I’ve gotten the required emotions down almost right, perfectly desensitized. I’ve boiled them down to a formula that I can deal with. Adderall is good for that. As I chew the little orange pill, the amphetamine cocktail bursts and comes coursing through my veins like a river running upstream, removing all emotions other than anxiety and worry, chemically cleansing. My mind becomes set in tune with the situation at hand, focuses me only on reaching my destination, getting that paycheck next week, returning to my tiny apartment and finally being able to rest. I know now that I’ve protected myself from my emotions getting in the way. The sirens pounding loud like the rhythm of the death that is always close by, the red lights that drip themselves like blood, they won’t be able to make my heart fall out from within me. It’ll all be under control. I’ll play the role of the stoic superhero. I arrive at the stoop of the apartment building, and see the patient, a young boy, no older than ten, lying on the steps, with his head resting on the gray concrete. His mother sits beside him. Her eyes are flirting with tears, and you can tell she’s making a conscious decision not to cry. The father looks stoic. He twiddles his thumbs, perches his glasses farther up his nose, then returns to twiddling his thumbs. He checks to see what time it is on his expensive-looking cellphone.
The parents look familiar to me. I’ve seen versions of them my whole life. Growing up in the New York City private school bubble, the parents were always cold. Cold and attractive, with faces set in stone that never shifted, and spines that stiffened like cardboard. Even my parents. When I left for college, which I would eventually drop out of, my father addressed me as if reciting lines from a card he’d bought at a CVS. “Son, this is a big change for you. This is a chance to make us proud, but also to make yourself proud. Go forth and seize life with full force”. It was a goodbye too grand for someone I was supposed to know so well. My mother faked tears, like she was always so good at. You can only tell she’s lying with her eyes when she gets back into the SUV and reapplies her perfect porcelain face in the mirror calmly. Back to the eerily calm people I see before me, you could tell that these parents were concerned with looking dignified, even in the face of their kid’s emergency, much like mine would’ve been.
I get out of the ambulance and help the guys load the kid into the backseat, and just for a moment, I’m face to face with him. His eyes are huge, but barely open, resembling two brown crescent moons, waning with sickness. His hair is curly and matted. He is severely freckled. He looks like someone I’ve seen before. He looked just like me, back when I was Jeremy Cohen the Nice Jewish Boy, not Jeremy Cohen, the college dropout, the fuck-up, back when I was his age. He looks like he could’ve been my son. My eyes linger on his for too long. His face replays in my mind in the headlights of the cars I begin to pass as we speed away from his apartment building down the congested New York City streets. The moon in the sky is shaped like a crescent tonight.
Normally, in the front seat of the ambulance, being separated from the miniature dramas in the back is a comfort. But because of this kid I’m starting to feel isolated in the front, too separated from the person who’s life is in my hands. The emotions I tried to flush away creep back. I set my mind to focusing on the sound of the sirens as they careen into my skull. I try to focus on the hoards of cars that scurry away from the ambulance like frightened rabbits. I try to focus on the tourists we drive past as they turn their heads from the cacophony I’m creating. I notice how the locals keep silently walking down their streets like wind up toys, to Duane Reade or the grocery store, without even a backward glance. It was a kind of zombie-like trance I knew well, that I tried so hard to put myself into. It must be so much easier for them, having the ability to ignore. They don’t cringe at the sound of the sirens, it doesn’t send chills up their spine. They don’t run away from their families and their lives when they see injustice or when they become unhappy or feel their soul’s been spoiled. I don’t get how some people can simply put up with what they’ve been given, how they can stay in the same place, how they repeat mistakes. I wish I could, God knows I try, but I never could master the faking.
Outside the window a world passes that keeps spinning, while, microscopically, clumps of blood gather, forming great red storm clouds in the kid’s veins. Sneaking peaks behind me in momentary bouts of traffic, I watch as he weaves a picture with his skin that his parents try not to notice. His body shapes itself into a harp on the stretcher and allows the pain crashing through his veins like a flash flood to pluck the strings, playing its awful music all over his face. No one was listening. No one was listening. I need him to be okay. He must make it to the hospital. I need that part of me to still be alive. Taking a deep breath, I push the pedal all the way down and open my eyes as wide as I can to take in the swerving city streets.
As the world speeds by, the hospital rises out from the city smog like a bright white oasis. Holding my breath, I feel every artery and vein and blood cell push the ambulance forwards to the hospital that resembles heaven. It feels as though my body has found a purpose, each bit of me something to work towards. I’ve found a purpose that’s outside of myself, yet is still a part of me. If I save this one boy, I can exhale. My heart beats quicker, to the beat of the paramedic’s machines in the back of the ambulance as they speed up their beeping, warning critical condition on their robotic lips.
As I watch the boy being rushed into the ER, still breathing, still fighting, the sirens and red lights stop sounding, and my heart is plunged deep into cool water. My past and my future now lay hand in hand. The little boy that was so much like me is still alive, that part of me will always exist, and I’m free to move on. The camera can finally fall backwards, zoom off me and the little kid, and fling itself into space. As it pulls farther and farther away from earth, the ambulance, the boy, and I get smaller and smaller until we become microscopic specks, out-shined by galaxies twirling themselves into nothingness. But it doesn’t matter how tiny the camera makes us look, as long as our specks are still there, as long as they always will be there, it’s somehow okay. When my time comes, I’ll sweep myself into the garbage bin and allow myself to be sucked up by the roots of trees or recycled by the sea without protest or anger. But for now, I’m still here, the boy is still here, we are still hidden behind giant planets and black holes and catastrophic events. We are still alive.
Age 15, Grade 10
The Dalton School