Biggest Life Lesson

Biggest Life Lesson

Autumn Chase

Drowning. All I felt was myself drowning. The air in my lungs slowly started to all drain and I was starting to panic. I felt lightheaded and began to give up, just wanting to let the frigid cold water around me overpower my now weak body. There was no hope. I could hear the tornado sirens blaring around me, the hail splashing into the lake, making bubbles in the water similar to the ones coming from my lungs. The strongest storm of the summer, but that didn’t stop me. Then I hear something detrimental to my success. It is the encouraging words from a man above the water, Josh, yelling out with the biggest smile and look of hope,

“You got this Autumn. You can’t give up. This is what you want.”

I knew from that moment on, I could.

Day one of lifeguard training. I was just barely 16, barely old enough to be here. The youngest of the group and not going to lie, definitely the most out of shape if I am being honest. Most of these guys had arm muscles bigger than my head and more abs than I could count. They were racing through the different training requirements like this was a warm-up. I am always working so hard to keep up. The only thing keeping me from quitting is Josh. Even though I just met Josh today, I could already tell he was going to be the best and most inspiring lifeguard trainer. His enthusiasm was contagious and made you almost ashamed to give up, like it was your mission to never give up, which is the whole point of lifeguarding. Finally finishing up the horrible mile-long swim, I walked inside to begin the book portion of the training. The training is tedious but I was continuously reminded that it was necessary. I noticed a new girl walk into the room, Julia, and realized she was the lifeguard instructor in training who would be working side by side with Josh on the book portion. I found out real quickly she was not fond of me. Everything I said, which wasn’t much, was instantly judged and criticized. I wasn’t really sure why, but I kept it in the back of my head to watch my back with her.

After 20 long, strenuous, sweat and tear-filled hours of work and training. It was time for us to take the final exams. I walked over to line up for one of the three physical exams. It took everything in me, but I pushed as hard as I could and I ended up setting a record for speed. I noticed quickly that this did not satisfy Julia. Now, time for the next part of this torture, the brutal written portion… Josh put Julia in charge of grading and administering this portion for practice for her. I watched her place everyone’s test on the table in front of them but threw mine without even glancing at me. I was sweating but it was like everything I had ever learned about lifeguarding came back to my head right at the moment I needed it most. I walked up and began a pile right next to Julia, and with a glare, she picked it up and instantly grabbed the red pen. I sat and shook, and ached and watched the clock move slower than ever before, the ticking and my heartbeat were aligned. I was so ready to be told I scored 100%, instead I watched Julia walk over to Josh and whisper something inaudible, and then I watched Josh walk over to me. Every footstep he made pounded into the group and I felt the world and room shake with every move that he made. Josh gestured for me to step out into the hall, yet he had no papers or test of anything in hand. I was so confused.

Josh sat me down with a sigh, and with the deepest look of remorse he barely got out the words to say to me;

“What happened in there Autumn? Julia told me that you didn’t pass and to tell the truth, I didn’t believe her. This comes as a surprise I think to both me and you. I know how hard you have worked and how good of a guard you will make. I want to offer you and only you a makeup test. Would you be willing to take that for me?”

I didn’t even have time to think I just shakily yelled,


At this moment, I knew that Josh was something special. I sat there with the new test in hand and flew through it. I handed it back to Josh, scoring 100% and he looked at me and just stared.

“Why am I not surprised? Congrats new guard.”

I still do not know or understand what Julia’s problem is with me. Maybe I reminded her of someone she did not like or that it bothered her that I was the only girl in training scoring above her, but at this moment, all I could think about was my growing admiration for Josh and how he had just saved me.


Before I knew it, Josh and I worked together all the time. What feels like my first day was already a few months in. I felt really close to him until I noticed a change in Josh. I could tell something was going on. He came and walked in front of all of the guards one day and said with a heartbroken look on his face,

“All of you are the reason why I am quitting. You have made me realize how poorly the management treats such amazing guards, and people like myself, and I can’t stand around with that anymore. I have decided to leave. All of you are amazing people and you should never stop being who you are. Never change because all of you have something amazing to offer to this beach.”

I was shocked. This person I had just started to become close to was just as fast gone.

The next day, I came into work and noticed a weird feeling in the air. Something seemed off. I wasn’t sure so I kept going on with my day. One of the guards, Mason, came up to me and said,

“Did you hear?” There was something uneasy and confused in his eyes and I realized that I didn’t want to know what he was about to tell me.

“No, what happened?” I said with fear in my tone.

“Josh died in a motorcycle accident yesterday.”

I am stuck, responseless. I forgot how to breathe, like I was drowning again. I felt the world spin around me and my understanding of life completely changed. I mean things like this, they just don’t happen to “us” you know… It is always other people and I mean, why Josh? There is just no reason. No, I mean this isn’t true. It can’t be true, but it is. As I drove home, I didn’t know whether to scream or cry, so I did both. The time dreadingly came around for his funeral. I forced myself to go, scared that I would be too much of a mess. As I looked at myself in the mirror before I left, I wondered what if that was me in that accident? Why wasn’t it me? Why wasn’t it someone else? Why did he have to go so young? Why? I held back tears and left.

I walked into the funeral alone. The mood was gray. How else should it be at the death of a bright, young, loving, and amazing 21-year-old, someone with so much potential? As I looked around, I saw many of his friends and family’s faces bleeding tears uncontrollably. I never realized how many people loved Josh. I couldn’t have been happier in such a horrible time. As I walked up to his casket, as creepy as it may sound, even though he was not alive, I could still feel the positivity and love radiating from him. This man, studying to be an engineer to help the world, was taken down by it. All of the adults around me were constantly saying how everyone always takes life for granted and thinks they are invincible and nothing bad ever happens to them. It was at this moment that the entire outlook of my life changed.

I realized just how lucky I was to be here. To be right here in this moment alive and able to celebrate Josh. I am lucky to have made it to 17. To be able to breathe this air and travel and wake up to see my family and friends every day because Josh will never be able to. On a lighter note, I thought to myself that my dream of a Harley will never happen. I realized that life is too short, you have to be thankful for every moment. Being alive is not a privilege, it is a constant work in progress. One that was lost by Josh. I know in my heart I will never forget Josh because he never gave up on me. I know that this is what he would want. He changed my life forever, and I can’t thank him enough for that, I just wish it didn’t have to be in this way for this change to occur. As I left the funeral home and the doors shut behind me, my view of life was taken back with the breeze the doors created and I walked out a changed woman.





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