Lunch period with the guys—the middle school segregated lunch and recess by gender because of problems with kids making out and mooning cars—when all of a sudden a ruckus broke out at the bad kids’ table.
“Somebody help! Somebody help! He’s dying!”
The lady, permanent faculty who ran the lunch, lost her mind—screaming hysterically for help.
I thought, Fuck, I’m going to have to watch one of these kids die, and sprinted over. Or tried to. All I could manage felt like a staggered jog. I couldn’t stop thinking about how lucky I’d been that my squad never took serious casualties in Iraq; how I’d almost gone through life without ever watching anyone I cared about die. I moved between tables in the cafeteria like I was on one of those moving conveyer belts at the airport—unable to stop or speed up—trying to remember the Heimlich and wishing adults weren’t already standing in a semicircle facing a figure kneeling low behind the table.
When I got there one of the troubled youths had his chest on a stool and he was fading fast. Long, thick tendrils of saliva hung from his mouth; eyes rolled white. Warren, the school orderly, said to the young man, “I’m going to take your backpack off,” as calm as if he was reading a manual he’d pulled from his pocket. The pack came off and thirty seconds of Heimlich later the kid coughed up a Starburst and started breathing again.
And for a moment the middle school seemed like a community, with the students wide-eyed and murmuring about death.
But then someone stole a wallet, and everyone went back to normal.