Magic was a performance desire and a passion for Justin. We grew up together and went to all the same classes. We even went to the same University. Though he was not very good at the craft, he never stopped trying to pull off the perfect card trick or a disappearing coin. Typically he would fail to guess the right card or the coin would fall out of his hand as he was trying to hide it. At first, for a while, it was fun to be with him and watch, but after several years of having your best friend who simply couldn’t get the consistency for it, it became a point of contention rather than something fun.
The front door stands open from when I came in just moments ago. Gathering the mail off the floor where the post-delivery has pushed it through the mail slot of my apartment and I saw the invitation. It’s the invitation to attend our ten-year anniversary, I had to sit down. “Has it been ten years already?” When I saw Justin’s name on the invitation as the president of the alumni committee my mind raced back in time, recalling the details of the day after our graduation. The straight-back chair has always been the most uncomfortable piece of furniture I ever experienced. That’s why I put it here in the long hallway that leads from the door to the studio. For now, I felt nothing but the discomfort from the tragic memory.
The four of us called it the big graduation party. Justin, Chase, Vincent, and I were the four most unlikely friends you would ever meet. We didn’t call it the big graduation because of the number of people in the graduation class, there were only twenty of us. We called it big because Justin would provide us with his greatest magic trick ever. Straight out of a Houdini how-to escape anything book. Justin’s big trick would feature a crane, which would drop him into the depths of the park lake where we were having the big graduation party. Justin would be wrapped head to foot in chains and four padlocks. Once he hit the water the weight of the chains would drag him down to the bottom where he would have no more than three minutes to pick the four locks, free himself from the chains, and swim to the surface or die.
Looking back I’ve always wondered why we let him go through with it. Every trick he did was flawed. Somehow, we expected this trick too would have flaws but never expected the disaster that played out. From the moment the crane was supposed to drop him into the lake, from a height of ten meters. A height even I would fear. The magic show went horribly wrong. The crane tower wasn’t fixed properly and the control arm broke free of the main structure. Instead of Justin falling straight into the lake he tumbled and swirled downward, hitting the water headfirst at about a thirty-degree angle.
Everyone screamed and I took off running full speed down the dock toward the point of his entry. As a professional diver, I knew I could deep dive to the bottom, and then all I would have to do was somehow find him in the deep, dark abyss. I took a last look at his entry point just before I tucked into a dive. It took a minute. Maybe more as I felt around in the cold mud, frantically searching for him. There it was, a chain, cold steel link in my hand. I followed it, hoping it was taking me to him and not away from him. Then my hands felt his body mass, still wrapped in most of the chains. I gathered him as best I could and kicked upward for the surface.
When I was just a meter from reaching the surface, his weight and the chains were overpowering me. I was losing the fight. Suddenly his entire body lifted straight out of the water as if by some miracle. It was Vincent, the professional bodybuilder. I watched him take Justin, chains and all straight up out of my arms and the water. In one swift and powerful move, Vincent went from a prone position on the dock, onto his feet and ran back down the dock carrying Justin. Until that moment I had always thought bodybuilding was the dumbest thing a person could do. I remember making fun of him at graduation just the day before because his arms were so big that he couldn’t even button his top shirt button or tie his necktie. “How do you even brush your teeth?” I laughed ridiculing him. “Do you need someone to do that for you as well?”
By the time I made my way out of the lake and to the end of the dock where Justin lay lifeless. Vincent had managed to get the chains off of his body. A second later Chase was yelling, “let me through.” As the group made room for him, Chase dropped down to his knees with a defibrillator in his hands. He barked out orders for me to clear everything and everyone away from Justin. He switched on the machine and waited for it to charge. “I saw the medical box hanging on the wall inside the park office. I sprinted up there and grabbed and sprinted back as fast as I could,” he told me. The light on the machine flashed green and Justin screamed, “clear!”
Twice he zapped Justin’s body and then Chase yelled, “I have a pulse! Get him on his side.” Vincent propped Justin over to lay on his side and immediately Justin spewed all of the lake water from his lungs and began to cough and breathe. Until that day I had always made fun of Chase for being a football player attending medical school for sports medicine. I mean whoever heard of a sports medicine doctor with a golden foot who can bicycle kick a goal from anywhere inside the box? It was his speed and his training that saved Justin’s life that day.
The ambulance arrived a few minutes later and though he survived the accident with his life, Justin lost a hand. The crane arm managed to nearly sever his arm from the elbow, and the doctors at the hospital were not able to save it.
We’ve stayed in touch over the years, the four of us, but I had to leave the next day. I’ve been competing in FINA world cup championships for ten years and in truth, my skills are ready to retire. Vincent has gone on to win five strongest man world cups including three years in a row without a defeat. Chase has had a rocky career as a football player, but as a sports medicine specialist, he’s been on three different championship teams and now has a chief of medicine position with a premier league team. Justin stayed on at the university as a professor. He teaches you guessed it, performing arts.
To this day I can tell you that his greatest trick was getting the four of us together. I’ve never had better friends.