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I felt myself longing for something I could never have, and I wanted her to take me back, fold me inside of herself as she’d folded Becky that afternoon.

But then she let me go. I grabbed at her trying to hold on, as if her arms could save me from what came next. (Morris, 431)

Mary Morris’ “The Lifeguard” is a coming-of-age story about an eighteen-year-old boy, Josh Michaels, who also serves as an unreliable narrator. Josh is confident, somewhat self-centered, and very accustomed to getting what he wants without much effort. However, through all his posturing and youthful arrogance, Josh constantly looks for something deeper. While girls are flocking to him and he relishes in all the attention he receives, he seems to be constantly bothered—bored and dissatisfied.

When Ric Spencer tells Josh he has it all, his immediate response is, “What is it, Ric? What’ve I got?” He reaches a point of frustration as he realizes that there are people who are envious of him, when in reality there’s very little remarkable about Josh and what he does. His community’s wistfulness is based entirely on a past of what they believe to be glory, and as they’ve aged they’ve let themselves go, choosing instead to cling to and mourn their youth. Later in the story, Josh has an opportunity to acknowledge this and choose not to follow this pattern.

There is one character Josh places importance on, and who we later learn embodies the maturity and the guidance Josh yearns for. Mrs. Lovenheim, “old” from Josh’s point of view and left by a husband after two miscarriages, arrives at the beach at the same time every day with a book in hand. What sets Mrs. Lovenheim apart is Josh’s perception of a quiet obsession she has for him, and the regret and shallowness that doesn’t seem to exist within her as it does the other characters’ Josh describes.

After Mrs. Lovenheim saves the child Josh failed to, he finally approaches her. As Mrs. Lovenheim shows a capability Josh had believed only to be within himself, Josh’s ego begins to crumble. The near loss of Becky Spencer, his inability, and the realization that he is not, in fact, all-powerful or noteworthy fundamentally changes Josh’s self-image. Just like Ric, Josh recounts his youth as if life ends when you grow up, and he quickly becomes just as nostalgic.

Years have passed since that day on Pirate’s Point, and I am old now, perhaps as old as Mrs. Lovenheim was then, and I’ve never seen the water or the umbrellas of summer in the same way again. (Morris, 431)

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