Strongest Soldier

Strongest Soldier


She tilts her cupped hands to pour freezing cold water on my neck; the lack of feeling in my legs now spreads to the rest of my body. “Don’t be a baby, this will help you get used to it,” she says as she dumps another handful of pure agony on my head. I attempt to escape towards my towel, but she tells me I have to get in at least up to my shoulders first. 


As I begin to feel little needle pricks all over my legs, I finally comply, dip down to my neck, and quickly make a break for the stairs. We get out and walk over to our friend Krystyna sitting on the bench neighboring the now sacred pool. “You looked like you were baptizing him,” she says. “He really needed it.”



I first met Jasmine on a bench outside our freshman dorm building. A mutual friend between us, I attempted to explain my then not-declared major in the general realm of media. “Ooh, can I come watch one of your films?” she said. I disappointedly had to explain I was somewhat studying the industry, but also not the industry, and certainly not making films. 


Jasmine’s a nurse. Technically she’s a nursing student, but as an active EMT since age 17, treating patients in almost any emergency situation you can think of, and currently working as a Nurse Attendant for Columbia-Presbyterian while taking classes, qualifies as a nurse in my book. Upon meeting her it’d be tough not to assume she helps people for a living. I’ve never not seen her be the first to help anybody—even if they’re just in a bad mood.


The second time we met was for a group Citi Bike ride in Central Park. It was hot, the bikes were on the verge of rusting apart, and yet she and I decided to leave the group behind to take on the biggest hill we could find. Once we made it to the top, and realized we both couldn’t feel our legs or find our friends, we were forced to bond for the next couple hours searching for anybody we knew to help us get home. We hit it off, and since then I’ve always been excited to hang out with her.


But Jasmine is the unluckiest person I know. Almost every time I’ve seen her she has a new story to tell me. These stories can range from the extreme, which often revolves around death, to the minor, which others would often consider the extreme. Some of the more minor examples include:


I got COVID again.

We are on lockdown since a patient tried to escape and was hitting nurses.

My house got robbed for the umpteenth time.

A car drove into the Taco Bell my mom works at.

My dad had his wallet stolen at gunpoint. He keeps his green card in it.


We often joke about never having kids, never wanting to deal with the restraints of parenthood. But Jasmine has already lived that life, acting as a secondary mother-figure to her little sister and a mediator for the entire family. Not at all by choice, but she happened into the role as her family has experienced a similar abundance of shit as she has.


I’ve been with her during some of the smallest unfortunate events, such as the time I visited her and Krystyna in Amsterdam while they were both studying abroad. Within a day Krystyna got extremely sick and Jasmine started feeling it, too, but she still came with me on a 3-hour search through the city for some place resembling a CVS. We were only able to secure a couple peppermint tea bags, and the next day Jasmine was knocked out, too. I never got sick.


She went with her dad to the police station after his wallet was stolen, but after hours and hours of little-to-no help, and a trip in a cop car to the scene of the crime, no police report was even filed. The day happened to be my birthday, and she was originally excited to come see my family before going to dinner, but was barely able to make dessert.


Even sharing food while sitting in our rooms across the hall from each other became an issue when she tested positive for COVID days later. Surprisingly, I continued to test negative, while she battled through a rough case of the virus.



The Russian and Turkish Bathhouse in the East Village is the oldest of its kind in the city. It’s owned separately by two Russians, Boris and David, as they seemingly couldn’t get along, nor even be near each other. The rift is even greater now that David gave his ownership to his son, Dmitry. The owners rotate every week, and as Dmitry has catered towards a younger market, so has the clientele. 


I heard that bathhouses release bad toxins from your body, and thought this could be helpful for Jasmine. The oldest bathhouse in the city must have some good luck, and going only days before Jasmine’s twenty-first birthday would be perfect timing. We happened to go on a Boris week, only an hour after the bathhouses changed to coed, meaning most of our sauna roommates were older men. After we changed, we walked down the steep, slippery stairs to be greeted by a man in an American flag speedo. That same man happened to sit above me in the “Aroma” steam room, where I hoped the drops of liquid on my back were only from the condensation on the ceiling. I couldn’t last the heat more than ten minutes. Jasmine stayed in the longest.


The steam rooms and saunas change in intensity, from a small, unnamed steam room at only 110 degrees to the “Russian” room at around two hundred. Our first venture into the frigid baptismal font that sits center to and below the rooms came after we ran out of the Russian room. I was on the verge of collapse, but Jasmine once again was the last to leave.



Jasmine’s twenty-first birthday came and went. A beautiful March Sunday in between two storms, her parents forced her into a big pink dress decked out with a bedazzled tiara and sash—more reminiscent of a Quinceañera than her actual fifteenth birthday. I was unable to go. Sometimes my misfortune feels inadequate next to hers and tries to make up for it. 


But Jasmine was kind enough to give me updates before and after, of all the cooking from her parents the night before, of the mariachi band they surprised her with, and of the gasoline-esque Salvadorian drinks called “chichas” that her family made her sip to celebrate. 


Midway through our texts, she asked whether I knew why her family was going all out. 


No, why?


I can give them legal status now. First one born here so first one to be able to do this. Once I give my parents legal status they can give it to their brothers. That’s why me making it to 21 was such a big deal.


Big deal indeed, the threat of deportation almost completely dropping from their backs. No extra fear if her dad’s wallet is stolen, no extra fear if her house is robbed. But once again, through no free will of her own, Jasmine is the provider. Her own twenty-first birthday is now a celebration for many, her milestone in life is marked by her ability to help others.



As we sat in the “Redwood” room at 175 degrees—my head down peppering my shorts with sweat, Jasmine laying on her back as calm as can be—I began to think about religion. Maybe it was the possibility of fainting while trying not to wimp out, but my brain decided to focus on the divine. 


I thought of the bad toxins our bodies were releasing, I thought of whether I would make it to heaven if this sauna became my final resting place, I thought of how not being baptized probably meant my fate was already sealed, I thought of my born-again-Christian grandmother spreading the word of God to my sister and me as kids, and I thought of one of the cheesiest lines she ever said to me: “God gives his toughest battles to his strongest soldiers.”


Jasmine is the unluckiest person I know, but she’s also the strongest. I never thought my grandmother’s cheesy line, which is often plastered on a cat poster in math classrooms, would make sense to me—but it does. Jasmine is the only person I know who could take on all the shit she’s gone through. She’s the only person I know who could be the target of so much misfortune and yet come out helping others. And she’s the only person I know whose twenty-first birthday could be shared by many and yet she’d still have a great time.

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