I would have drowned – if I didn’t die from hypothermia first – when I was nine. My then seven-year-old brother Ben saved my life.
The river near our house was half frozen over. My brother and I walked out onto the thick sheets of ice and peered down into the rushing water. When the surface I occupied snapped under my weight, down into the frigid depths I sunk. Water-logged, my one-piece snowsuit was suddenly a liability – I may as well have had a cinder block tied to my ankle. I gripped the edge of the ice like a rock climber, even as my fingers turned red and ached from the cold.
The meditative sound of water trickling over rocks and swirling away downstream filled my ears as the current pinned my legs against the underside of the ice. I saw the gray sky above, threatening snow. Saw our house just up the hill, knowing the rest of our family were safe and warm inside. I felt my untimely end was nigh. Being so young, there wasn’t much life to flash before my eyes.
Then, Ben grabbed my arms. Deploying impossible strength for a child, he heaved me up over the jagged edge onto the ice floe. I lay on my belly like a stunned seal.
Struggling to get to my feet, water dripped down my boots as I waddled home. I stripped off my soaking winter clothes and was given a warm bath by parents who were perturbingly unperturbed. In fact, I don’t even recall their response, that’s how little of an impression it left upon me. I know they didn’t rush to my side, engulf me in a group hug, and gush, “Thank the Lord for sparing our second daughter!” My brother didn’t receive a medal for his heroism. The response was basically: “OK, that happened. Here are some dry pajamas.” My parents did have four children to spare, after all.
Was there a lesson to be learned from this experience? Nah. I lived to see another day. We were based in a rural town in New England where we spent our summers exploring the woods, using fallen leaves as toilet paper, prying leeches from between our toes after swimming, and setting off bottle rockets at the quarry. Like a cat, I had nine lives. As did each of my siblings.
I don’t tend to stand on ice anymore, though. I’ll leave that to the polar bears.