First comes uncontrollable shaking, then a numb, frosty doom

Feb 22, 2012
Outside Magazine

Cryophobia    Photo: Chris Buck

BECAUSE I WAS THE GOALIE, when I fell through the ice it wasn't simple. My homemade foam rubber pads became two huge sponges. That it happened in a cemetery didn't help, or that I was at an age when I pointedly ignored things even if they could hurt me. We were there because we didn't fear death, nonchalantly tromping between the headstones and over the snowy hills into the far heart of the place and down into the bowl that held the pond. In summer, fat goldfish slid under the lily pads, but now it was solid—or so we thought.

I screamed before I realized I was standing on the bottom. The water barely came to my waist. I still needed help getting out, and then the wind hit my wet clothes and skin and I began to shiver.

I had to get inside and get dry, but first I had to take my skates off. The laces seemed tighter now that they were wet, and my fingers didn't work. A friend had to help. I didn't think to peel my wet tube socks off (cotton, worthless), just jammed on my Pumas and ran.

The running was uncool, and if I'd been out in the middle of nowhere it would have been dumb. Fortunately, my friend Smedley's house was only a couple blocks away, and I made it easily.

But in my worst nightmare, I don't. I'm out in the woods by myself. The shivering turns to even larger involuntary contractions as my body tries to create heat through muscle friction. I lose control of my hands. I stumble like a drunk, my speech slurred, muscles stiffening. The initial pain gives way to numbness. I get foggy and make poor decisions, like walking the wrong way or sitting down at the base of a tree and going to sleep. In the end, I pass out and die in the snow without a struggle, frozen solid, my skin hard as wood.

It didn't happen—it couldn't have—but I still have trouble walking on ponds, and forget about hauling a bobhouse out and then sitting in it waiting for a nibble. On shore, I can hear the ice creak, and know that someone's going in. Not me, I'll think. No way.