Inhale, then exhale.
Curled in a tight little ball, fingers half numb and unable to wiggle my toes, I rested my head in the crook of my arm. Freshly fallen snowflakes danced on my eyelashes as my eyelids slowly fluttered close one last time.
Blanketed with a thin layer of powder already, I was scared more would accumulate on top of me, but the insulation it offered was too tempting to move.
I tried to focus, but my mind started to wander, back to my childhood.
Back to a warmer time …
Growing up in a rural mid-western town, my siblings and I spent most of our time playing outside. With winter came frigid temperatures, but that didn’t stop us. Before we would go outside, my mother would always grip both my shoulders and remind us to stick together. She would say some fact about how cold it was and how long that meant we could safely be outside. She’d ramble on, sometimes tell us a story of a little kid just our age getting lost in the snow and never coming back. Hearing this speech before, we’d roll our eyes and anxiously tap our snow boots and tug at our gloves trying to be patient.
Nearing what we knew was almost the end of the lesson, we’d quickly respond, “We know, Mom,” in unison and dash out the door.
Every night it snowed, the snow plows would come bright and early to clear the roads, dumping the snow onto the sides of the streets. Running awkwardly and as fast as we could in our layers, we’d barrel towards the most desired snow pile. It was always a competition on who could make the best snow fort. We had to be ready at any moment for a white ball to go whizzing past our head, so defenses and tunnels to hide in were top priority on the construction list.
One day, as the street lights started to turn on, I was still busy digging my tunnel.
Almost through the otherside. I kept thinking to myself. Almost through.
I hadn’t heard much from my siblings lately, so I figured they were all hard at work like me. But in reality, they had gone inside ages ago. Forgotten and alone, I kept hard at work, until it started to snow. My muscles began to ache, overworked from the labor and numb from the cold. My gloves had soaked through to my fingers, and it was getting harder to grip my little shovel. I sat down, defeated and exhausted. How easy would it be to lie down and rest?
Suddenly, I awoke.
“Ow,” I whined. My head had bonked into the packed snow roof when I tried to get up. Slowly I emerged from the white tomb, brushing my snow blanket off me in the process. It was a struggle to stand. The flurries had finally settled on the ground, now making it possible to spot my house. As I stumbled my way through the garage, I tugged off my wet layers not bothering to put them away.
Knock Knock Knock, I hit my shoulder three times against the door.
KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK, I pounded again, this time louder and with all the might I could buster.
“Just a second!” I finally heard, but muffled from the other side.
“Oh darling what are you do--” confused for a few seconds, my Mom quickly spun her head towards the wall clock then back to me, this time astonished.
“I’m so sorry!” She cried as she gathered me in her arms and squeezed me tighter than ever before.
It took me years to realize why my Mom was so surprised to see me after I came home. I had only been gone a few hours, except a few hours in the snow is all it takes to be gone forever. Most people that fall asleep in the snow never wake up. Their body temperature gets too low and their organs slowly shut down; or when they sleep on the ground, or in a tunnel, the snow builds up around them trapping them underneath. It was truly a miracle that I had made it out alive.
As a child I was very vulnerable by myself. Despite my mother’s intense and repetitive warnings, my siblings and I had disobeyed and separated from each other. We rejected her lessons because she was not there to enforce them. This entire situation could have been avoided if only we would have obeyed or had supervision. At the time, I was far too young to make my own rational decisions, and I needed protection from myself.
Now I understand the importance to always remain vigilant of my surroundings, especially around those unable to look out for themselves. Tragedy can strike anywhere, anytime, and at any age. Even in a quiet, little farming community in midwest America, all it takes is one mistake to break the silence.