Ice Water.

Hidden Lane Back View

You nearly died when I was nine. Though I might have been as young as eight, or as old as ten. I don’t remember. I do remember the fear.

We were living in Anchorage, in the house on Hidden Lane. My mom’s dream house. The three-story Alaskan chateau with the cathedral-high ceilings and the great big skylights, the wrap-around deck, the window bench I used to clamber upon on special nights well after midnight when the Northern Lights were out, the vegetable garden where we harvested rhubarb to make pie, and the jacuzzi in the basement ‘spa’ room populated by my mom’s favorite plants.

I dreamt about that house often after my mother’s death. It had been more than fifteen years since I’d lived there but in my dreams I remembered every detail, every inch of it. That house was as much my mom as her aquamarine eyes or her easy laugh. She worked with an architect to design the floor plan to painstaking detail and she was so very proud of it, as if she’d built it herself with her bare hands.

But as magical as the house on Hidden Lane was, bad things happened there. Burglars smashed in the front door in broad daylight and stole jewelry from my bedroom before an alarm scared them away. My parents fought frequently, often about my father’s drinking and the need for him to retire from his law practice. My mom, miserable during the cold, dark Alaska winters, suffered sad spells and would lock herself in her bedroom for hours at a time, refusing to answer or come out. More than once, I fell asleep curled up on the carpet outside her door, keeping vigil.

And then there was the night you almost died. Mom and I were upstairs, watching a movie. I think you and she had fought about something, but that memory, like many during that time, is fuzzy. What I do remember is the moment mom wondered aloud where you were and her eyes met mine and we both knew in an instant that something was wrong. We flew down the stairs – two or three at a time – to the basement. As we got closer, we could hear the hot tub whirring and I felt fear churning in my stomach.

And then we saw you: submerged under water, eyes closed, face purple. I thought for sure you were dead. It was the first time in my life I felt real terror – the kind that plunges into your chest like a swift, steel dagger, a sudden attack of ice water in the veins, freezing, expanding, breaking you apart from the inside out.

I remember mom pulling you out, screaming, crying, yelling for me to call 911. I don’t remember dialing the numbers, but I know that I must have done it because there was the operator’s voice on the other end, talking me through CPR. There was me, relaying instructions as mom went through chest compressions and mouth to mouth resuscitation. There was mom, turning you over on your side, and you, vomiting up water, coughing, choking, gasping for breath. And you didn’t die. Not that day.

The ambulance arrived, and you went to the hospital. And 24 hours later you and mom were off on vacation somewhere much warmer than Alaska – Hawaii or Mexico, I don’t remember – as though nothing had ever happened. If it wasn’t for the terror, the shock of ice water in my veins, I would think that I dreamt the whole thing up, that it was all just some hazy nightmare.

But I didn’t dream it. It was real. It happened. I wouldn’t feel that same terror, that same sudden, swift dagger again for another twenty years. Not until the Sunday morning when I received a panicked voicemail from my aunt telling me to call home, and you answered the phone and informed me in a flat, distant tone, ‘Mom’s dead.’

The night you nearly died was my first time, my first experience with real fear, my initiation into a world that wasn’t so safe, a world where everything could shift in an instant. It left an indelible mark. When the feeling visited me again many years later, I knew right away what it was, what it meant – that ice water, that steel dagger, that lightning strike of pure terror. After all, you never forget your first time. Do you?

Coastal Trail

95 thoughts on “Ice Water.

  1. Wow, Sarah, you really had a lot of demons growing up and I admire you for what you are doing. This is the only way to rid yourself of them. I do hope you have a wonderful vacation though and get to enjoy yourself xx

    • What grim memories, Sarah. I have different grim ones. I think the move back helped me face some demons, but then again, the memories are always part of us, aren’t they?

    • Hi Gaye,
      Thank you as always for reading, and for your support. Even though I’m writing about sad things, I really am having an amazing trip. No place like the Pacific Northwest! It’s so beautiful and serene up here. xo

      • You have now closed one door – I still have to do it with Bruce but it will be left up to Adam to take care of both of us (as requested by Bruce) – and now a new door opens full of new adventures, relationships and, hopefully, lots of happiness. xxx

      • I am sorry for your loss and I feel really bad I wish I had the power to make her alive again because I would do it. You went through some tough times when u were a kid. XXXX Hugs, hugs, hugs, and hugs.

  2. Although this is about death and that shock which you describe so well, I think this:

    More than once, I fell asleep curled up on the carpet outside her door, keeping vigil.

    is what made me saddest of all. There is something so tragic about a child curled up asleep in front of a closed door. It just epitomises the helplessness you have as a very small, young person: not even being able to open a door (especially not if the door is locked).

  3. Writing honestly about painful pieces of our lives with a perspective that breathes love and life into a memory is a rare talent. This sharing is more beautiful for the sharp corners that remind us, the reader, of our own tender places.

  4. This was huge, and amazing for you to share this. Staring death in the face at a young age changes who we are, seems to set us apart. As if the others don’t really know. That was a wonderful, accurate description of that terror, that just grips you to your core and almost yanks you out of your body. Well written, and I appreciate the honesty of your pain, and being open about it.

  5. You have done a fantastic job at giving us a peak into the awful memories you had explained ever so beautifully. Keep up the honesty and the lovely writing 🙂

  6. Realization and mental pictures in this is a very brave thing. Encouraging for others to recognize this perhaps in their own lives, embrace and live.

  7. This is breathtakingly sad….. My heart kept skipping beats while I read this. Memories…sad memories are a part of us and we can’t chose to remember or forget them ever. Beautifully written.

  8. Now I have. How traumatic. What terrible times you had. Mybe this is cathartic fir you. As someone else said, demons.

  9. Sarah,

    Your language is so vivid and descriptive. If I shut my eyes I could paint a picture of what you were describing with your words. Such emotion poured out, which is no easy thing. Writing can be therapeutic for me. Amazing sense memory. Im glad I came across this.


  10. This is such a beautiful piece of writing! Your choice of words painted such a vivid picture and helped me to be able to imagine the situation more. I really admire your strength and courage to share this with us lucky folk, and also the fact that you took the experience you went through and became better and stronger for it. I’m feeling very inspired now. Thank you!

  11. You are really good with your expressions!!! Are you studying literature or something??
    Death leaves a scar worst of all because nothing but time can heal it 😦 … Anyways keep writing 🙂

    • Nothing but time indeed. And you learn to deal with the loss of a loved one but you’re never quite the same afterwards. I studied communications in college, but it was more focused on rhetoric and philosophy. But I’ve always written, just different types of writing. Thank you for reading!

  12. Very powerful. It reminded me of when I found out my own mother had died via email ” Mums dead” Short and straight to the point just the way she would have delivered it . I will enjoy reading other posts of yours.

  13. I loved your story. Your description of the beauty of your home makes me wish I could see it.

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  15. I was scrolling along catching glimpses of sentences as I went. I caught your first words “you nearly died when I was nine”. I paused to read what came next and before I knew it I was at the end. I love your writing style. Almost every sentence creates an image. Thank you for sharing a painful memory in such a powerful way.

  16. Your writing style is beautiful. You put forward the emotions so perfectly and touchingly. Do you write for a living because if you don’t you should!

  17. This is so beautiful. Heartfelt and haunting. Thank you for putting it out there – I have reblogged. Congrats on being freshly pressed x

  18. Pingback: Ten thousand. | Extra Dry Martini

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