Frozen, Not Forgotten
Every December, when the pond started freezing over, all the teenagers in my neighborhood would flock to it. In my small town, there really wasn’t much to do in the winter, besides go to the pond and skate. Plus, it was right next to the high school, making it a convenient hangout spot.
Despite the pond’s popularity, I despised it. There was no way to avoid it either: I passed by it every day on my walk home from school. As the weather grew colder, a milky white sheen would spread further across the pond, until eventually it began to blend in with the surrounding snow.
Every time I walked past it, my heartbeat would quicken. I didn’t know why. My friends would urge me to go, but I’d refuse, making up the excuse that I didn’t know how to skate. It wasn’t true. I’d been dancing since childhood. Balancing wasn’t an issue for me, yet I still had no desire to try it.
So most of the winter, I just stayed indoors. It wasn’t all that bad. My grades were always better in the winter, at least, with all the studying I did. I didn’t feel like I was missing much.
But now it was the end of February. After making it through yet another winter never setting foot on the ice, my friends were insistent I try it. We stood outside our high school, leaning against the brick exterior while the rest of the students poured out of the building.
“Come on, Mel,” my friend Liz said. “Just this one time, before the ice melts.”
“Yeah,” Jessica added. “After this we’ll never ask again.”
I was silent for a few moments, slightly irritated by their insistence. Maybe it is fear, I thought, but I guess there's only one way to find out.
“Fine,” I said finally, wanting to prove to myself, as much as them, that I could handle the ice. “Do you have any skates I could borrow?”
Luckily—or maybe unluckily—Jessica did have an extra pair. We stopped by Jessica’s house to get the skates and then headed straight back to the pond.
"I can't believe you're really gonna skate with us this time," Jessica said. "It'll be fun, trust me."
When we got there, there were so many people. The sound of the skates scraping against the ice rung through the air. After months of people skating, the ice was now crisscrossed with white marks.
We found a bench to sit on, and then we all changed from shoes to ice skates. As I laced mine, which were a size too small, my hands were shaking. And I knew it wasn’t from the cold. Well, I guess that confirms it, I thought. It was fear all along.
“You okay, Melissa?” Liz asked.
“Yeah. Yeah, I’m okay.”
I really wasn’t, though. Adrenaline pumped through my veins as we walked over to the ice, using each other as support. As my first skate hit the ice, everything suddenly became dreamlike. I swallowed, trying to forget my fear. I pushed back with one of my skates, gaining momentum, slowly separating from Liz and Jessica. A gust of wind hit my face, sending my hair flying backward.
As I glided across the ice, despite the cold air, I felt extremely hot. Like stepping into a sauna, beads of sweat began to form all over my neck, back, and forehead. I couldn’t see straight.
I felt the world around me disappear as images flooded my mind. In my head rung a familiar sound, that of ice cracking.
I suddenly switch places with the ice: while it shattered underneath me, my body froze. I could not move—until the water engulfed me. I flailed my arms, cold water flooding into my mouth. Reaching my arms above me, I found the edge of the ice and pushed myself to the top, even as my muscles stiffened from the cold.
Then I saw it: the rope. I grabbed on to it, tightening my grip as much as I could. My body grew numb as I struggled to keep myself afloat. I then felt the force of someone pulling me to land. A man was there, a stranger, wearing a bright orange jacket. He was gripping the rope, dragging me back to safety.
And that was it. That was all I could remember. I didn’t even know how old I was when it was happened, but I must’ve been small. It felt like a long, long time ago.
Reality rushed back to me as I was about to crash into another skater. I took a sharp turn to the right, avoiding the crash. Afterward, I looked around for my friends, but it was hard to tell them apart from the rest of the teenagers in their bulky winter coats. Then I caught sight of Jessica in her pink coat. Spotting me too, Jessica smiled and waved, and then she started heading towards me.
Just then, I heard it again—the same sound from my memories. When I looked down, I saw the source of the sound: cracked ice.
“Jessica, turn around! Turn around!” I screamed.
Her smile disappeared as she looked down at the ice. She swerved, curving back around, narrowly missing the crack. Others took notice and began to steer clear of it, rushing back to land.
I followed Jessica, watching as she fell to the snow. Reaching her side, I knelt beside her. She was breathing quickly, which I could tell from the constant little clouds forming with each exhale.
Liz found us and knelt next to Jessica as well.
“Jessica, are you okay?” Liz asked.
“I can’t believe it. I almost fell in,” she said, staring straight ahead.
I put my hand on Jessica’s back.
“But you didn’t. That’s the important part,” I said, trying to reassure her.
“I should’ve never told you to come, Melissa,” Jessica said.
“If I hadn’t come," I said, "you might’ve fallen in.”
“How’d you notice it so quickly?” Liz asked me.
“I just… had this memory, from when I was little, of skating, and the ice cracked. I fell through. And I remember… the sound, just before it happened.”
“You fell through the ice?” Jessica said, her blue eyes widening. “Oh my god… I had no idea.”
"It's okay," I said. "Neither did I."
We watched as everyone else changed back into their shoes and started heading home. Liz, Jessica, and I followed suit, putting our shoes back on.
When I got back home, I went to the garage and started working on a makeshift sign. On a piece of cardboard, I wrote “thin ice” and then superglued the cardboard to an old plank of wood. That night, I traveled to the pond, carrying my sign. When I got there, I stuck it in the snow right next to the pond.
But as I was leaving, I saw someone else approaching the pond. It was a man wearing a bright orange jacket, also carrying a sign. I waved at him, and he waved back.