Tuesday, December 21, 2010


The cold February water shocked the breath right out of me. It felt good, really good, my blood was pumping, I was alive and young and crazy and alive, very very alive. We hadn’t jumped in for a swim, we’d jumped in for a shock, so as soon as the shock was over, we tried to pull ourselves out.

I had been a competitive swimmer and diver, and on the first pull I hadn’t been concerned. I firmly grabbed the icy, rough wooden boards of the float deck and pulled while kicking my feet as hard as I could. I managed to get my shoulders above the deck level, but not enough of my body to belly flop and tilt my weight out. I fell back into winter ocean. Alana, the friend I had convinced to come along, fell back by my side.

I could feel the cold in my knees. My hands were turning into claws. Alana and I gasped, breathing out in plumes of white. Neither of us said anything, but I was sure that Alana’s mind was running the same paths as mine. We were going to die if we didn’t get out. How long could an unprotected body survive in the glacial waters of Southeast Alaska? How long was it? I had been told a thousand times, five minute?  Ten?  Twenty?  It felt like we’d been in the water for an hour.

The view from the float.  From the CBJ webiste.
If we didn’t get out, we were going to die and the next morning our naked bodies would be found floating in the seaglass green water, bumping along the creosote soaked pilings of the dock.

We both grabbed the slippery deck with our cramped hands and this time, instead of kicking, we scrabbled our feet along the submerged base of the dock, ignoring the mussels and barnacles that sliced into the winter soft skin. This pull had to be the pull that brought me to safety, so instead of dropping back into the water when my arms felt like they were going to give out, I clung, and pulled with my fingers, and then my elbows, and then my chest.

We made it out.

We tugged our clothes on and ran up the ramp and back to the car. Once we were safely within the heated space, we started to laugh, and then howl, and tell each other how amazing that was, how crazy. We drove to a friend’s house where Alana told everyone gathered what crazy girls we were.

It wasn’t until I took my shoes off that I noticed that my socks were glued to my feet with dried blood. I washed out the stinging cuts. At the time I moaned and groaned until the cuts were fully healed and it stopped hurting to walk.

Now I think it was a small price to pay for living past 17.


  1. Well-written! I was right there in the chilly water with you (metaphorically speaking). Crazy woman! :)

  2. Thanks! I'm not planning a repeat any time soon.