CHILDHOOD MEMORIES

Break Ice in Case of Emergency

A dare landed me in not-so-hot water

Mindi Boston
6 min readJan 23, 2024
Two people stare out at a sea of broken ice.
Photo by Roxanne Desgagnés on Unsplash

My teens were a rough and tumble time. Most of the tumbles were shared with my best friend, who I’ll call Beth for anonymity. Beth and I had more misadventures than adventures.

We met when I was eight years old. Beth and another girl walked up to where I sat perched on the corner of my fence, talking to myself or likely making up songs about unicorns.

“We have a bet,” she interrupted. “Are you a boy or a girl?”

I pushed up my blue plastic Smurf glasses and shook my long hair out of the baseball cap I had been wearing. A couple blobs of what looked like ketchup stained Beth’s shirt, making the trio of Care Bears on it look like crime scene victims. Her hair was wild and unbrushed. If anyone looked like a boy, it was her.

“I’m a girl!” I fired back, before adding a little softer, “Duh, you flipping weirdo.”

Beth turned to her friend and made a face like she didn’t believe me. “I still think I was right, but you win.”

Being the only two girls our age in the neighborhood, we became fast friends despite her rude introduction. Our earliest adventures included traversing town in the dirty sewer tunnels, interviewing local cats to solve the shooting of the next-door neighbor’s boxer, and swimming in the factory-polluted lake. Later escapades involved copious amounts of black eyeliner and hairspray, high school boys, and running in the dark from every car we were sure was the police. We weren’t bad kids; we were just bored.

One February, during the awkward middle school years, we woke up to three inches of snow. This was an exciting event because it happened so rarely in our area, just outside of Dallas. The temperatures dipped into the teens and the roads iced over, precipitating school closures.

Our neighborhood was situated on a large man-made lake, known for summer recreation like fishing and water skiing. What it should have been known for was the multitudes of poisonous water moccasins and genetically mutated fish like the two-headed alligator gar we discovered the spring before. That afternoon, the lake was safe from critters because it had frozen solid near the grassy path we often walked. We, however, were not safe from the lake.

Whether we were under the influence or just stupid, I’m not sure. That probably could be said for most of the stories from my teens. Whatever the reason, our stroll along the frosty water turned into a game of Truth or Dare.

“I dare you to walk across the ice,” Beth challenged, leaning out to test the surface with her sneakered toe.

I frowned, watching the ice remain solid beneath her feet. “What kind of a dumb-butt would do something like that?”

“You,” she replied curtly, before adding, “unless you want to go in the mush pot.”

I’m not sure why the mush pot was a threat or what it was supposed to be, other than knowing I didn’t want to end up there. Years of sleepovers had culminated in games of Don’t Touch the Floor or Truth or Dare, with the losers ending up in the dreaded and mysterious “mush pot.”

Her empty threat strengthened my resolve. “Whatever dude,” I snapped, stepping onto the slippery glass expanse. My thin loafers skid with a painful pull to the groin, but I didn’t fall. I stepped out a foot, then two, my less than hundred-pound frame remaining safely upright.

“I did it!” I boasted. “Now, I dare you to walk across the ice!”

Beth crossed easily to where I stood, then tiptoed another two or three feet toward the middle. I grimaced. She always had to best me, matching whatever I did and then anteing up. I skated another twenty feet from the shore with an audible ha. This exercise in bragging rights continued for some time.

“I bet you won’t step there!” Beth pointed at a dark patch of ice, dirty green bubbles dancing beneath the transparent surface.

I blew out a stream of breath. My bare ankles were cold and the tip of my nose tingled in the arctic breeze. The bubbles could have meant snakes, two-headed monster gar, or simply a deeper patch of water. The latter I should have known from the ill-fated trip a few years prior on a free Styrofoam boat courtesy of Pepsi-Cola.

Beth’s freckles stood out against her pale skin, and she narrowed her hazel eyes at me. “Well, chicken? Whatcha’ gonna do?”

I’m sure I retorted with something less than ladylike before taking a baby step toward the patchy ice. A false bravado drowned out the cautionary noise in my head that sounded suspiciously like my mother.

Crack. Whoosh. Splash. Laughter.

The shock of the cold water was brisk, or at least that is the word that comes to mind, though it is woefully inadequate. As a member of our unofficial Polar Bear Club, I swam in the lake nearly every season. Texas-cold is not usually ice cold, and Texas lakes rarely freeze over entirely, a fact I realized in that pivotal moment. I sputtered and flailed, feet kicking out blindly behind me. My body wanted to swim, but the small hole kept my motions small and ineffectual.

Beth stopped giggling and reached for my wet hand, pulling. My long t-shirt caught on the jagged ice.

“Gah,” I moaned, the skin splitting as another pop split the afternoon. In a second, Beth was eye-level with me, her mouth making a shocked “o” shape that would have been funny in different circumstances.

In the struggle to stay afloat and avoid shock, I had managed to kick off my too-big loafers. The lined windbreaker was oily slick as I tried to propel myself onto the in-tact ice like a sea lion. Fabric ripped and I felt something glide across my legs beneath the water. It turned out to be my baggy pants, fashionable but impractical for escaping a watery grave.

We flopped and flailed our bodies across the ice. With each heave out of the water, the fragile surface broke and we slipped back in the biting water before trying again. For what felt like hours, we repeated the cycle. The jagged shards tore at our skin, exhaustion threatened with each strained movement. We ended up near the old railroad bridge, way more than five feet from the shore where we started.

The next part, as Beth tells it, is a blur to me. According to her, we were within a few feet of the rocky break beneath the tracks when I gave up. In my living will, delivered orally in the moment, I left her all my albums, Bon Jovi posters, makeup, and the leather high-heeled boots I had saved for all year. Rather than thanking me, she turned a vexed expression on me and said, “Stand up, stupid.”

Shoeless and sans pants, I stood up in three feet of shallow water. To Beth’s credit, she kept her sarcasm to herself until we had crossed the sharp rocks and the thirty-foot-high rail bridge to stand on solid ground.

“Hey, genius. Think we should call your mom or mine?” she asked, finally breaking the silence.

I imagined my mother’s reaction to hearing me say I fell through while trying to walk across the ice.

“Why on earth did you do something like that?!”

Because, Mom! Beth dared me, see? Then she threatened me with the mush pot and called me a chicken.”

“Your mom,” I replied quickly.

We stopped at the nearest house. A kind old man let us use his phone. While we waited for Beth’s mom to arrive, he teased us about it being too cold to swim, but he didn’t offer us a blanket or towel, something I’ve only registered years later. Along with the loss of my cool MC Hammer pants and Payless loafers, I gained two weeks of grounding and a long lecture on hypothermia, which we somehow avoided.

Thirty-five years later, Beth still jokes about my dramatic death speech. I’ve stopped trying to defend myself when she tells the stories of our youth, be it the icy plunge or the time I let her tie my hands and feet together and push me off a second-story balcony. I was an idiot, naive and oblivious, but incredibly fortunate. She didn’t deserve those boots or albums anyway, and it does make for a great story.

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Mindi Boston

Mindi Boston is a novelist and freelance writer out of the Midwest. For more information, visit www.mindiboston.com