Close Call with a Cold Ending ( free peek )
When I was maybe fifteen, I was playing in our backyard on Albert Street. It had recently snowed so the ice rink that my father had made for us to play on was covered in about a foot or more of snow. It was the wet kind; perfect for making snowballs and snowmen. It packed just right and if you made a snowman, it would stay until a good thaw.
I remember this particular incident well. It was early evening, just after supper time. I was with a cousin and we were playing as children do after fresh snow. He was usually nice but he had developmental disabilities which could impact his behaviour. I could not say exactly what type of developmental issues he had, as I have never been told.
I only knew that he had major difficulties with learning and following instructions; he wasn’t a bad person. I think that some of his problems just weren’t managed right. I’m sure that it was also all of our economic and social conditions that pushed such things under the carpet due to the stigma of mental illness back then. When you are poor, things like this are just sadly ignored. Shame, even when not justified, can be a powerful reason to cover things up.
Anyhow, he and I were playing in the backyard. He was much larger than I and we were throwing snowballs at one another. It was raucous, as snowball fights are meant to be. So many situations with fighting children start innocently enough, just from something happening during play that gets too rough.
Suddenly, one of my snowballs hit him squarely in the face. I drew my breath as I saw his expression change. It hadn’t been that hard, though clearly, it was hard enough to make him furious with me. He just lost all control and came at me like a train off the tracks. All I saw was this huge form rushing top-speed, straight at me. I was frozen in place, just looked up at him. I remember thinking, ‘oh no.’ He hit me with full force and I envision myself flying backward through the air like a cartoon character, with my assailant flying along with me, ultimately landing on my chest.
He threw me on my back so that I sank deep into that foot of deep, wet snow. I felt his big hands wrap around my neck and begin squeezing. I was sure that this was it for me, this was how it would end; suffocated in a snowbank, unable to scream for help.
It was painful as his fingers squeezed tighter. I thought he was going to crush my windpipe. It was all I could manage, just to stay conscious. I remember that everything went white. It slowly entered my mind that it was the snow around my head. I could make out the darkness of the snow on either side. Even in this darkness, the snow seemed to shine with a million little stars. It was pretty despite what was going on. I was living outside of my body and what was happening to me. It’s what I’d always done. I disassociated from the moment and dwelled inside my head.
I was aware that he was sitting on my chest. I was terrified because I was barely able to breathe with his weight on top of me, It was suffocating me. At that moment I did have a short moment of resolution in which I thought this was all for the best, no more pain. My mother would find my crumpled body, blue from the brutal cold, and with faint purple bruises in the pattern of fingers around my neck. No one would ever know who my murderer was.
The fact is, I wanted to live. I’m not sure if it was the thought of my mother finding me this way or that somewhere deep inside of me was a human being that wanted to survive, but suddenly I knew at that moment that I wanted to be alive. It might have been the first time I felt that my life was indeed worth living and I fought to live? It was certainly a defining moment in my life. Living was something that I still wanted to do, and that snow was glimmering like a tiny vision of hope for me.
I remember looking up at him, pleading with my eyes, as tears were pouring down my face. Just as I was about to lose consciousness, he suddenly let go and stood up. As quickly as it had started, it ended. He laughed, saying that he was ‘strong like Hercules.’ I’m not sure if he was speaking to me or making a declaration to the world in general?
He walked away, leaving me there in the snow, trying to breathe and gather my strength. I slowly regained my composure though I felt nauseated and wasn’t sure if I’d vomit but it slowly passed. I stood slowly and took a little time to feel like I could walk and speak. My throat was sore and bruised for a few days.
Luckily, no one noticed the subtle bruising. I imagine that my scarf had protected me from the worst of it? I never spoke of this to anyone, as was my habit. I kept so much to myself back then.
Everything was internalized back then. Things like this, when they happened to me, simply reinforced my desire to ‘get out of Dodge’ and left me feeling trapped, both in my body and in my life. My family had socio-economic challenges that made life more difficult as well and I just wanted to run away from it all.
After this incident, I developed an intense fear of closed spaces. To this day, I easily get claustrophobic. I stayed away from that cousin after that. I never played with him again.
I was purely terrified of him even though I don’t think he was bad or usually dangerous to anyone. Sadly, I heard that he died some years ago. He was all alone and, though I felt afraid of him, it made my heart very sad. I knew he didn’t have much in life and that breaks my heart.
I knew he didn’t mean to hurt me that day and he deserved better from life. It was the nature of living in poverty, without much help in the forms of social programs for those with developmental delays. He needed help and life dealt him a bad hand. Understanding loneliness and being forced to live with circumstances beyond our control is something I can relate to quite intimately. Perhaps this is why it bothers me so much?
On a few occasions, my Dad pushed me to fight in order to toughen me up, to make a man out of me. I remember once when I was sixteen, a boy from High School took a dislike to me and beat me up after school. He caught up to me about a block from home and jumped me, put me in a headlock, and kept hitting me in the face until my legs gave out. I felt the first blows land, but after a few, the feeling became a mixture of pain and numbness. I was no longer holding myself up, so my aggressor let me fall to the ground. He hit me a couple more times and left me there, crumpled up in a small lump on the ground.
As soon as I got home, I was crying from the beating I had just received. Mom was about to reach out to me when my Dad, upon hearing me say who had hurt me, grabbed me by an arm. This was a shock, but I realized what was about to come. Dad, still holding me by the arm, pulled me back out the door and towards this boy’s home. He called him out and made me fight him again.
Of course, this did not go well for me and I received another beating. My body was exhausted at this point, but Dad was more concerned about me standing up to the boy and showing I was tough. It backfired. I wasn’t, and have never been, a fighter. Lesson not learned, not in the least.
I did learn to steer away from aggressive people and come up with other solutions. This is what a female stuck in a boy’s body can go through without anyone realizing her dilemma. Once back in the house, I ran to my room, shut the door behind me, and I cried; I wanted to be anywhere but there. I didn’t want to be alive.
My father was not a bad man or even mean. I will not pretend to know what was in his mind when he pushed me to confront that boy, other than he was trying to teach me some lesson in toughness. As I sobbed myself to sleep I wished I could die or have been born as who I was beginning to understand I was: a girl.
Such confusion running through my mind while trying to be what others demanded of me, and failing miserably, put me into a funk that lasted up until I finally transitioned and took hold of my life.