I’ve been asked if I’ve been frostbitten.
And because I’ve been asked, and in accordance and as required by the laws governing the State of Minnesota, I must now recount a personal experience.
I’ve frozen the majority of my fingers, my cheek (the one on my face) and my left ear, but ya can’t tell by looking.
And I’ve frozen all ten toes.
It was a brittle, January morning, a Sunday morning. The last section of the newspaper is dropped, thuddingly, in the driveway at 4:30, and by 5:00 I am out and ready. A snowmobile suit, hat, scarf, mittens – and my mother’s fashion boots. For cryin’ out loud, my mother’s fashion boots! Fourteen years old and convinced that they looked better than the bunny boots I should’ve been wearing…
It is a fateful decision.
In less than an hour, my feet are horribly cold. In two hours, every step is like walking on someone else’s feet.
The route takes three hours.
I am hobbling when I return. In the trailer’s kitchen, my toes bright white and hard to the touch, my mother eases them into a bucket of tepid water.
The pain is excruciating. Tears run down my face.
“Well,” my dad opines, a steaming cup of coffee in his hand, “they’re not black, and that’s a good thing.”
He puts his hand in the water, tests the temperature.
“You never rub a frozen bit of skin, you never put it in hot water,” he says, taking a careful sip. “And you never lay down in the cold.”
He takes another sip. “Yep,” he says, peering into the bucket of frozen toes in front of him, proof , no doubt, that his first born is not as clever as he had originally hoped. “You get tired in the cold, and then you get warm, real warm. I’ll just take a little nap, you think to yourself, and then WHAM!” – he slams his hand down on the kitchen table – “You’re dead! You never wake up!”
He sips his coffee. “Yup,” he says softly into his cup, “As long as you’re pain, you’re going to be okay.”
He stands, hands me a half-full cup of hot coffee, heads back to the living room. “Take care of your feet,” he calls over his shoulder, “and your feet will take care of you.”
I gaze into the cup and see the reflection of a girl too dumb to take care of her feet.
“Dad!” I yell.
He pokes his head back into the kitchen.
“How long will my toes hurt?”
“Ohh,” he says, rubbing the side of his jaw with the back of his hand. “Coupla hours, easy. But they’re never going to be the same.”
And they’re not.
But ya can’t tell by looking.