I fell through the ice on my brothers’ birthday. I was 7 he was 16. I was playing on the lake that afternoon. Winterdusk. My father used to laugh and call it invigorating. We just called it cold. That was before wind chill. I guess it was always there, we just didn’t know about it. It’s just as well. It was a very naive time anyway. Among the few rituals my family observed was that all festive occasions were celebrated at our favorite Italian restaurant, Fanny’s. Anniversaries – Fanny’s. Mothers day – Fanny’s. Kennedy’s election – Fanny’s. So it goes without saying that on my brother’s birthday, here’s a stretch, we were going to Fanny’s.
Jimmy Rodbard and Mitchell Dubin had already gone home. Something about freezing their little asses off. I mean, what the fuck, it was January in Chicago on an ice covered Lake Michigan. I laughed. I was just “invigorated”. It starts getting dark pretty early at that time of the year. It was around 4:30 and my father would be home around 6 to leave at 6:30 so as to arrive by 7. It is my nature to push my luck and procrastinate, even at that unripened young age. I’m sure my fathers’ military precision had something to do with that. Dad coming home early, (it was Sunday night after all, and he had already worked the 6 days prior until 11 or 12) was an occasion not to be trifled with. He preferred work to home for reasons I wouldn’t understand until much later.
My sled was on the beach as no one was around to antagonize into pulling me. I was past the pier on the ice of the lake looking back unto the sand. Exploring like the child archeologist that I imagined myself to be (did I mention law kindergarten?). I was just off the pylons on the north side of the pier. In the summer we’d have bbq and sit there and throw the ribs bones in the water. The joke was that one day, a teepee of bones would be discovered in the water and the hypothesis would be that a huge seafaring swine once inhabited pre Mesozoic Chicago. The Museum of Science and Industry had definitely made an impression upon me.
As I was diligently recording my data, I neglected to observe that the closer to the pylons I got, the thinner the ice was becoming. The male trait of being oblivious to your surroundings was also forming early in my psyche. I suppose when you are pre pubescent, these characteristics may be misconstrued as cute. But as an adolescent and young adult, that mistake will no longer be made.
I was about three feet away from the pylon, fascinated by whatever it was that was fascinating me, when I heard a crackling sound. Like thunder only higher pitched. Or a burning tree. That was the first thing that registered. Not the newly found ice water on my little ball sack, not the thought that we were going to Fanny’s for Ronnie’s birthday and dad would be home soon, but this sound that I can still remember late into the night of this predawn 40 years after the fact.