I can remember my final day so clearly. It was a crisp winter day. I walked home from school with my best friend, as we usually did. Her house was closer to the school than mine, and sometimes I stopped there for warm milk and a biscuit before plunging back out into the cold. Our family farm was about a half hour’s walk beyond hers and it was nice to have a little warmth and a little sweet in my belly on my solo hike home.
I didn’t mind the walk. Not usually. I was used to walking in the cold. Everybody did it. The trick was bundling up well. I enjoyed the bite of the wind on my cheeks; the way my nostrils stuck together as I inhaled the frosty air.
On that day, her mother shooed me out quickly. The sky was looking overcast and she wanted to be sure that I would be home before the weather turned bad.
I had gotten almost half the way home when a cold and bitter wind kicked up. It pushed against my tiny frame slowing my progress. On a couple of occasions, I was forced to stop and wait until it let up because I could make no progress into the fierce gusts. Once or twice, I had to hunker down and make myself as small as possible so as not to be buffeted about. The temperature had dropped and icy rain pelted my bare face. It stung.
I was not enjoying that walk in the cold at all but I plowed ahead because I had no choice.
The rain turned to frozen snow and the world turned white. Although I’d walked this route hundreds of times, the weather had so obscured the landscape, I did not recognize where I was. I could not distinguish the road from the field. I drifted off the path and slipped into a drainage ditch, twisting my ankle. The pain was sharp and unrelenting. I could barely put weight on my foot.
I continued walking because I had no choice.
I started to cry but the tears froze on my face. There was no use feeling sorry for myself.
Under normal conditions, I would be have been home in another ten minutes. In a short while, I could be in a hot bath, and then snuggled warm in my own bed. I pressed on, yet no house appeared. Soon I realized I’d become lost and disoriented. I started to panic. I knew I could not last much longer outside. I had no idea where I was or how far I was from home.
And then I saw a small hay shed by the side of the road. It offered a modicum of shelter. I limped over and crawled in. I could wait it out there. It was no respite from the cold, but at least I was out of the wind and the snow, and I could rest my throbbing ankle. I pulled the hay bales close for a little warmth and fell asleep from exhaustion.
I know now they came out to look for me but the weather was too fierce and they were forced to turn back. When the snow stopped the next day, again they (and other neighbors) went out searching for me but of course I was not on my usual route and so they did not find me.
In the end, I wasn’t found by anyone who was looking for me. I was discovered accidentally by the farmer who owned the shed. He found me three days later, exactly where I’d fallen asleep, frozen to death.