The coldest I have ever been was in Canada. Quebec City, I think. I was fifteen or sixteen and on the way up, we almost died. I mean—we probably did almost die. My father drove my mother’s sports car through a blizzard. We were passing an eighteen wheeler. A chunk of ice dislodged from the top of the truck and hit our windshield in a weird slow-motion camera trick. My mom had a lapful of glass. She held up her hands and her hands were full of glass. The windshield bulged inwards and my father managed, somehow, to not crash. He also managed to single-handedly pull the eighteen wheeler over. The driver had no idea what had happened. My father yelled at first, and then calmed down. We went and got the windshield replaced. We started north again.
We stopped to see Niagara Falls. It made me dizzy.
In Quebec City it was so cold my eyelashes froze together. I had icicles on my eyelashes. My mom had to cup her hands around my eyes and breathe hot air on them until the ice melted, until I could blink normally. We all wore snowsuits. Everybody wore snowsuits. I could not understand why anyone would voluntarily go out in this weather (I was not there voluntarily; I was forced) and yet there were all these people, everywhere. My parents took a turn on a sled ride down an enormous hill. I waited at the bottom. I was a teenager. I couldn’t possibly be seen doing anything fun with my parents. So they went, and by the time they were finished my eyes had frozen shut again. I couldn’t see anything.
We took a tour of an ice hotel. We drank vodka out of ice glasses. The beds were made of ice, the tables and chairs. The rooms were all different themes. James Bond room. Gone with the Wind room. Casablanca room. My parents were amused.
I was too fucking cold to be amused by anything. Not that I was overly inclined to be amused back then.
Canada was lax on the drinking age. I didn’t like beer or wine or anything that tasted remotely of alcohol, so I asked my mom what I should have.
I don’t know, she said, try a sex on the beach.
I had to order one in front of my father. I had to say the word sex in front of my father. I sort of whispered it. The waiter had an exaggerated French accent. He actually sneered at me.
Oh, mademoiselle is thirsty, non?
This is what he said. My parents still quote this—liberally—today.
I was so cold my body felt stiff and unfamiliar. I was so cold my eyelashes were freezing together. I was so cold I thought I would never ever be warm again. But still, at that moment, I would have happily crawled into a snowbank. I would have curled up on a bed of ice. Wandered around in a blizzard. That’s how mortified I was.
They say it’s actually not that bad, freezing to death. You get sleepy, confused, disoriented. Your brain shuts down and your body goes into shock and then something weird happens. In a last act of kindness, your subconscious gives you a little gift. Right before you die, you think you’re suddenly warm again. You think you’re burning up. People who die in the cold, they take off all their clothes. They sun themselves on the ice. They are found naked, peaceful, blue.
photographs taken with a Minolta X-700 and a Canon t1i.