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Sinking in the Mud
In the summer of 2005, the soil in my town forgot the meaning of a rainfall. It was bone-dry and hot like a wood-burning sauna, beating down on the sleepy suburban dwellers of my town with relentless waves of torridity. My neighbor, Sadie – a freckled girl with electric-blue eyes and pale skin, and I were sprawled across the yellowed grass of our country club hideout, sweat pooling in every crevice of our skin and sticking paste-like to our hair. Every day during the summer Sadie and I were accustomed to exploring what could only properly be described as a labyrinth – our country club. While most kids our age played by the pool or found solace in the snack bar, Sadie and I wandered through the series of small woods that seemed to form some sort of archipelago if viewed aerially.
We ventured through the area every day, fascinated by what we found along the golf course pond (massive and glassy; always hosting some sort of scaly life) and the adventures that arose from our woodsy endeavors. This hot day was different, of course: we had made it only feet into the first bit of woods when the heat struck us incapable of moving forward. Although we were lying against the grass, rendered useless by heat, Sadie was wild with laughter, tears leaking from her blue lagoon eyes. I don’t remember what I said that made her laugh so hard – maybe it was just the situation we were in – but regardless, she laughed longer than I had ever seen her laugh before. After an hour or so of delirious hysterics, we fell silent and watched a gaggle of golfers making their way across the bridge at hole eighteen. Sadie picked herself up and moved to the edge of the pond; she kicked a few stones into the water, resulting in a furious disturbance of fish and water bugs. “We haven’t been on that bridge in ages,” remarked Sadie. She turned to look at me with a familiar glint of nostalgia in her eyes.
I mustered enough strength to sit upright and lean against a dry, rotted log, observing the curved wooden bridge in the distance. Sadie was right, of course – we hadn’t been drawn to hole eighteen in two full years; the last time we ventured over the bridge was in the spring of 2003. Tracing my fingers along the wooden side rail, I had stared, mesmerized by the water below; Sadie was lying upside down under the railing, her head dangling over the edge, hair reaching toward the glittering water with curled tendrils. A country club employee strode up to us, followed by several austere-looking golfers who toted their golf bags along with discontent. I wondered vaguely if they were jealous of the wealthier club members, whose golfing outings had never known a life without a caddy. The employee was pink and rotund, with a wide jaw and a rather substantial under-bite; he barked words at us that morphed him into something of a bulldog.
“Children! Bark! Not allowed! Bark! Bark! Golf course! Bark! For golfers!”
Sadie was indignant almost at once. “You could tell us nicely!”
Pale-faced and trembling, I yanked Sadie over the bridge and across the golf course, a distinct feeling of “dog chasing cat” washing over me.
I shook my head and allowed the memory to float away, far up to the blistering sun. Sadie moved toward me and yanked her hair from the wilted up-do she always wore. “I want to go back to hole eighteen, Ashley.” I expected the words before they came; it was as though I completely read her thoughts. “I want to go back to the bridge.”
“No way – nope. No.” I shook my head and pretended to be very occupied with a string on my tee-shirt. Maybe it was my irrational fear of another confrontation with an adult or simply my careful nature; regardless, I felt a very strong desire to sweat my days away in the safety of the woods.
Sadie’s cheeks flushed with annoyance. “Come on! There isn’t a golfer in sight!” She grabbed my arm and dropped to her knees.
“It’s too hot for golfing today and we haven’t seen that bridge in ages!”
My eyes scanned the area; Sadie was right. Empty. I groaned. “I don’t know; I feel like the universe made this day so hot to tell us to just stay inside and avoid trouble.”
Her mouth dropped open and quickly closed, frustration painting her features. “More like the universe is giving us a sign that we should go to the bridge! When has there ever been a day when golfers didn’t cover this place?”
“You’re right,” I muttered. “I just… I don’t know…” My eyes followed the line of the pond until they settled on the bridge. It had been so long…
“You only live once.” The words left Sadie in a flood of truth and suddenly, it all made sense.
“All right. Let’s do it.”
My memory serves strangely insufficient as to the details of the trip around the pond; we paused a few times to suffer from several minor heat strokes, and Sadie dared me to eat a worm (which I did not do). Other than that, my memory picks up again around the time we reached a point nearly fifty feet from the bridge. Hot and swallowing sticky spit, we came around the bend of the pond stopped short. Sadie grabbed my wrist and said, hollowly, “It’s all dried up.”
Just beneath the bridge was the end of a line of greenish pond-water; past the bridge, where water always stayed, were hundreds of yards of dry land.
“Let’s walk across it to the bridge!” said Sadie suddenly, beaming at me.
“Okay,” I replied in haste.
I was hot. Burning hot. In retrospect, the inner cogs of my brain must have been fried that day, because how I never thought about what the surface of a pond is comprised of, I will never know. I was thinking in a haze of heat and innocence. What could be the harm in walking across a dried up pond?
Before my thoughts came together in any sense, Sadie darted onto the outermost edge of the dried dirt. “Seems pretty solid to me,” she said, prodding the earth with her shoe. “C’mon out here.”
I took a tentative step onto the ground and felt at ease; it didn’t break and drop me into the pits of Hell. It was solid. Safe. “Let’s get to the bridge, Sadie.”
Sadie didn’t hear me. In a moment of false security, she had sprung into a full sprint out toward the middle of the pond, leaving me wide-eyed by the edge. She only made it eight feet until she sunk, completely and utterly, into the dirt-turned mud. Or should I say: moist goose poop and algae. In the few moments before I registered what had happened, I thought, fleetingly, that Sadie had suddenly shrunk to midget-sized – body cut off just below the belt. A choked sound escaped my throat as she sunk lower. I remembered a movie I had seen… was it "Aladdin" where someone had drowned in sinking mud? “Sadie!” I shrieked, flailing around as my friend was swallowed by a pit of e coli.
“Help! Ashley!” Sadie’s bellow met my shrieks of fear in a painful collision. She attempted furiously to pull herself up from the mud, now reaching the edge of her tee-shirt. Her eyes met mine. “Why are you just standing there? Help me!”
I was planted in the safe dirt, all too aware of the brand new, slip-on tennis shoes around my feet. Time was passing and Sadie was sinking lower. In a selfish moment, which I am not proud of in any way, I strongly considered just walking away and pretending I didn’t see her.
I bounded across the dried earth until my feet began to sink, tossing my arm toward Sadie and cringing as her struggles splattered my face with undesirable substances. When her mud-coated hand grabbed onto my forearm, I yanked as hard as I could, slowly extracting her from the mud until she was finally free. “My Birkenstocks!” she shouted, lying against the safe dirt to which I had dragged her.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I panted.
“Ashley, please!” Sadie sobbed. “My dad just got them for me and he’ll kill me if they are lost! I twisted my ankle in the mud! I need you to get them!”
Fury boiled my blood. “They are already ruined!” I shouted, yanking clumps of hair out of my head. “They are ruined because you dragged us over here where we shouldn’t be and jumped into a muddy abyss! Do you still think the universe wants us to go to that bridge?”
“Please,” she whimpered, clutching her ankle pathetically.
I roared with anger and drove my arm into the mud, right up to my shoulder, feeling around for the Birkenstocks.
I only ever found one.
Years later, Sadie and I laughed about this event over a nostalgic pizza and movie night. I don’t think about it too often, but sometimes, on days when I’m particularly frustrated, I picture Sadie neck-deep in goose poop and laugh hysterically. Life experiences can be strange sometimes, rendering human-beings completely vulnerable. However, what the bridge represented for us at the time, and Sadie’s idiotic decision to dive into the mud, meant far more to me than half of the experiences I have had as a functioning teen. That hot summer day in 2005 will never leave my memory.
It’s funny how life does that.