It started as any other day in my early twenties before my prefrontal cortex fully developed and I was able to work out consequences.

I saw a cave on the side of a hill… far beyond a stretch of desert brush… on the other side of a river, and I thought, “I want to explore that cave!”

I noted the location and left that particular water recreation area in the Tonto National Forest a few miles from my home. 

I don’t recall how, but I convinced my most athletic friend to come back with me.

I hid my car remote in a bush, and put my house key around my neck. The first part of the plan was to cross the river where I had seen children play in the past. There were no families in the water today, just flowing cool, green fishy-smelling water. 

My friend (did I mention she was a gymnist) was so good at sports. I, myself, hated junior high P.E. class and would get permission to skip so I could work on the school newspaper. Then, in high school, I took dance so I didn’t have to run the mile. I had preferred to roll on the floor to the Mask soundtrack than to knock knees around a track by the bleachers. When I was younger, I did learn to swim, but the kind of swimming that allowed you to float in a pool, not cross a river in the spring.

Me and my friend struck out into the water. The house key was cold against my neck, and my feet didn’t reach the bottom. As soon as I got 3/4 of the way across, I realized my efforts were not going to be sustained. I called out to my friend, “I can’t do this!” I started to backstroke (to keep my mouth closer to where the glorious oxygen was). She called out to me, “Remember? Chicken, Star, Rocket!” 

I was like the 90s version of WTF. 

I wasn’t on the swim team! I didn’t lifeguard during summer breaks! I was somewhere else – anywhere else – writing or singing, and “chicken, star, rocket” were three words that didn’t compute.

My dear friend came back beside me and showed me the three stages of a basic (and sustainable) swim. It was slower, but it got me the rest of the way across. 

We sat gasping on the sandy bank, contemplating how the authorities were “this close” to having to dredge the river for my house key. I was beyond scared: shaken. I glanced behind me. The hill with the cave was like a mile away and 1000 feet up a 90-degree incline. 

I’m pretty sure my cerebral cortex grew three sizes, and as I turned back to face what I now realized was rapidly flowing high-water, I think I peed a little. 

What was I thinking leaving the safe confines of my colorful, artsy bedroom to trapse through nature in attempts to explore what was most likely a spider and bat infested mountain lion den?

How was I going to get back across?

After the tears stopped, and the heart began beating at a normal tempo, we took a deep breath and slowly 🐥 ⭐️ 🚀 -ed our way back towards the car, home, and the next 16-odd years of my life.

Have you had any near-death experiences? OR In what ways have you been reminded to slow down and do things right?