The Day I Died About 3 Times

by The Cowl Editor on November 19, 2018

Creative Non-Fiction

Wooden bridge across a canyon in the forest
Photo courtesy of

by Jessica Polanco ’20

I remember being able to see nothing. It was pitch-black and all I could hear were crickets, moths buzzing near my ear, thunder and branches cracking under my feet. I was surrounded by people I had only met one month ago. We were stuck in the middle of a hiking trail in North Kingstown, Rhode Island. The sun had betrayed us about 40 minutes ago and the only light we had to rely on was the strength of the flashlights of two iPhones.

An hour ago, Irfan was showing Dev and me how to measure the horizon to calculate how many hours we had left before the sun went down. At this moment, everyone insisted on continuing down the trail knowing the rest of it was going to take us like another hour and a half, while I begged them to turn around. I knew the sun was about to set and we would get stuck trying to find our way out. Gracefully, they agreed to turn back.

Irfan was leading the group because he claimed, in his Middle Eastern accent, that he got us, he had done this a million times back when he lived in Afghanistan. I believed him, until we lost the dots on the trees ahead of us and we almost landed in the pond near us. In my head, I was praying to God to guide us, but out loud all I could say was, “We’re going to be okay right guys!?” Everyone seemed to be pretty nonchalant, even after getting off trail so I decided to hide my anxiety. I chose to put all my trust in my friends. I didn’t know how we were going to get out of the woods at that very moment but somehow, I knew we would get out, even if it meant waiting for the sun to give us light.

Anthony, who stood in the back of the pack, remembered which way to go. Don’t ask me how he remembered what pile of branches were the right ones to lead the way. I guess it was a good idea to mark every tree that stood at every mile we walked and placed water bottles to remind us when it was time to turn around. Thankfully, we were back on track and I was able to see the dots on the trees again. This time we followed the guide on the hike trail app.

“Did you guys hear that?” Tyler whispered into our ears.

I tried to listen closely over all the bugs who wouldn’t shut up.

“What did you hear Tyler?” I asked.

“Those gun shots.”

“Yeah, I heard them too,” claimed Anthony.

Everyone seemed to hear them, except for me.

“Um, what?” I said, “Are you sure that’s not just the thunder we heard earlier?”

“No Jess, I grew up in the hood where I was forced to learn the difference, I know those were gun shots,” Anthony reminded me.

I began to panic. Plans A through Z ran through my head. How the hell are we going to get out of here? All of my power to control my destiny kept slipping away. What if those people with the guns had planned to close us in once we were driving up to the trail? What if they had known we were the only ones in those woods? Did they know we were unprotected? Irfan witnessed me panic in silence, he knew I wasn’t built for this lifestyle so he yelled, “Alright, alright guys, come on, Jess is going crazy, let’s chill out and focus.” I admired the fact that Irfan was looking out for me, and most importantly that he made an effort to keep me from worrying. I admired it even more when the rest of my friends did too. I wasn’t sure if they were recollecting their sanity just for me or for the sake of their own fear. Whatever it was, my heart accepted their kindness and my instincts assured me I’d be fine.

We kept walking and every time someone’s foot landed I heard their breaths getting louder and louder. Every bone that belonged to the bottom of my leg kept begging me to stop but all I could focus was on the end goal; the end of this trail. I still couldn’t see anything, Irfan was in front of me and my grip to his shirt kept getting tighter and tighter. I held on like my life depended on it. My left leg let go of the ground and when it landed on the wooden bridge built over the tiny pond, I felt the ground shake. I screamed out of exhaustion of thinking that I reached the end of my life. Irfan laughed, “Sorry Jess, I should’ve warned you the bridge was wobbly. You’re fine don’t worry!” I slapped his back in a friendly way, I hated him for not warning me. He knew I was scared as hell. As I began to recollect my breath, I looked up and saw my car. I rubbed my eyes to see that I wasn’t hallucinating. We finally made it to the end. I hurried to the driver seat, remembering we heard gun shots forty minutes ago. Everyone jumped into the car trying to warn the mosquitos that we would kill them if they tried to jump in with us, and we hurried on out of there.