In what seemed like an
instant, my back foot caught on a large fallen tree branch and I fell forward
with all my body weight. Crashing hard onto my hands and knees, I cried out,
but I wasn’t in any real pain. Before I could stand up, I slipped again until
my stomach slammed against the surface of the thickly iced-over pond. The
cracking sound was like thunder. Then, in what felt like a sickening surge of
broken glass and rushing water, the ground suddenly ceased to exist. I didn’t
have time to scream as I dropped into the dark, lifeless, icy chill of wintery
I braced for the first
slap of bitter freeze, instantly calling up some stupid fact from science class
at Kennedy High where we learned that Titanic survivors described hitting the
freezing ocean water as thousands of tiny knives stabbing every inch of their
I expected excruciating
pain, but there was none. There was just numbness as I entered the earliest
stages of being converted to ice.
Resistance was only natural
and I fought hard as my hands flailed through the water trying to keep my head
above the murky freeze, but it was pointless. The water was hungry that night
and my thrashing almost made a game out of its impending conquest. It only took
a second or two of my desperate survival dance for the lake to swallow me
Daniel must have heard
the crack and he stopped in place. Slowly, he turned around as I struggled to pop
up again, but by putting up a fight I only succeeded in making it worse. As my body
was being carried under the heavy sheet of ice in an involuntary dance, I could
see Daniel above, the soles of his black boots carefully following my route as
he calmly watched me drown.
In a way, it was
fascinating to watch him ever so gradually shuffle along as my hands
desperately reached from under my new icy roof for the bottom of his boots. The
only thing that separated us was about five solid inches of deadly winter soup.
By the time he found me in an even darker spot where the lake mingled with
several dead, embalmed trees, all he could see from under the thick coating was
my face looking up at him, frozen in horror. He saw my pouty mouth almost
kissing the ice and frantically trying to say one word to him.
“Help!” I mouthed.
I gulped down murky
green water, ingesting long tentacles of lifeless leaves and thick clumps of
sludge-dirt, and it all slid easily into my lungs while he just stood there. He. Stood. There.
maneuvered away from the spot by the trees, which made it worse because now I
was pinned under even thicker ice, my milky-white face pressed up against eight
to ten inches of immovable crystals.
Casually, Daniel walked
to where I was wildly waving my arms underneath the water. When I looked up now,
he was a hazy dark blur that made me suddenly dizzy. That’s when I shut my eyes
to wait for the inevitable.
But I didn’t black out.
Long minutes passed, my eyes sprung open, and I continued to push upward again as
the water became midnight black. For some reason I was still alive, but I still
couldn’t free myself from this wintry prison.
My mind raced. How much time had passed? How much time
could pass before I would be brain-dead? How much time before I died?
Daniel still stood above
the ground and calmly watched me struggle. “To hell with this,” he finally
said, loud enough for me to hear him under the ice. Was he telling me to stop
struggling and just accept that I lost?
After another endless
minute passed, he shook his head and, though apparently talking to himself, said
even louder, “Okay, enough . . . but you need to know.”
Kicking through a
thinner spot of ice, he made a small hole and then pummeled it into a bigger
passage with those clomping boots. Reaching down into the crack, he offered me
a strong hand and a tat-covered, muscular arm. Somehow through the dark water,
I saw human fingers moving and grabbed them like they were my only lifelines,
which is exactly what they were to me.
All it took was one big
hoist and I was in his arms, pressed body-to-body up against him, soaking wet,
freezing cold, and mad as hell.
With my right hand, that
had absolutely no feeling in it, I slapped him squarely across the jaw as hard
as possible. When he didn’t budge much, I slapped him again, which made my hand
tired, but it didn’t hurt. When I attempted to punch his face, he grabbed my
hand in a firm way that signaled we weren’t going another nine rounds.
“Easy there, tiger,” he
said with a smirk that made those soft eyes twinkle. “I guess you’re a fan of
the Rocky movies.”
“Why . . . you bastard .
. . why . . . you didn’t even try to save me,” I sputtered, but I wasn’t really
coughing and certainly my brain was perfectly fine. For a split second, I
counted to five backward. Again, it was amazing that my mind was still
functioning. Maybe the water was cold enough to save me. Is that how it worked?
“I saw you. You were
just standing there! Watching! Watching me die!” I screamed, shoving him again.
This time, I took him by surprise and he landed butt-first in a pile of snow.
Calmly, he stood up,
lurched forward, and grabbed both of my arms, holding me against his rock-hard
chest until I stopped struggling and gave up the idea of trying to knock his
block off. He held me tightly like he was protecting me from some danger worse
than what just happened. Tears formed in my eyes and I began to touch my arms
and then tested my breathing, which was perfectly normal. He still refused to
let go. Big white puffs of my breath filled the dark sky and I watched them
evaporate slowly like little clouds. Then I looked up.
aren’t I dead?” I said in an anguished voice.
took a deep breath, carefully released me, and then answered slowly.
baby, you can’t die twice,” he said.