Winter Walk

In the winter we would always go exploring; Nicole in her snow boots and mittens, and me, always being the stubborn one, with my basketball shoes and no gloves.  We got a significant amount of snowfall that winter.  I can remember sinking down to my knees as I walked through the yard, and at this time Nicole hadn’t hit her growth spurt yet and was having a much harder time than I was.  It was so funny just watching her try and shuffle through it.  She made everything amazing.  I realize that now, more than I ever could have then.  


It was early January; we had decided to venture out into the woods by our house.  We had been in there several times before, but that day was different, it was beautiful.  The snow was falling, gently blanketing the ground.  It was almost as if the Earth was healing itself; covering the cracks and blemishes left from the year before, leaving a smooth unburdened surface.  By this time the snow was more compact and easier to walk on.  Our feet didn’t even reach the ground.  I made sure Nicole was close to me the entire time, which wasn’t easy.  She was fast, and if you took your eyes off of her for more than a couple of seconds, she could get away from you; a troublemaker in true form.  She loved to get away from me and have me run after her.  I didn’t mind though.  It made her happy, and that always made me happy.  It is surprising how one person’s laugh can make you forget everything. 


We had been walking for about an hour when I turned around to find Nicole wasn’t there.  Most of the time I wouldn’t have be worried, but it was different.  She wouldn’t normally wander too far and was terrible at hiding, because she always giggled a lot.  I tried to search the ground for footprints, but she would always step in the ones I left behind.  When calling her name wasn’t working, I started to panic.  I knew those woods a lot better than she had, and it wouldn’t have taken a lot for her to get lost. Running was difficult; near impossible.  I followed our tracks back as far as I could, but the snow had been falling steadily all day and they were getting harder and harder to find.  About ten minutes had passed without a sign, until I saw something green lying on the snow.  It was one of her mittens.  At that point I was scared, my breath was growing short and I started tearing up.  How could I lose her?  My one responsibility was to keep her safe, and I was failing.  I looked around to see if there were any signs of her.  When I didn’t see any, my heart sank even further.  She was probably terrified and I couldn’t do anything.  I just stood there for several minutes, until I heard a scream.  That was the single most heartbreaking sound I have ever heard.  I ran franticly toward the scream.  It wasn’t too far off; so it didn’t take me long to get there.  Nicole had wandered onto a frozen pond.  All I could see was a mitten and her other hand sticking out of a hole in the ice.  I didn’t have much time to think, so I walked out to try and pull her out of the water.  I could feel my footing giving way, but I had to save her.  Just as I saw her hand slipping I grabbed it, and pulled her out.  She was conscious, and freezing.  I got her coat off and gave her mine.  I knew that I needed to get her home as fast as I could, so I picked her up and ran for home.  Despite all the movement of getting through the snow, I could still feel her shivering.  I never stopped talking to her, telling her that everything would be alright, that I would get her home. 


By the time we made it back to the house, she was in a bad position.  My parents were frantic and yelling things that I can’t remember.  We had sat her down by the fireplace with several blankets.  Our Australian Shepherd, Muffin, lay by her feet.  I don’t remember much after we made it home.  I remember being at the hospital, and the doctor telling us that she was lucky to be alive.  That if she hadn’t gotten home as quick as she did, she may have died from hypothermia.  Nicole was never mad at me.  In fact, the first thing she asked me was if I was okay.  I just smiled at her and told her that as long as she was safe, I would be fine.  Even after she came home and everything got back to normal, she never once took my apology.  She told me that it wasn’t my fault, that I had saved her and I shouldn’t be sorry for anything.  It didn’t matter how much she told me.  All I could think was how I failed her.  How I let her get hurt and everything was my fault.  I still can’t help but wonder, would things have been different if we hadn’t stepped out of the front door that day.