It was the perfect wave. I saw it approaching - it was the imposing, kind-of-terrifying, adrenaline-inducing challenge I’d been waiting on the whole morning.
I’d been up before sunset so that I could be at the beach at the literal crack of dawn. There was something magical about watching the sun rise over the vastness of the ocean. It was quiet. It felt like so much of the noise in my life was drowned out when I was here, accepting the ocean’s challenge, yet humbly knowing that it was so much more powerful than me.
I deftly assumed my position, then caught the monster-wave at exactly the right interval, disappearing inside the deep blue tunnel of water that was roaring in my ears. My heart thundered inside my chest - this made me feel alive - I rarely felt it these days.
Adrenaline pumped through my veins as I glided across the swell, balancing myself, finding that moment of perfect equilibrium, claiming victory over the ocean for just a little while. It felt like much longer, but in reality, it had been only a few seconds, riding that elusive wave that only came along once in a while. But today would turn out to be an exceptional day for another reason, too; I just didn’t know it as yet.
As the force of the water stopped propelling me forward, and the swell crashed towards the shore, I slipped off my surfboard, back into the water, a massive smile on my face. I wiped the salty water from my eyes and caught my breath, getting ready to paddle back deeper, to try and catch another wave, although I already knew that the chances were slim-to-none of seeing a wave like that one again.
But just as I was about to turn around, something caught my eye. I frowned because it looked like a hand... But then it disappeared again.
I kept looking and was just about to turn around again, thinking that it must have been a reflection on the water. But then I saw it again. It was definitely a hand...
That adrenaline rush rapidly turned into fear, because I was fairly sure that it was a swimmer who looked to be near-drowning. The hand disappeared again, and I swore under my breath, paddling like hell towards the shore in the direction of the movement. It was a race against time; every second counted right now...
It was way too early for the lifeguards to be on duty. And I wondered what the hell that person was thinking, swimming by themselves at this hour in the morning, getting caught in the midst of a massive rip, by the looks of it as well.
About a minute later, I finally caught up to where I saw the hand appear, but I looked around, there was nothing... I was being tossed around by a viciously intense rip - I was a strong swimmer, but even I was struggling to keep paddling in the direction I was trying to head.
“Shit!” I saw the hand again, a few steps away from me, and the back of someone’s head, gasping for air, coughing violently in-between.
I paddled the remaining distance and grabbed onto that hand, pulling the person onto the back of my surfboard.
It was a girl... she was coughing up water, her body was cold and shaking, she looked damn-near drowned, and I felt ice in my veins at the thought of what would’ve happened to her if I hadn’t seen her out there.
“Are you okay?” I shouted above the noise of the ocean, trying to assess the situation while still holding onto her hand, and trying not to get pulled in deeper by the current again.
She was hunched forward, trying to expel the water from her lungs, which must have been burning like fire right now. She was alive - thank God for that. She didn’t seem in any state to get a word out, but she was breathing, she was holding onto my hand like a vise-grip.
“I’m paddling us back to shore. Hold onto me tightly. Do you understand? Don’t let go.”
She stopped coughing for a second, and her eyes met mine. I inhaled sharply. Those electric-blue eyes... they hit me like a lightning rod. She nodded before she coughed again, still trying to get the last of the saltwater out of her lungs.
‘I know this girl.’
But now was not the time for pleasantries. I hunched forward, guiding her arms around my waist, making sure she was holding on before I started paddling like hell. That rip had us, violently tossing us backward, deeper into the ocean, and I was fighting against nature to try and get us to safety.
But then I saw a large wave approaching. I knew this was our chance...
“Hold onto me for your fucking life, okay? If you let go, you’ll die,” I yelled across my shoulder, and I felt her grip tightening on me. Her body was pressed flush against my back; I could sense her fear, she was shaking like a leaf against me, I felt every vibration, felt every beat of her heart slamming into my skin through the thin rubber fabric of my wetsuit.
I used the sheer force of the powerful wave to propel us forward, out of the vicious tentacles of the unforgiving current that was trying it damnest to overpower and take us. I knew it was a matter of time before the formidable force would come crashing down on us, and I hoped like hell that this was going to work the way I’d planned it to...
I was paddling like mad as the giant swell flung us ahead, towards the shore...
“Take a deep breath, RIGHT NOW!” I shouted at her, and I felt her chest expand against my back just as I did the same, and we both disappeared in the undertow, the enormous pressure from the crashing wave threatening to drown us both. We were jerked around underwater, and I hoped like hell that she’d hold on...
We both tumbled off my surfboard, the water swirling like a wild rapid around us. We were tossed right under and then around, like a tumbleweed. Then my feet hit the bottom, and I propelled us upward again, towards the rising sun...
We both gasped at exactly the same time as we reached the surface again, and the girl started coughing again, expelling more water from her lungs.
Are you okay?” I asked over my shoulder, trying to get to my surfboard again, which was tied to my ankle with a strap.
She coughed violently again, and I took that as a yes. Thank God, she was still alive and breathing, and she hadn’t let go of me... I couldn’t handle losing someone else like this again, right in front of me...
“Let me go, I’m going to get back onto the surfboard and pull you up,” I shouted over my shoulder again, and her body tensed against mine. I could feel her fear, her reluctance to let go.
“I swear, I just need two seconds. I won’t leave you, I promise,” I said loudly and calmly, and her grip slowly loosened on me. “Let go, just for a moment, you can hold onto my hand instead...”
That offer seemed more acceptable to her, and she grabbed onto my outstretched hand with both of hers, as I clamored back onto the surfboard, pulling her upward and towards me until she was back on top of the surfboard, facing me.
She looked up to meet my gaze, and there was so much cold, naked fear inside her eyes. Her skin was pale, her lips blue from a likely combination of the cold water and oxygen deprivation. She was still holding onto my hand like she wouldn’t survive if she let go.
“Are you okay?” I asked again, hoping to get at least some form of a response out of her this time.
She nodded her head, her teeth chattering from the cold, her skin breaking out in goosebumps.
"Fuck. You’re suffering from hypothermia. Let’s get you out of here.”
I contorted myself around so that I’d face away from her again, and guided her arms back around my waist. It felt as though she collapsed against my back, and I was hoping like hell that she hadn’t lost consciousness on me.
We were out of the rip, at least, and it was a hell of a lot easier to paddle back to shore this time. After what felt like hours, we finally reached shallow water, I jumped off the surfboard, and I caught her just in time before her limp body slipped off.
“Shit!” She’d lost consciousness, by the looks of it.
“Wake up, come on! We’re here!” I raised my voice at her, but her eyes remained shut. I steadied her with one arm, and took the strap around my ankle off with my free hand, then when I cut the surfboard loose, I took her into both arms and carried her almost-lifeless body onto the sand.
I flurry of panic rose within me as I lay her down on the sand, and she didn’t as much as move. Her body was still and rigid and cold, and I couldn’t see whether she was still breathing or not. And all of a sudden, those memories from five years ago came flooding back, threatening to overwhelm me... I could barely fucking breathe, my anxiety shot through the roof at reliving that moment again...
And laying there, her raven hair surrounding her symmetrical face, her eyes shut, framed by perfect dark lashes, her skin pale and smooth, her body lifeless in front of me, she looked just like I’d imagined Snow White would, laying inside her glass casket.
“Don’t give up on me now, Snow,” I pleaded as I tried to frantically find a pulse in her neck, then her wrist... but if there was a pulse, it was too weak to detect.
I felt a surge of desperation overwhelming me. I couldn’t lose her. I simply couldn’t... I had to save her.
I looked over to where my backpack and towel were stationed some distance away, and I had to make a split-second decision, because every fraction of a second counted here. Should I try to help her, or call an ambulance first?
‘Shit!’ I hesitated half-a-second before I started compressions on her chest, which was clad in a vivaciously red bikini top that didn’t leave much to the imagination and belied her lifeless state.
After five even compressions on her ribcage, I bent down to expel oxygen into her lungs, positioning her head slightly backward, just like how I’d been trained. I sealed my mouth over hers, and her chest expanded as the burst of oxygen reached her lungs.
“Keep fighting, Snow, don’t give up...” I said helplessly, frowning, feeling an acute sense of loss at the thought of her slipping away from me. My heart was thundering everywhere; it felt like a hammer was pounding inside my body.
I was just about to start the second round of compressions when those electric blue eyes flew open again, and she bent over sideways to cough, more water flowing from her over-exerted lungs.
“Thank God! Are you okay?” I asked after her body had expelled a significant amount of water, and she started shivering violently again, her skin cold as ice underneath my hands. But relief flooded me nonetheless, because we were cheating death this time...
“Yeah...” she finally got a word out, lying back onto the sand, closing her eyes again.
"No, no, no, no, no... open your eyes, Snow! Don’t close them now...” I raised my voice again, still feeling panicked, knowing that she was still skating that thin line between life and death.
Her eyes flew open again, but she had this dazed look, like she was drugged almost, on the verge of losing consciousness again.
I turned her on her side, knowing that was a much safer position for someone in her situation, and bent my head down to look her straight in the eyes.
“I’m going to get my towel. I’ll be five seconds; then I’ll be right back.”
She nodded, her eyelids looking heavy again, threatening to shut.
“Stay awake for me, Snow, please. Promise me... stay with the light...” I pleaded with her, and her eyelids flew open wider again.
I took a calculated risk and ran across the sand towards my backpack, grabbing it as well as my towel, and ran back to her at record-speed.
“Wake up, please, stay with me, Snow!” I urged when I got back, and her eyes had closed again.
I felt like I was about to die of a heart attack from the amount of adrenaline pumping through my veins. But then, those piercing blue eyes flew open again, and I could’ve sworn she had a hint of a smile on her lips that were still a shade of blue.
She immediately started shivering again, and I grabbed my towel, covering her with it, then rubbing her skin in vicious strokes with the fabric to try and generate some heat.
“So.... c-c-c-cold...” she chattered through her teeth, and I grimaced, knowing that she needed heat, and fast.
“I’m going to call an ambulance,” I said, turning toward my backpack.
“N-n-no, I’m f-fine...” she chattered again, shaking her head. “J-just c-cold...”
“Fuck!” The word exploded from my lips as I kept rummaging through my bag, realizing I must have left my phone at home.
I dried her off with the towel again, but the towel was pretty much soaked by that stage, and her skin still felt ice-cold. I zipped down my wetsuit, making another split-second decision, knowing that I had to get her warm and fast.
Her eyes were threatening to close again, and I jerked the wetsuit off my body, leaving me in my swimming trunks. I positioned her upright and pulled her right into me, trying to transfer some of my heat across.
The moment she collapsed against my chest, it felt as though a block of ice had slammed right into me. She was so damn cold; she felt frozen...
I pulled her into me as hard as I could, rubbing circles on her skin, creating friction and heat between us.
“S-so nice and warm...” she sighed, and slowly, slowly, I felt some heat seeping back into her skin.
“D-don’t let me go...”
“I promise I won’t...”
But that’s the thing about promises. Sometimes they’re made in a moment. Sometimes they were impossible to keep.
And as hard as I was holding onto her right then, having snatched her from the dark clutches of death, bringing her back to life, I had no idea that our lives would become intertwined. But letting her go was never a choice; there simply was no other option...