Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Dive

The water rushes upward, bubbling past my shoulders, escaping in a splash. My feet force themselves downward, but like a slow motion trampoline, I am returned to the surface, popping up in tact, howling about the coldness or the beautiful day, singing about the creatures we might see. I can already taste the saltwater as it clears my sinuses and settles comfortably on my tongue.

My first Open Water entry was on October 19, 2012, more than 150 dives ago. At that time, the 10 seconds from the step (or, in fancy scuba terms, “giant stride”) off the boat to the successful entry into the water were the most thrilling 10 seconds of my life. I had never been very prone to outdoor activity nor had this landlocked Kansas girl ever been so close to truly experiencing the sea, but in these 10 seconds I became a completely different person.

Sometimes, when I’m having trouble sleeping, I close my eyes and try to remember. I think it helps disguise some of my fears about leaving Egypt, if I can latch onto my memories. I swim through them slowly, calmly, trying to feel again as if it were the first time.

I remember my first octopus. The colors changing from red to white to purple, slithering tentacles growing spikes before my eyes. A beautiful, intelligent creature coping the best it could with eight divers huddled around its hiding place.

I remember tumbling backwards off a zodiac for the first time amidst jokes about badass Navy Seals and secret missions, followed by a drift dive which propelled us through the water as if we were flying.

I remember the first time I saw a banner fish, a lionfish, an anemone fish. I feel the butterflies from my first Napoleon wrasse and the slight cringe at my first stonefish.

I remember the shark. THE white tip reef shark that defined my social circle and our experiences for the next two years. I grabbed the guide’s hand tightly and froze as we met the shark that inspired the White Tip Dive Squad.

I remember the gangster school of hammerheads, the first manta ray that passed over us like a cloud, and the second that stayed for 12 minutes.

And then there are the people moments. Feeling Joe take my arm when he sensed I was nervous, hauling Bethany out of the water during my rescue course, and screaming with Justine on the surface after an amazing dive. Linda, whose endless excitement can inspire even the most apprehensive diver. Bassem, who can spot the tiniest, most beautiful nudibranch in every mass of coral. Titch who shows constant, true joy, even underwater. And Rick. Rick, who took a dramatic, anxious, difficult Kansas girl and, in two years and four courses, made her into a divemaster. Rick, who helped me to truly belong, to diving, to nature, and to my own self.

As I sat down to organize my last White Tip Dive Squad trip, I felt a little bit like that octopus. I wanted to back into a hole and cope, find a way to cope with my first last. I wanted to delay this inevitable last dive trip because I cannot imagine my life without this sea, and these fish, and my people. I want to change colors and put up spikes until I find a way out that isn’t going to hurt so much. But I’m not as smart as an octopus, and all I can really do is remember and be grateful. Be grateful and keep diving.