deeper, faster, darker

Despite having been tossed in a pool at three months, back in those days when teaching babies to swim was all the rage, and having spent my childhood swimming, scuba had never really entered my view. In my early 20s a few friends were getting certified for a destination wedding, and I went along without thinking much about it. The class was easy, the pool work was fun, though I had a tendency to get rolled by my tank, the BCs at the time being made for men, and a vest for a small man did not fit snugly on a small woman.

In Belize, we did our training dives and I floated around below the surface in a state of bliss. My dive partner was fascinated with photography, and since one dives as buddies, and one doesn’t part ways, I spent a fair number of years toodling around while he tried to figure out the early equipment, take photos, and try to sort color correction.

Of the eight of us who went on that trip, two of us liked it enough to spend our week in Belize learning new skills. Deep diving, wreck diving, navigation, night diving. I spent my days studying rather than drinking. I discovered I disliked night diving, despite the bubbles going up when I breathed out, I would get disoriented and feel a sense of panic. It calmed over time, but was easy enough, unless there was a full moon, to make me night dive for pleasure.

On our certification for deep diving, I took the slate and did the sums, and my partner laid on his back on the ocean floor, enormous turtles watching us, and struggled with the basics. When he dropped the pencil and rolled over to find it on the floor, he burst into near-hysterical giggles when he notice I was batting it down to him. Wood floats. Narc’d he was, and not that deep. He laughed so hard his regulator popped out of his mouth, so I stuffed that back in and dragged him up, our trainer shaking her head at us. He got certified, but I always kept a leery eye on him when we got below 30 meters.

After years of avid diving, I finally coughed up the money for my own gear. A BC and dive computer, super long split fins so I could fly at depth, and warm gear, as I was always cold even after a few days of blue water diving, checking my temperature at times to be sure I’d returned to normal before heading out again. Owning my own gear made me one with the water. I could move, or not move, with perfect buoyancy, float in silence, lie on my back and feel the surge toss me about, watching the sun dapple above and the schools of fish swim by. Turtles and mantas, I found, discovered a strange floating human 20 meters down to be interesting. Sharks, once or twice, but those are other stories.

There is such a perfection to floating below. The crackling sounds, the pops, the endless noises that are part of sea life. Floating over a reef watching busy life go on, sharks being cleaned off the edge of a cliff of fast moving water, parrot fish blowing mucus sacs as sleeping bags. Startled puffers and unexpected octopuses. Diving once in Greece, not much to see just beautiful to feel, I poked my nose in an old wreck and the enormous teeth of a moray eel came at me. I almost choked on the water I inhaled, flooded my mask, and had to reset, all the while laughing so hard at my out-of-scale reaction.

In Palau we dove wrecks, hundreds of feet down, deco diving, leaving tanks on the way down so we could slowly make our way back up, stopping to avoid the bends, tick tock, longer to get up than to get down, longer to get up than spent down. One dive, we were going deep, and with our limited time to get to the wreck, we had to fly. Our guide was a very tall muscular man, he would go first, H second, so we didn’t lose him to narc’d depths, and me at the rear. Tanks dropped and suited up, we dropped in, fins nearly a third the length of my body. Off we went, angled, and far ahead I could see only the occasional glimmer of bioluminescent plankton off the edges of fins, bubbles reaching up as I passed through them, and into the dark we went, darker, and darker, faster and deeper. This speed and dark and whispers of light blossoms into bliss for me, the strength of my body, the speed with which I can move, the perfection of being perfectly weighted and in control of my abilities, racing time. We reach the ship, and it is enormous, tilted, the sounds of a metal carcass turning in the sea, the creaks of surge, and age. The screw was glorious, enormous. Military ships are hard to imagine in the same way they can be experienced when diving their wrecks.

Lion fish were in every opening, dangerous, popping in and out, warning us away. As quickly as we arrived, it was time to race back. Only 20 minutes or so to explore before we again engage all our resources, racing against time and current out of the dark, looking for the glimmer of light and tanks hung above us, noting the minutes to reach them, no back-up plans here, in and out, up an down, relying on body and skill and equipment, training and experience and our guide, and on not losing pencils in the unknown dark.

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