Thursday, July 12, 2012

No Sharks No Sharks No Sharks

I tried to force my breathing to slow down. Calm down calm down calm down. There is no such thing as sharks.

Just float. Just float.

That Australian tourist said there was a turtle over here, but the water was so close to the coral that I kept worrying I was going to slam into it. I couldn’t seem to get use to the tunnel vision of having the mask on. I can’t see! I can’t breathe!

The world was silent except for little splashy noises and my Darth Vader breath.

Just float. Stop splashing, you’ll attract sharks. No I won’t. There are no sharks in Hawaii.


Is this what drowning feels like?  Note to self: don't drown.

The snorkeling almost didn’t happen for me. The first mask the tour company gave me was a piece of shit that had a mask that was really good at filling up with water, and a snorkel that I couldn't breathe through. Crying, panicking, nearly screaming, I was making my way back to shore when Boyfriend stopped me.

He traded masks because apparently he doesn’t mind the feeling of drowning as much as I do, and he really wanted me to have a good time snorkeling. I stood there for a minute or two, trying not to feel like a failure or embarassed by my freak out, pulled myself together, mostly, and tried again.

Yes, I can swim.

I took lessons as a child because I was so afraid of water my parents could barely bathe me.  One of my earliest memories is my mom dipping me in a kiddie pool and me getting water up my nose.  Another early memory involves banging my elbow in the bath tub and passing out, and waking up with my brother holding my head out of the water and screaming for Mom.  She left for a minute so my older brother could pee, and I nearly drown.

Go me.

So. Swim lessons when I was 7. I was older than the other kids in the beginning class.  I remember those lessons with a combination of fear and embarrassment.  I think the next oldest kid was about 4.

I was so afraid of the water, chest tightening fear would hit me at random while we did our lessons, that I would wake up in cold sweats the night before swimming lessons.

And then they forgot about me and I almost drown.

They wanted the kids to swim from one end of the pool and back.  And I didn't make it back.

At first, I couldn’t believe it. Why couldn’t I touch the bottom? Where is the edge of the pool? It should be right there… Then my body wouldn’t respond, and I got even more scared. I couldn’t lift my arms. I was going under. Where was the teacher? I was drowning. No, this isn’t right! Why can’t I move my arms?

Through the water I heard a whistle and shouts, and splashes, and suddenly the instructor yanking me up by one arm. “What are you doing?” she shouted.  She was angry with me because she forgot to watch me.

I couldn’t speak as I gasped for breath.  I'd almost died! If I'd had the strength, I would have punched her in the face.   Once she righted me, I found out that actually, I could touch the bottom.  I huddled on the side of the pool for the rest of the day, and went back the next week.

But I learned to swim.

I won’t drown, probably.

A slightly larger wave pulled me away from the coral, then back down. I bobbed along the top in my life jacket and rented snorkel gear.  Remembering the time I almost drowned was a bad idea, but there was a similarity here.  I felt helpless.  I felt scared.  But I wanted to like it. I wanted this to be fun.

I tried to relax.  This is fun, goddamnit.

This wasn’t the chlorinated pool water at the civic center. This is the huge wild ocean. I was thousands of miles away and almost thirty years from my childhood drowning experience. I haven’t had a problem swimming in years and years. And since I got my eyes Lasiked, I actually like swimming.

But the panic was there, just underneath.

No such thing as sharks, if I don't look they aren't there, I CAN'T SEE YOU.

I tried not to imagine braining myself on the sharp edge of the reef. Or getting sucked out to sea. Or sharks. Or giant squids. Leviathans. I made little movements, and tried to propel myself with little mermaid kicks with my feet.  Look!  A clown fish!  And what was that!  That fish was yellow! Neat!  I want to see an octopus.  Where the fuck are the damned octopusses?

Calm, calm. Breath in, breath out.

Shit, why did I think of mermaids? Those bitches are going to fuck you up.

Deep breath, but not really through the snorkel mask. Darth Vader.

And then the coral dropped away from me to the sandy floor, and there it was.

It’s a motherfucking sea turtle, y’all.

"'Sup, bitches?"

My eyes saw it, but it took a moment for my brain to sort it out, to understand what I was seeing.

I let myself float over it, and past.  Holy fucking shit.  That thing was huge.  And it was watching me!  It's real!

I pulled my head out of the water.

I called out to my boyfriend, who was maybe 20 yards away. I waved at him, and then stopped. I didn’t want to look like I was drowning, even if I did just inhale a mouthful of seawater and turtle pee.

He looked over.

I pointed down. “Turtle!” I shouted.

And then I put my mask back in and my face down because I was choking on the water and I didn’t want to touch the reef but it’s too shallow to just swim with my head out of the water like that.

Saw it.

Hellz yeah.

Time to go in.

Relief washed over me as I took off the mask and flippers. I tried not to feel guilty for barely being able to tolerate snorkeling. My fear had been unexpected.

As I waded up on the sandy shore, I glanced back out to sea.

Holy shit, look where I am!

Not to scale*

*Holy crap, I should illustrate more, it's so slimming!


LeeAnn said...

SO COOL that you got to see a bigass turtle! We finally went snorkeling our third and final year in Hawaii, and it took me 30 minutes just to go chest deep and put my face in the water. Once I got used to it, though, I loved it so much H had to drag me out because I was turning blue with cold. I nearly drowned every time I saw a fish, because I'd scream FISH! FISH! only I'd forget I was underwater and suck down half the bay.
It's just bloody awesome, isn't it? Seeing stuff like that.
Sharks only exist when there are crazy people like surfers around.

Anonymous said...

You found Nemo!!! Woo-hoo! :)

Really, that is great that you conquered your deep seated fear of the water so that you could experience that epic adventure. Good for you for trying to stay calm and just taking it in. Shame you didn't see a mermaid, though. That would have been cool.

Those drawings rock. I especially liked the JAWS one and the turtle. Really evocative and creative. You have a gift.

And yahoo for TWO whole posts in ONE week!! Keep it up, girlie. :)

Leauxra said...

LeeAnn: Yay! I am not the only one that can't remember to not breathe when they're underwater! Woot! And yes, the sea turtle was freaking awesome. I was completely shocked.

Misty: No way, man. Mermaids are mean bitches. But yes, I am glad I went. I think in order to really get over it, I would have to go more often. Guess I'll have to go back to Hawaii. *sigh*

And thanks for liking my pics. I was worried they weren't up to snuff, as they are really small (about 6 inches square ish) and I was using French Whore smelling markers. Wait until you seen my next set in a week. The schedule is every other post (minimum) to be illustrated. I will try to do more. :)

PudMonkey said...

Alexa likes your post. I read it to her with out all the swear words. We've been snorkelong fairly often and I am actually annually good swimmer with ordinarily no fear of the water, but the first few minutessnorkelling make me really panicky every time for some reason. Somehow, I'm afraid that all of the water is going to be sucked out of the bay and I'll get stuck and cut to ribbons on the coral. It usually doesn't lastlonger than it takes to remind myself that that stuff only happens around a tidal wave and that those are extremely unlikely, but still...every time.

PudMonkey said...

Annually is doused to be "a really" stupid auto correct.

Leauxra said...

PudMonkey: I meant what you knew. :)

For some reason the water was really close to the reef when we went... a lot of times, I was close enough to reach out and touch it with my hands, so the claustrophobia was very real.

And thanks for reminding me of tsunami. It will really help next time I go.

Leauxra said...

Also, PudMonkey: Your baby needs to learn how to cuss, sometime. how else will she do it right? I would hate for her to be bad at it.

Anonymous said...

Those were with MARKERS?? Oh man, you really are talented then. And yes, I am obviously super dumb, as I should have figured that based on your last post. But really, they almost look like watercolor, except when you really look close and see some of the marks. Really impressive. Seriously.

Now I'm sad you didn't draw my picture. It would have been epic, no? :(

JnetRuns said...

I lived in Hawaii for 15 years and never once saw a shark, so put them out of your mind right now or you'll be constantly looking out for them and imagining them everywhere, not that I would know anything about that of course ;) Everyone gets a little panicky and claustrophobic when first snorkeling, but you'll get used to it after a bit. I used to hold my hubby's hand when in the water and that helped a lot, I figured he could save me if I started to drown! If you get over to the Big Island, Kealakekua Bay is phenomenal for snorkeling.

Love your artwork, the one with Chinaman's Hat in the background made me a little homesick.

erica said...

Beautiful drawings! I, too, had problems with swimming lessons. It was not necessarily the water I feared but rather the fear of being barefoot and getting potential slivers. I guess I was scared of the high dive. That might have been a fear of hights though. There are just so many things to be scared of!
Sounds like an awesome, beautiful experience.

Leauxra said...

Misty: You are too kind. I still feel bad about the drawing. I had a bit of a meltdown after I got back from Hawaii. Like... why did I go from THAT to living in a cubicle again? What the hell is wrong with me, I'm wasting my life, I must be a total loser, and I hate my hair, and ... well, you know the drill.

Anyway, I will draw you something, just for you... I actually just got a paid gig, so after that. My timeline is a little skewed at moment.

Jim said...

Yay for illustrations and smelly markers!

I have a friend who's afraid of deep water, but it's more of a weird fear of heights thing, where the volume of water between him and the ocean floor freaks him out because he imagines it as a distance to "fall."

Sounds like you had a good experience, bath tub and swimming pool issues notwithstanding.

Leauxra said...

JnetRuns: For real? I am filled with jealousy. I know I could move there if I tried, but I haven't figured out what I will do once I'm there. You know, for a living. Seems like moving there for a few years would be the only way to get to know the place.

I feel a lot better knowing that other people had issues, too. I felt like I was the only one that freaked out snorkeling, but I think I was the only one who had never gone before.

erica: It was all of those things and more that I was scared of! But I also had this thing where I passed out at the slightest pain... So glad I outgrew that.

And thanks for the compliment. I was nervous posting these pics because they aren't the best thing I ever drew. I need to get over that stuff!

Leauxra said...

Jim: I think this was more of a "closed in spaces" and "tunnel vision" thing. It was a very surreal experience, all around. I think I need to go again, but with a clear mask (no black edging), that fits me, and flippers that don't squish my toes. and a life jacket that fits.

And yeah, it WAS pretty fun, looking back.

the Tsaritsa said...

I've never been a very strong swimmer, but I can swim. I would be scared to go snorkeling, though I would probably choose that over SCUBA, which just seems really scary. I think it's the possibility of feeling trapped, and the tunnel vision.

Love the illustrations! I want to go to Hawaii!!

Leauxra said...

the Tsaritsa: Yes, absolutely. That. Scary. I did start to calm down after a while, except for the part that I was about to be eaten, but it was difficult. I found out later thet make clear plastic face masks so that you don't get the tunnel vision quit as bad. I wish I'd known!

Also, Hawaii was awesome. You should go. I found round trip tickets for 2 from Colorado to Oahu for $1200, and a week in a condo for $600. Not bad for two people, really!

Keith said...

Of course there are sharks there. They just eat everybody that sees them to keep their secret. Either that or drag them out to sea for the other creatures to eat. Sharks are considerate like that. Nice drawings!

Love said...

L: These drawings are so SUPERNIFTYFANTABUAWESOME! I'm thinking Hawaii Adventure Illustrated comic book. Then if you run out of material, you can go back sooner...w. J and I in your and C's respective carry-ons. Man-oh-Woman I'd love to surf on the North Shore again. Anyway, KUDOS!

Love said...

L: These drawings are so SUPERNIFTYFANTABUAWESOME! I'm thinking Hawaii Adventure Illustrated comic book. Then if you run out of material, you can go back sooner...w. J and I in your and C's respective carry-ons. Man-oh-Woman I'd love to surf on the North Shore again. Anyway, KUDOS!

MakingSpace said...

Awesome illustrations! Come back here sometime and visit your bloggy commenters who live here. Just sayin.

Stephanie said...

I love swimming, but snorkeling scares me! Maybe because - unlike you - I haven't had lasik, so I can barely see. It's too claustrophobic. I would love to see a turtle, though. (Lovely, beautiful illustrations - as always!)

Leauxra said...

Keith: Gee whiz, thanks! I feel so much better now. Ha ha ha.

Love: What a good idea... But I think we're going to try a Caribbean island this winter.... maybe I should just live in Hawaii, and go to other islands on vacations.

MakingSpace: Thank you thank you... Wait... do you live in Hawaii? DO you? How did I miss that? And YAY! I just noticed you used my award! Woot!

Stephanie: My eyes were way way really bad. I could barely walk without glasses or contacts, and I had to sign a waver for having them change my eyes more than is recommended. And I had to go twice. And then my mom told me I didn't look as smart without glasses... But it was awesome. Is awesome. One of the best things I have ever done in my life.

What were we talking about? Oh. Yeah. Snorkeling. I started to calm down by the end, and that turtle was super cool. And the little Nemo fishes. Although I did NOT see a damn octopus, it was still worth the abject terror.

Anonymous said...

I'm heading to Hawaii in a week -- I practiced snorkeling in my parents' pool recently and had an anxiety attack where I couldn't breathe. I think I'll just watch from the shore....

Leauxra said...

dockfam: I think I probably would have been better off with goggles and swimming like a normal person. I am not someone who "floats calmly".

I am glad I tried, and that I managed to stay in the water as long as I did (maybe 20 minutes).

Have fun in Hawaii!! It's magical there.

thoughtsappear said...

When you go back to Hawaii, can I come?

Leauxra said...

Thoughtsy: Yes. You can even have your own Pop-Tarts.