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.
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.
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.
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!