(From the draft archives, from last September.)
On Saturday I finished my SCUBA certification, which meant two more quick dives into the murky depths of the Long Island sound; maybe forty minutes under water, tops. The first two had gone badly— a cold, blustery day, a boat full of boys double-struck by hangovers and sea sickness, visibility so poor that hands seemed to reach me from nowhere, their owners’ black-suited bodies lost in the gloom. I was a little bit dreading these.
This day was colder, even, but pretty, so that T & I hung out in our bathing suits while Captain Noel explained compasses and search patterns to the advanced students diving with us, the tops of my shoulders crisping up in the sun. There was some kind of Pirate Faire happening on the docks, with people in costume and character fighting, making speeches, singing songs, and ocassionaly firing a fake cannon. It lent a ridiculous, festive air to the proceedings.
A heavy cloud cover moved in as we went out, blocking so much sun that descending into the Sound was marked by distinct layers of light: the white pale top, yellowy middle, and shadowy bottom, dark enough that the darkness seemed to form its own shapes, thick around us. T was cold and nauseated and panicked by the near-blindness; she came up after a minute or two, done.
The instructor joined her, tapping me on the shoulder, motioning to me with one hand to stay put. And so I did: standing still on the ocean floor, hanging onto a mooring line, unable to see more than three feet in front of me. All at once I felt all of the big fears: the pressing mass of water, the creatures that might loom up out at me, very near before I had any sense of them. Who knew what could be going on on the surface, what T might need, how long I would be down there alone. I swallowed down panic. I discovered, actually, that there wasn’t much panic to be swallowed.
In fact it felt ridiculous, to be a human in two wetsuits and a backpack and air tank, hooked up to all of the gauges and monitors, my breath rasping through a tube, standing straight up and peering around, insisting that here, on the bottom of the goddamn ocean, things would be just like they were on land. I crouched down, kicked out, floated on my belly, and let my fingers scrape along the floor, sand and rocks and starfish and clams.