With nothing but stars and ocean in sight I jumped—splash!—and down I went.
Where’s the bottom?
Wow! I’m actually breathing underwater.
That is a mere fraction of what entered my mind in the first fifteen feet down, more than an hour after sunset. I had spent the last three weeks sailing across the Caribbean Sea, living on a fifty-foot catamaran, and scuba diving day and night alongside the twelve other sunburned teenagers who had signed up for the same program. From my very first dive, I had fallen in love with the sport. It was not just about the corals, fish, and wrecks I saw eighty feet below the surface; it was about what went through my mind. No matter the time or place of the dive, I was left alone with my thoughts, which came into my consciousness and left as swiftly as the fish passed before my eyes, and with the same lack of order.
Where’s my dive buddy?
Tossing away the planarity with which I normally live my life, I did a full flip and noticed his neon orange necklace hovering above me. Growing up in a large city has made complete awareness of my surroundings a necessity—primarily around eye level. At times I might shift my gaze to snap a picture or admire an airplane passing overhead, but otherwise, my eyes stay glued to the faces and backs before me. As the ocean floor slowly appeared sixty feet down, my mind jolted back to the present.
Glup, glup, glup.
Bubbles rose from someone passing below me, quieting my brain just long enough for me to appreciate the silence of the ocean and the introspection it granted me. On land, I rarely allowed an hour to pass without conversation, and living in Manhattan afforded me no silence, even in the dead of night. Underwater I found the peace that permitted me to examine my life under a new light—the light refracted through the surface of the ocean and absorbed by the water, making certain colors more difficult to perceive.
Nice! I have something to bring up in optics class first semester.
Concentrating on a turtle resting in the coral before me, I felt my body being twirled by the current while my left foot remained in place. I seemed to be pirouetting. My thoughts shifted, for just an instant, to my sister, a gymnast and ballerina. I realized the amount of skill necessary for her to dance, moving enthusiastically then keeping her body steady for minutes at a time.
If only she could see me now…
As we came to a clearing of sand, we settled, extinguished our flashlights and began flailing like lunatics. Blue light engulfed us as the bioluminescent plankton of the Caribbean Sea came to life. Unsure of the exact scientific process by which this occurred, I made a mental note to find out. As we became still, the water calmed, allowing the plankton to deactivate their glow.
Complete and utter darkness. So terrifying underwater.
I waited to see how long I could last in the eerie blackness of the ocean. One…two…three. I felt something whoosh past me and quickly flipped on my flashlight. A stingray materialized to our left; a nurse shark jolted to our right. Yet, instead of fear, I was struck with utter admiration for the ocean. Although I knew it already, that instant proved to me just how powerless we are over nature. While we like to bask in our supposed power, life around us goes on whether we like it or not.
How much air do I have left?
Sadly, we got the thumbs up from the instructors. It was time to return to the boat. We rose to the surface, my ears popping as usual. I climbed up the ladder, reached out my hand, and was pulled aboard the cat by our skipper. Waddling to the front of the boat, I quickly de-geared, packed up, and readied everything for our dive the next morning.