The Life Aquatic: Oceanic Panic!

It is well-known among my circle of friends that I have battled aquaphobia for most of my life. It is not so well-known that I have grown leaps and bounds in the last two years while conquering this fear. After my last deep water experience that ended in a run-in with a shark, I felt sure that I had finally, once-and-for-all, kicked my fear to the shore. So, today it was with reckless confidence that I went snorkeling with my friend, Noe. Okay, maybe not reckless….reckless would have been going alone (which I have thought about doing – sheer laziness has prevented this). Still, the fear that typically accompanies me on my approach to the deep blue was nowhere in sight. I had my camera, had my fins, had taken out my shiny silver earrings to prevent resembling shark bait…all was good in the hood. Noe and I jumped in, swam through the little reef opening, and VOILA! we were courageously swimming many yards away from shore. You can imagine my surprise when a sudden panic attack set in a mere 90 seconds later.
“HEY! GET A GRIP!” Luckily, right then my ego, oh-so-proud, smacked my id square in the teeth. “You are an EMBARRASSMENT! Get a hold of yourself and BREATHE!!! How are you going to live with yourself if you QUIT FIVE FEET FROM THE REEF??”
Whimpering, my id answered back, “but…my lungs…if i’m doing this now…how am I ever going to scuba dive. What if I…..”
“What the hell?” I yelled at myself…silently of course, because you can’t yell with a snorkel in your mouth. But my “self” got the point and yelled right back. “Do you NOT see those drops of water on the inside of your mask???”

“Oh….shit…yeah I DO see those. Oh my God. I can’t breathe.” Note: when you are under water, much of what goes on is a conversation between your ego and your id….or at least that’s what happens to me…

At this point my brain merged and became one, loud (yet silent), panicking voice. “Does anyone see me drowning? Oh my God. Wait, there is air going into my lungs….but,” my inner voice nearing hysteria, “I CAN SEE DROPS OF WATER INSIDE MY MASK OH MY GOD I CAN’T BREATHE I CAN’T BREATH!!!” (All this happened within the first 3 minutes….probably less – you know how time slows down when you’re in an accident…)
Ever intelligent, my ego finally took over for good. “Listen, jackass, your MASK is in no way related to your SNORKEL! They are SEPARATE. Water can get all up inside your mask and you can STILL breathe!!”

“Huh…would you look at that,” my id answered back. “Has it always been like this?”
Exasperated, my ego sighed and pushed my id aside so I could enjoy the rest of my adventure. After a few deep, calming breaths, I looked around to make sure that Noe hadn’t witnessed any of this nonsense….Lucky for my ego, he hadn’t, and lucky for me, Big Brother isn’t everywhere yet. So, id reassured, I puttered along behind Noe, looking at all the splendor that is Sasanhaya Bay.
The irony of all this is that if I could be any animal, I would be a mermaid or a selkie. For those of you who don’t believe in mythical sea creatures, go ahead and pretend I said “dolphin.” I mean, being underneath water, lack of oxygen aside, is one of the most tranquil, mysterious, beautiful experiences on earth. The suspension of gravity, of sound, of voice…the surreal colors and creatures…What I would give to be able to just live in the ocean forevermore. I don’t personally have much to compare Rota’s reef to, but the colors and cleanliness are spectacular. Floating through 85 degree water so crystal clear it’s like a tropical aquarium, marvelling at car sized corals that look like brain, sometimes cauliflower, sometimes glow in the dark mushrooms, wondering whether today the turtles or sharks will make their appearance – these are the things of magic.
So, Noe and I floated on, stopping from time to time to take pictures or record video. Epiphany number two came when I was about 20-feet behind Noe, and a sudden flash of light caught my attention. I looked up to see the sunlight glinting off of his camera. This woke up my id again.
“Crap, did you see that? That was a shark signal! Wait . . .” I looked down at my own camera, “I have a shark signaller on too!!”
I looked around…It seemed all the sharks were on break at that moment, so we weren’t eaten or anything, but I spent the rest of the swim torn between my ego who was saying “Sigh. Knock it off, sissy baby,” and my id, who was saying, “oh-my-god-the-sharks-are-going-to-see-your-camera-and-eat-you.” I chose to compromise between the two – I kept my panic at bay and just held my camera in my hand, which I am absolutely positive was the key to living to see another day. The epiphany was that there is really no sense in taking out my teensy little silver hoops if I’m going to be toting around a giant shark signaller strapped to my wrist.
We lazily floated towards our point of origin, my back and legs turning a crisp red. Noe helped navigate me through our reef entrance, which is an opening about 5 feet wide, treacherous only if there are big swells. Beaming with pride, I floated to a stop, removed my snorkel, and promptly set it aside. It turns out snorkels don’t float. It also turns out that the top of the water is way different than the solid top of, say, a table… or a rock…
I looked up at Noe, “Do you see my snorkel?”
He laughed at me and pointed to the bottom of the ocean, “Yeah, it’s right there… here, use this,” and he handed me his own mask.
I dove down the ten or so feet to retrieve my mask and snorkel from the bottom, and I was just amazed at how much easier (epiphany number three) it is to dive down when you have fins on! Before today, I had always sparkled finless, and between the buoyancy of the salt water and the floatation device also known as my ass, I have done nothing but struggle with free diving and marvel at those who can. Why did those cheaters never explain to me that you need FINS to effectively free dive???
Anyway, I dove back up all sorts of proud and exclaimed “Hey!! That’s a lot easier with fins on!!”
To which Noe replied, “Yeah, but you dropped my snorkel.”
“Dammit, Cami,” my ego sighed, “go get it.”
“But it’s way deeper than the other one,” my id whined back. But my id knew that my ego wasn’t going to deal with this nonsense, so rather than put up a fight, I just dove down and got it. Amazingly, I lived. Also, I learned that you should look up when you are resurfacing. I didn’t hit my head or anything, but it sure wouldn’t have surprised me if I had. You see, the reef is like a little, underwater room with an open ceiling and razor blade walls. A few feet from the bottom, I decided to look up and see where I was going….of course, I was heading straight for a K.O. with the reef. But with my newfound library of oceanic common sense, I simply changed my direction ever so slightly and averted yet another water disaster.