This story is about scuba diving…or is it?
I have several scuba certifications and had made the trip down to Santa Rosa, New Mexico several times for these certifications, where the “Blue Hole” resides. I believe I was inspired with this story when my wife and I did our “Advanced” cert.
This story originally appeared in The Black Sheep, issue #48, in 2002.
The Death of Me
© F. P. Dorchak, 2002
What the hell was I doing?
How did I find myself on a scuba certification trip to some hole-in-the-ground spot in the middle of New Mexico, called the “Blue Hole,” in a tiny town off the long-defunct Route 66, called Santa Rosa? A natural spring, this Blue Hole is supposed to be sixty feet across and eighty feet deep (depending on sediment deposition, I’m told). I’m doing this in January. In the winter.
I’m purposely throwing myself into deep water.
Maybe this doesn’t mean much to you, but to me, it means everything. I mean, I’m a person who still has issues with horrible past-life drowning deaths, you know? Sure, I may be a good looking twenty-eight-year-old woman (yeah, it’s hard to admit, but I humbly feel I am—and guys really love my long hair) and single, but in my Titanic life I’m a poor working-class husband stuck below decks behind one of those inhuman and degrading locked barriers that kept the riff-raff away from the ship’s effete. Helluvan era if you ask me, one I’m glad went down with that ship. Anyway, the Titanic strikes its berg, begins foundering, and down we all go. I still have nightmares about my unshaven face hysterically gasping for air as I force it up against the underside of the deck above me (or the deck shoved itself down upon me—it all depends on your point of view, doesn’t it?). Warm urine fills my immersed pants. People, terrified and screaming, are grasping and clawing all around me. As the water level rises I see pillows, clothes, newspapers, and other loose debris “rise” with the water level—even see the terrified eyes of my wife as she reaches out to me…screaming and pleading, screaming and pleading…my own lips and teeth scraping the underside of that deck for any last gulps of air. I pull my wife into me and we give each other our last hugs, unable to control our panicked breathing and gagging coughing. Tears mix with salt water.
Then icy death strikes…is sucked into our lungs and stings our souls.
I’m sure we died from the shock, the unrelenting horror of the situation. Water filling our lungs was a mere formality. Huge pockets of air escaping from deeper shipboard compartments explode up all around us, and gargantuan groans from straining and twisting metal and wood mercilessly assault our ears as the water envelopes our bodies in its frigid death hug. Those were our last experiences as our lives-then departed and our final breaths bubbled up and out from our own “personal compartments”….
And that’s just one of my lives with which I have…issues.
There’s also the slave-trading life where I again drowned…but that’s for another time. I’ve also been burned at the stake, shot full of holes, and tortured in a slow, lingering death during the Inquisition, but it’s the drowning that really gets to me. Who knows why, it just does.
But, in this life, this moment, I sit crammed inside an SUV among a handful of others also heading down to the Blue Hole. I take refuge in listening to the soothing hum of our tires upon dry, solid, asphalt.
The miles disappear beneath those spinning Goodyears….
Yes, I seem to be the only one steeped within such needless apprehension. The others, they’re laughing and joking, not bothered in the least—even back during our classroom sessions people weren’t worried one bit about any part of our certification. Just me. It’s always one, I guess I’m “it.” I mean, I really love the water—I do—but I also have this “healthy fear” of it, as ridiculous as it may seem, even with me aware of the whys and all. Why aren’t others bothered? Who knows. Every diver I’ve ever talked with is so psyched that they’re divers. That there’s no other physical experience like flying—not even skydiving (how hard is it to just fall, they ask?). That there’s a whole nother world down there. No one ever mentions being afraid of even the remotest possibility of drowning. Of getting caught underwater with your air running out. Of a ship forcing you under water. Or a slave master shackling you to a chain then tossing you overboard like so much trash because you got sick from his disease-ridden hold.
No, they all joke that you gotta die of somethin sometime, so why not do it doing something you love.
So, yes, it’s only me living those possibilities over and over in my head. Just me and my issues. I am trying to deal with them, though, in my own way. It may not be the best way, or your way, but it’s mine…and that’s all that matters, right?
During our classroom instruction, I noticed how all the instructors kept a close eye on me (and no, it wasn’t because I’m “hot”). They know, they do—I guess I’d mentioned it to them, stupid me—but I ended up feeling just a teensy bit self-conscious, you know? Who wouldn’t in my position? It’s hard to do something when you know you’re being watched, especially when it’s, well, so damned obvious. I know they mean well, but it’s unnerving. Anyway, they try to reassure me that everything’ll be all right, that there’s nothing to worry about—they’ll teach me everything I need to know. Then they clap me on the back, and walk away, leaving me to stare at all the masks, snorkels, and BCDs lining the walls…smell the chlorine from a gurgling pool and wonder if what they’d just fed me is chum, or the real thing.
If there’s nothing to worry about why am I so goddamned worried?
I know this guy who once told me that he nearly drowned. As a kid. He said it really wasn’t all that big a deal. Said he remembered how calm everything was…and how his body just seemed to shut off, you know, light by light, he put it. No big deal.
How could anyone remain calm after inhaling two lungfuls of water?
Is it just me?
Welcome to my hell.
Most people worry about landing a great job, having enough money, find the “right” person in their lives…I worry about past lives and drowning.
So, for five-and-a-half hours all this…stuff…swirled through my head as the others laughed and joked (like the crewman on that faraway deck), jostling me around inside this SUV. Needless to say, I wasn’t much fun. We were almost there, to this Blue Hole. We turned off New Mexico Highway 84 for I-40. Seventeen miles to go. To the water—and to make matters worse? As soon as we’re checked in, we’re to immediately show up and begin dive number one. These idiots can’t get into the water fasted enough.
I can still feel that young woman’s nails biting into the meat of my palm as the Titanic went down….
No turning back, now. Time to face the fears.
Well, quelle surprise! We all made it through three of our four certification dives! It wasn’t as hard as I thought it’d be! Maybe it is all in my head! Had some trouble equalizing my ears on the way down, but once at depth I did fine!
How neat to [finally?] breathe under water!
We did all kinds of drills: removing, replacing, and clearing flooded masks, buddy breathing (which our instructors tell us is going by the wayside for some reason, but he still teaches it), removing and replacing our buoyancy control vests, and a practice controlled emergency ascent. I thought I’d have some trouble with that one, but ended up doing just fine. We took our one breath, then, regulator still in our mouths, exhale gently but continuously…ascending directly to the surface from about twenty-five feet of depth of water. Instructor by our side. It was all (I had to admit) quite fun!
But now I stand suited-up and on the cement steps that lead down into the Blue Hole.
Our instructor, Rick (yeah, he’s a hot guy himself), told us this was our final dive (I really didn’t like the sound that…)…that there were no more drills to perform.
This was just a fun dive.
We all thought this was how we were going to get our open-water certification patches—under water. Rick asked for us to meet him down at the PVC-pipe-framed underwater “platform,” which was plastic tubing attached at right angles to form an open square you can swim through. That there was just one more “tiny little formality” that needed to be completed, Rick said.
Okay, I can do this, I told myself, there’s no big deal to it…just go down one more time, blah-blah-blah, get the patch—and it’s over. All of it. Would never even have to dive again.
I could do this. It’s no Big Deal.
After all, if every certified diver has gone through what we’re going through and they all love it…how bad could it be?
Geesh, chill out, girlfriend.
I stick my regulator back into my mouth, breathe out…in…look to my buddy…and out we swim to the buoys, which are attached at the surface to the platform’s descent lines below…
Okay, for all my anxiety and ear-equalizing difficulties, I love being under water!
I never thought I’d ever say that, but I did take all this on to try to address my fears. There may not be much to look at, here (it’s kind of murky from all the diving), but I’m breathing under water! Every time I come down here I’m amazed at this little fact—I don’t know if I can adequately convey how weird it is to me. I mean, here’s this human being—me—under water—inside a totally different, basically solid, medium…and I’m breathing. It’s like sticking a miniature scuba self in a glass of water. All around me is fluid… something we wash ourselves in, drink, and die if we don’t get enough—or too much. It’s like this multifunctional medium! It could be cement for all practical purposes, or dirt (I have images of snorkeling through a neighbor’s front lawn)—it just fascinates me.
We’re all floating at platform level, adjusting our buoyancy, and awaiting our instructor’s presence. Here he comes, descending down into the center of the open platform like Superman, or something. He makes clearing your ears look so easy.
He gives each of us the “OK” signal, which we return, but he pauses at me…or maybe it just seems so? But, when he’s done “OKing” all of us, instead of handing out the patches…his gaze returns to me, and he motions for me to meet him in the center of the platform.
Unsure and suddenly nervous, but doing as requested, I push myself up and over the plastic pipe and fin my way into the center, adjusting my buoyancy and monitoring my depth.
That’s when I see him go for his slate. We’re not done yet—there is more.
Rick displays the slate, first to me, then the rest of the group. On it it says: One more thing!
I see him smiling at me behind his regulator, as he shows me the other side. The words are simple, the act is, too, but suddenly I’m not sure I can do it. I’ve been trying to mentally prepare myself for this the entire trip, but no longer can do so.
The hour is at hand.
One more act to do before I—we—can all be certified. I’m terrified. I read the slate, again, trying to extend this moment out indefinitely. To my ultimate horror, it still says:
Remove your regulator and inhale!
After the last word is a smiley face.
A goddamned smile face!
Oh, my God—it’s time…I see the others raising their fists into the (air?) water, and hear them whooping it up (grunting) for me. I’ve been trying to tell myself the entire trip that I know I can do it (face my fears!), but suddenly feel all my resolve spill out like warm urine into a frigid North Atlantic….
I’m to drown myself!
I don’t know if I can do this—I mean, I want to, I really really want to…but now, here, at the moment of truth…the facing of all my fears—I don’t know that I can.
My breathing races, despite my mental commands to do otherwise, and I look to my console, more as a measure of procrastination than anything else. 2700 pounds of air are now compressed inside my Aluminum-80 tank…more than enough for a twenty-minute dive…but I’m now being asked to drown myself—my singular worse fear. I turn to the rest of my classmates and they’re all cheering me on—giving me the “OK” and rapping their scuba knives against the PVC pipe. Some still are grunting through their regs. I look back to Rick, and see him scribbling another note on the other side of his slate. He writes: It’s okay, you can do it!
The others continue to cheer me on.
But I can’t. I thought I could…buuut…I can’t.
I shake my head, “No,” eyes wide with terror.
Rick comes up to me…puts a hand to my shoulder, and smiles gently.
His touch is surprisingly calming, not like the one on that slave ship, and he fins over to another student, one who enthusiastically receives him, and again shows the other side of the slate, where the words Remove your regulator and inhale! still reside. The other student looks to the slate, then to me, gives me the “OK” signal and smiles.
I feel a chill in my bones. He’s actually gonna do it—how come he and the others can do it, but I can’t?
Damn it, I just don’t understand—I should be able to do this, for crying out loud—I want to do it—but-but the Titanic, the slave ship… sinking, sinking, ever sinking…into cold, inky, darkness….
I look to Daniel (the student’s name is), the one who will pave the way for my supposed turn. He looks back to me, still smiling. I can hardly believe his guts as he enthusiastically yanks his regulator from his mouth, and I see him exhale every last breath of air from his lungs with (what I’ve come to know of him is) his typical, mild, bravado. He pauses—winks at me—then inhales with such force I swear I feel the water filling his lungs…rushing through his sinuses, down his throat, and into awaiting alveoli.
I watch him as his eyes slowly transition from alive and aware…to dead and blank…
His body goes limp and his head slumps forward…
But Rick is there and grabs him.
Daniel stops finning and adjusting his buoyancy, and just…floats…like a dead fish…well, actually begins to sink a little; you know, the extra weight of the inhaled water. I see several straggling bubbles escape his mouth like an afterthought—and then that’s it—he’s gone.
Everyone whoops it up, banging for their chance to go next—but I don’t let them.
Where I was supposed to have gone first—an honor—another has taken my place.
I have been embarrassed to face my fear and need to suck it up. I need to do this more than any of these others—they aren’t afraid, I am. I’m the one with the issues.
I come up to Rick and bravely give him my “OK.” He pauses…smiles back…and pats me on the shoulder, still supporting Daniel. He returns my “OK,” but this time it’s more in the form of a question, as in “Am I sure?” I respond back in the affirmative. Strong. Decisive. I then look up, seeing all the other instructors and dive masters hovering about like angels (let’s go, Miss Wings!).
They’re there to support all our drowned bodies.
I give them a firm “OK” as well, and it’s returned by all, some also giving me a thumbs-up. They’re rooting for me and I suddenly swell with emotion. Rick hands off Daniel to one of the hovering angels.
Steeling my resolve before I lose it, I reach for my regulator and take a few quick, final breaths. With less hesitation then I imagined, I remove the reg from my mouth to let it float freely beside me. I eye it as I forcibly exhale as Daniel had done. Pausing, I look to Rick, who’s watching me closely. Suddenly I do—to me—a brazen act. Something I can’t believe I did.
Smiling—no, more smirking—I return the “OK”…and wink.
I then inhale with such force I swear I drink in half the Blue Hole—
The soothing hum of our tires upon the dry, solid asphalt resonates indescribable warmth and comfort into each and every one of my cells like never before. I’m smiling warmly to myself while again seated in that SUV on our return trip north. All my classmates are again laughing and yucking it up, some still trying to clear their ears of residual water, but I continue to keep to myself and my thoughts.
And, yes, clogged ears.
I have to admit I’m pretty proud of myself.
I look out the window, watching extraordinary scenery pass by. My mind snorkels the sand and dirt and darts in and around Socorro cacti and scrub oak. Everything is so much more vibrant and alive!
How come I never noticed this before?
I smirk into my reflection in the window, fingertips gently tracing it. It is a deep, all pervading sense of well-being I now enjoy.
I’ve faced my fear.
I’ve finally done it, and what I’ve experienced no longer frightens.
Sometimes we forget the little things…the scent of life…the warmth of sunshine against our faces…the laughter of others…
The song of soul.
We need to die every once in a while, everyone does. It’s no big deal. I’m learning. What’s next pour moi?
Maybe I’ll take up skydiving.
- Dark Was The Hour (fpdorchak.wordpress.com)
- The Coming of Light (fpdorchak.wordpress.com)
- The World’s Greatest Writer (fpdorchak.wordpress.com)
- The Death of Me (fpdorchak.wordpress.com)
- Tail Gunner (fpdorchak.wordpress.com)
- Do The Dead Dream? (fpdorchak.wordpress.com)
- Short Stories (fpdorchak.wordpress.com)
- Voice (amazon.com)
- Psychic (amazon.com)
- ERO (amazon.com)
- The Uninvited (amazon.com)
- Sleepwalkers (bookstore.authorhouse.com)