|Photos by Laumei Diving|
When Jim received a call from his Swedish radiologist buddy inviting him to join a group of men learning to scuba dive, he jumped at the opportunity. With the plentiful reefs and live coral surrounding the island of Tutuila, American Samoa is ideal. Jim studied a PADI book to prepare. He and my father share a similar, annoying knack – they can process their reading material into a live experience. Mind and body become one with the universe. Jim earned his Open Water certification with the ease of an experienced diver.
He enjoyed himself so much he suggested that Carolyne and I might like to take a Mom/Daughter class. Having endured piercing sharp pain while simply snorkeling was a concern, crackling like broken glass across my forehead and face. But, I signed up anyway thinking Carolyne would also love taking lessons together and it sounded easy enough. I couldn't have been more wrong.
Instead of giggling with delight over our girly adventure, on our first excursion Carolyne crossed her arms, avoided eye contact and acted utterly bored. She didn't exchange but two words with Renaud, our Master Diver, and I wasn't even sure she was paying attention to his instructions. It was hardly a bonding experience.
And it was on our 3rd dive I suffered severe pain in my ear. My mask felt like it was going to jet propel off my face and I was having trouble breathing. Attempts to equalize were futile. Nervous anxiety escalated until I was convinced it was a holy premonition telling me to GET OUT OF THE WATER! I sat the lesson out. Carolyne, a born sea creature, was flipping tail and soaring through the refracted aqua light with such beauteous grace that Renaud boasted she was a “natural”. She discovered she loved diving so much that she pursued her courses unabashed and quickly earned her Open Water certification.
The Sea Fairy.
I was sadly never able to complete the first level. I pictured Jim and Carolyne going on fantastic underwater adventures while I stayed on dry land or putzed around the surface in my snorkel gear. With a heavy heart, I thanked Renaud for his time and went home to have a good cry. Jim tried to comfort me. “Describe your problem”, he gently coaxed. Through my blubbering I managed to squeak, “I... have... mental...”
And... that about sums it up.
Then a week later, Renaud invited me to go diving with him one-on-one, predicting I would do fine if it were just the two of us. We had already paid him, so I agreed to give it another try.
Plus he's 26.
And very handsome.
Plus he's 26.
And very handsome.
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Trouble was immediate.
Although Renaud's instructions were excellent, upon descending I had the inability to control my BCD (buoyancy control device). (B)limping slowly to the top, gluteus maximus in the lead and arms and legs flailing, I desperately tried to deflate air out of my vest, which wasn't cooperating because my fingers aren't anymore coordinated than the rest of me. More lead weights were added to my pockets, but after several more helium-butt-woman retrievals Renaud opted to DRAG me alongside for the rest of the dive. It was humiliating... bobbing up and down uncontrollably like a silly cartoon...
But practice makes perfect. I eventually passed every required physical exercise, even filling my mask 100% with water and then purging – totally executed while underwater. My initial attempts at this were pretty rotten because of a so-called little freak-out-factor, and so I was instructed to repeat this hateful drill several times over the course. I blame it on stage fright because once a curious school of yellow fish arrived and hovered in front of me. There is nothing quite so intimidating as performing water tricks in front of an aquatic audience. After 10 sloppy efforts, I finally purged the water from my mask completely. The unimpressed fish left before intermission and I could swear one of them even booed.
It took me twice as long to get halfway there, but Renaud (patient saint that he is) encouraged me along until I finally obtained my Open Water certification with no further mishaps... including death-defying underwater feats, like removing my weight belt and BCD and then dressing into them again and removing my mask, swimming 10 meters, replacing the mask and purging.
I emailed my sister, bragging of my triumphant diving achievement and detailing the mind-boggling hurdles I overcame. Her response?
“That poor 26 year old saint and his naïve self thinks you had anxiety....Pfft. I know better. This is you...
Oh no, French boy - we are too deep - I cannot breathe - I need mouth to mouth!
Oh no, French boy....there is something wriggling in my wet suit - can you get it out?
Oh SHARK!...Hold me, French boy!”
If only I had been so clever.