What Was I Thinking?

By Traci Blaha

I have driven past the little dive shop so many times in the past 30 years. Why would I turn in today? Why would I sign on the dotted line today? Why would a 55-year-old hairdresser, terrified of the thought of being 10 m/30 ft underwater, decide to get scuba certified? Today.

It’s Tuesday morning, at the beginning of July, my life is great. My kids are healthy and happy. The grandson is getting along well. My salon is doing well. Weather is great. Bills are paid. Why is my heart in my throat and I feel like I am sinking?

Six weeks ago, a client came in for a haircut and proceeded to tell me that her husband lost his incredibly long battle with cancer. The doctors thought he had beat it, but not. She was crushed.

Last Friday another client posted her husband died from an aggressive form of cancer. He was young. She has an eleven-year-old daughter.

This morning I have a client in my chair. She is telling me that her neighbor, another client of mine, died two weeks ago from breathing issues.

I have a lot of clients who have become good friends. I know about their families, friends, jobs, homes, and health. I have also shared so much of my life with so many of my clients and I consider them my friends. When one of them passes away, sometimes I don’t hear about it for weeks or months. It usually doesn’t affect me personally. It always affects me emotionally. Some circumstances more than others.

If you know a lot of people, a lot of people die. It is sad. Sometimes, it is overwhelming. This week, with everything else that is going on in the world, it is crushing. I can’t shake it. I need a distraction, something else to focus on. Something big, consuming.

I have always wanted to scuba dive. The thought of swimming above the coral among the fish and exotic creatures thrills me and terrifies me.

When I was young, about 16 years old, I had attempted snorkeling in Key Largo. And failed miserably. It was an issue with the mask over my nose and breathing through my mouth. Maybe I am a nose breather. I love to swim, just not with a mask over my nose. The thought of scuba diving was out of the question.

There was another opportunity in Grand Cayman when I was 36 years old. We were at Stingray City playing with the stingrays. Our next stop was snorkeling. I faked seasickness.

Then I hit 40. We were on a cruise and we stopped off in Aruba. My children, 16 and 11 years old, grabbed the snorkeling gear and swam off. I was newly divorced and feeling like I could conquer the world. Just not snorkeling.

The internal battle that commenced over that mask was intense! I kept telling myself, You are better than this mask. You have accomplished harder things than this. Just breathe and float. In through the mouth, out through the mouth. Now it seems so simple. Then I was panicking. I was victorious. I was able to calm myself down enough to actually enjoy the experience.

There have been other times since then. I spent eight days in the Galapagos and one-third of the trip was snorkeling. It was a dream trip. Every day mixed in with hiking, there would be snorkeling.  The first morning the guide handed us our mask, snorkel, and fins. They dropped us off at a nice little beach and told us to bond with our gear. The waves were breaking hard. I didn’t get in the water.

After lunch, we were out on the motorized redraft in some deep water and the guide told us this is where we would be snorkeling and to get our gear on. I played it cool. Until I got in and my mask filled with water. I freaked a bit and got back into the redraft. I felt defeated. I would miss out on most of the trip if I couldn’t snorkel.

The next day we hiked a bit and then we had some free time to snorkel. I grabbed my mask, fins, and snorkel and headed to a calm part of the little bay. I put the mask on and it filled with water again. After making sure my hair was out of the way, I shook all of the water out of the mask and secured it on my face.

When I put my face in the water it was coming in around my nose. I examined the mask and realized there was a little valve in the nose piece that would flip out in my hand. I blew through it one way easily when I turned it and blew the air wouldn’t flow through it. Was it really that simple? I flipped it over and put it back in place. It worked perfectly! It is so important to know your equipment. A misplaced valve could have ruined my trip. That day we saw a huge sea turtle.

A few days later, after several successful snorkeling ventures, we were in a channel between two islands and the water was flowing fast. We were in three-millimeter short wetsuits that the guide provided. These suits were short sleeved and short pants, and ill-fitting. We swam around for a bit without a problem…until it came time to get back to the raft.

I tried to swim back up the current to the raft but it was too strong and I was already tired. The wetsuit started to constrict and I was struggling. There was a long uncomfortable moment where I thought I was going to lose this battle with the current. One of the girls from the group saw that I was having a rough time and grabbed my arm while she signaled the boat. I realize the irony if I were to have met my demise on my dream trip. I thoroughly enjoyed the trip and I came home with so many stories.

At one point I remember thinking it would be wonderful to be scuba diving instead of snorkeling. Then I looked down into the water and the panicky feeling hit me again. I was terrified of being 10 m/30 ft down in the water. The What ifs? would attack. What if there was an accident? What if I got lost? What if I ran out of air? What if I got left behind? Most people would say these were rational fears. I was a teensy bit less than rational.

Still, I have always wanted to do it. Several times as I was driving past the local dive shop there would be a sign advertising Scuba Discovery $39. I could try it. Or I would be at a resort and they would offer an introductory scuba experience. I would have a hundred excuses. I was broke. I didn’t have anyone to scuba dive with. There is no ocean in Illinois. It really came down to fear. Not of drowning, I am a good swimmer. Ok, yes, of drowning. Being so far under the water and not being able to get to the surface.

This was the day. My kids are grown and taking care of themselves just fine. I have the best job and my finances are in the black. I travel to wonderful places with diving opportunities. I have a friend that is a diver. All of my excuses are gone except the big one.

I consider my friend, whose husband just died. How she must feel every day waking up to raise her daughter after losing her husband, the father of her child. Finding strength, while she is drowning in grief. Being brave for her daughter, even though she is terrified. Hanging onto happiness and not drowning in grief.

I turn into the dive shop and sign up for the scuba certification class.

Read part two here.

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