Scuba Diving

December 1, 2011
My lungs expand as I inhale shallow sips of cold, dry air. My eyes widen as the sound of my shaky, rattling breaths cut through the silence. I spin in frantic circles in the darkness that threatens to swallow me completely. I need to focus on something: a rock, a fish, anything to remind me that I am not alone. If I find a place to focus then I won’t lose myself in this underwater domain. Goosebumps sprout on my arms, not from the chill of the water, but from the unknown. Out of the corner of my eye I see a cluster of dull, gray fish swimming between tendrils of algae draped across a rotting log. They are alien creatures in an alien world. My sudden appearance startles them and they dart away, leaving the water opaque. I wave my hand through the lake water, trying to disperse the thick cloud of silt and plant particles that surround me, blind me. A murky figure began to swim toward me. I squint my eyes through my goggles and recognize my dive instructor. After a feeble attempt to move toward him, I realize that trying to swim with my arms is useless. The bulky buoyancy controller and equipment strapped around me are restricting. Arms hanging limply by my side, I make my way clumsily over to the instructor by kicking my flimsy fins. In the time it takes me to reach him, I am out of breath and the compressed air has sapped my mouth of moisture. My dive partner swims up behind him, looking at me with magnified eyes that mirror my anxiety.
As we continue to descend slowly into the shadows I keep checking my air gauge, eying the needle that creeps slowly and steadily toward empty. I feel a slight pressure in my ears. It is a small discomfort, but I act as I was instructed in class only a week earlier. My bulky, gloved fingers pinch my nose, and I blow out to clear my ears. It doesn’t help. I push a finger under my dive cap to free my ears and repeat the process. Nothing happens. Seeing the group now below me, I sink like an anchor. The pressure gets worse. I squeeze my nose shut and try again. It isn’t working. My partner is swallowed by the deep abyss. The pressure snaps to a sharp pain and I stop. I yell into the regulator and a flurry of bubbles rushes from my mouth. Signaling to the dive master, my hand becomes a pendulum. It moves from side to side- the gesture that something is wrong. I point to my ears and then to the surface. The pain grows as I ascend and I hear bubbling in my ears. My fins won’t move any faster. The flexible rubber material and thin plastic are easily manipulated by the water. I’m almost at the surface; I can see rays of hope penetrating through the lake. A painful frothing sound rings in my ears. I strain against the pull of the water, against the pain in my ears, the pressure in my head. The light from above casts a surreal look under the lake. My vision is turning fuzzy, bordered by waves of black. I don’t know which way is up or which way is down. Then my struggle ends. Motionless, I stare ensnared and entranced by the eerie water that I am surrounded by. I’ve stopped moving, so why is the world around me spinning in circles?
The burning in my lungs reminds me to breathe. I fill my mouth with crisp, metallic air. I take deep breaths to calm myself, but the world still goes around like a child’s toy. Something is tugging my arm and I hear the sound of air being forced into my vest. And like a yoyo dangling from a string, I am yanked up.

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