The cuts that I had gained by childish playing stung as I entered the frigid water. The salt burned my eyes, nose, mouth, and all the pores in my body. Water entered my goggles, which were larger than my entire face. The heavy weight of the oxygen tank tired my fragile back, I was struggling to breathe mouthfuls of air. My ears were popping from the pressure and bubbles began to surround me as I sunk lower than ever before.
This incident occurred when I was nine years old. My family and I were spending the summer in the beautiful Greek island of Crete. The sea shimmered in front of me and sparkled like a thousand diamonds, and my younger self fell in love with it the moment I had seen it, for it was a breathtaking view. I loved to skip barefoot across the stone path that would send me directly to the white sand beaches. One day, I noticed a driftwood sign written in bold and black paint, “Scuba Diving - Ages 8 and up.”
It took a while to convince my parents, for they were worried that I would be to frightened to do it. However, I managed to persuade them so my dad took my hand and we proceeded to the scuba diving place. A diving instructor waiting there looked tremendously impatient. She was tall and hollow-cheeked; veins were visible on her arms. Her hair was crispy and tangled from the salt that had settled on her scalp. Her narrow, piercing eyes looked directly at me, intimidating me. She was like a hound that could smell my radiating fear, “You're too little to scuba dive. You won’t be able to carry the tank for maybe another year.” I glanced at my short, scrawny body and skinny legs. For my age, I was a bit underweight, which made me look younger than I was supposed to be.
It took my dad less than two minutes to convince the woman. She gave me another glance and muttered some words under her breath as she grabbed my arm, leading me to a wooden hut. There were many hangers that displayed diving suits of different sizes and colors.
“This is the smallest size we have, wear it on top of your bathing suit and don’t complain!” She barked meanwhile shoving the diving suit onto my chest. “Put your clothes in a locker when you're done.” She slammed the door of the hut until all I saw was the light creeping in from the wooden boards that made the wall of the hut. I sighed and I began to change into the grey wetsuit. I could feel the dried salt on my skin from the unwashed suit. A strong smell of fish entered my nose and I mustered all my strength not to gag. Although the suit was the smallest size available, my arms felt loose and free unlike the rest of my body, which felt trapped. I began to trudge strangely, as some parts of my body were unproportionally too loose or too tight.
It took a while to get everything ready: I put had to put on the oxygen tank, the flippers, and my goggles. I felt shivers of nervousness and excitement down my arms; after all they were the only parts of me that I could actually feel something. My dad gave me a kiss on the head, while joking that I looked like a penguin.
When the diver instructor and I slowly entered the water, the sea welcomed us with one of the most alluring sights I had ever seen. And I could breathe underwater! You know that you're in heaven, when you feel the pulsing heartbeat of the ocean synchronizing with yours. There’s nothing more breathtaking than being a part of the sea and viewing all it has to offer: from the symphony of rushing waves and the masterpiece of colorful corals to the tango of all the different fish. I couldn't pinpoint my eyes anywhere without missing something even more beautiful. My blonde hair turned ginger due to reflection of the brightly colored algae. Everything seemed magnified, either because it was the illusion of the sea or it was because I felt so tiny.
After half hour, I swam deeper into the clear water and I focused my sight on the seafloor when something caught my eye. No way! I thought to myself. Right there on the ocean floor was a mound of rock with a huge clam perched on the top. It was open and in the center of its smooth surface peacefully lay a white pearl. Tiny yet marvelous, it sparkled like a thousand stars.
My diving instructor took to time to inspect some other sea creatures resting on the rocks and was too distracted to notice that I had halted right behind her. It wouldn’t hurt to take a closer look, I thought, inhaling and exhaling small bubbles. It’s so beautiful. Imagine holding it in my hand. I swam closer to the pearl, trying to examine it more. Stretching my hand out, I reached for it. Immediately, as I placed my hand in the clam, I felt that something was wrong, a red alarm blared in my hand to not meddle with the unknown. I was too late.
The clam closed shut and my hand was stuck in it. It happened so fast, if I had blinked I would have missed it. Panic began to arise inside me. A deep pit of anxiety settled in my stomach. In that moment, I stopped thinking. I screamed. Bubbles enveloped me. I couldn’t breathe steadily. A voice blared in my head: Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. Fear. Scared. Get hand out of there. Tank sinking me. Pressure in ear. Pain. Pain. Pain. Pain. Help. Air. Need Air. Need help.
I tried to control my breathing, remembering my dad’s phrase that ‘panic drowns the sailor.’ That philosophy calmly repeated in my ear, shutting down the blaring alarms going on in my head. I stopped squirming and tried to understand what was going on. It took minutes but it felt like hours. Suddenly, I noticed that someone was swimming beside me. It was the diving instructor and she was holding a sharp knife.
After that, everything happened in a blur. I knew she pried open the clam and pulled me to the surface, but I was too scared to comprehend anything that was happening. Finally, I gasped for air and the diving instructor pulled me close and said, “It’s alright. It’s over.” I could feel large tears forming in my eyes as I touched my numb hand. The diving instructor looked at me with sympathy as we floated on the surface of the water. She smiled weakly and said in a low tone, “Look at me. Hey, don’t cry. You were braver than I ever thought you could be, little one.”
We swam safely to shore and relief hit me when I touched the dry sand of the beach. I realized that my fist had remained closed the entire time. I opened it slowly and inside my small palm lay a small pearl.