A Tale of Three Husbands - Conquering The Fear

Photo courtesy of my brother

Sea turtle
Sea turtle
 

My brother is my idol...sure he's a sarcastic, caustic, narcissistic know-it-all...but there is nothing that he seems to fear and for that reason alone, he is like a god to me. As I relayed my near death experience to him, he managed to convey his heavy disdain over the phone line that connected us.

"This is why people like YOU simply do not belong underwater" he pronounced.

While I agreed 100% with the whole belonging thing, I was a bit offended with that remark about "people like you." Was there something wrong with me? Was my brother trying to indicate that I simply did not have the mental capacity to learn how to scuba dive...or of mastering my fear?

I explained all of this to husband #3, concluding that perhaps my great odyssey into the depths of the ocean was doomed at the start. Obviously, the weight belt had something to do with it...and being a natural control freak, I simply did not feel safe enough with being taught the basics and then thrown into the ocean to survive. What if something had happened? Being an incredibly intelligent woman, my mind had simply seen the dangers of being uninformed and my body had cooperated by squeezing the breath out of me to keep me from possible harm. Why...I bet with proper training, I would have no difficulty at all...

Did I forget to mention that husband #3 was a certified master diver? I did, didn't I?

Amongst all the wooing in the initial stages of our relationship, my third husband managed to extract a promise from me. As a sign of my undying love for him, I would attempt to overcome my fear and learn how to scuba dive. Not having completely committed to a future relationship yet, I felt no qualms in giving him this promise. What were the chances?

Husband #3 is a very smart man. He began his campaign slowly by sending a video of his latest trip to Cancun. Well, hell...if I'd known it was that easy and that diving was accompanied by a calypso soundtrack, I would have done it years earlier! He tacked onto that tales of woe....being the odd man out on these trips and forced to shack up with some yeti-like creature that snored at night and constantly kicked up the sand on the bottom of the ocean floor making the diving truly miserable. If only...if only he had me there with him...then...deep sigh...life would be perfect. He would never have to be alone again...

Awwww...

Upon arriving in Arizona, he introduced me to his diving friends and their wives...who also dived. They were a fun and infectious bunch, never once looking down their noses at my non-diving status. They certainly didn't seem to think I was one of THOSE people, as my brother had. They agreed that obviously the weight belt had something to do with my previous inability to complete that dive and assured me that no such thing would ever be allowed to happen again. I had been smart, they all concurred, in not foolishly imperiling my life with a mere resort course.

Before long I was convinced...it wasn't me...it was the evil resort course. Sign me up! I'll take this scuba course and show you I am unafraid! Ha!

Distraction was the key. While my husband was signing me up for the certified diving course at the front desk, I wandered around the store admiring the vast array of diving gear.

"You'll have to pick out a wet suit," my husband reminded me.

With delight, I trundled back off to peruse the somewhat endless racks. A wetsuit! After trying on the second one...trying to catch my breath...sweating like a pig...I realized this was really not as much fun as it sounded like. Forget going to your aerobics class at the gym...just go to the nearest dive shop and try on a few wet suits.

Sitting down, I manage to navigate my rather large feet through the leg openings and down through the tiny openings at the bottom. Gripping the heavy rubber-like material, I inch it slowly up each leg. Damn...and I thought support pantyhose was bad. Good thing I'd given up on having fingernails. Standing up, I was a bit chagrined to find that the crotch of the suit was still about halfway between my knees and uh...my crotch...so I proceeded to jump up and down...tugging the suit up. Okay...there...got it. With a few moves that would have made a contortionist proud, I manage to wriggle my arms into the sleeves without dislocating a shoulder. After zipping up, aware of the clammy sweat between me and the suit, I pause to admire myself in the mirror.

My husband pokes his head into the changing room.

"Uh...I like that one...but...ummm..."

"What?!" I say in exasperation.

"The knee pads belong on your knees...not behind them."

I pause, dumbstruck, and notice that I have completely put the suit on backwards. My husband manages to duck out before I can grab anything to hurl at his smug grin.

With my choice made, I rejoin my husband at the front desk. I pluck sweaty strands of hair off my face as I place the suit on the counter.

"We're all set...you just have to sign a few forms and you'll be registered for the class."

"Great," I mumble as I proceed to sign my life away, pausing when I come to the question, "Are you claustrophobic?"

"Just say you aren't," my sweetheart whispers in my ear, "you'll be fine."

I'm handed a packet of reading materials, including a rather cumbersome manual and told that class starts in a three weeks. The counterperson also suggests that I might want to view the DVD included in the packet as it gives you all sorts of helpful information that might not be found in the book.

"Three weeks?" I ask with a rather disbelieving squeak. "I have to read this entire manual in three weeks?"

"Well, yes," the clerk responds, "how else will you pass the written tests?"

I'm a fast reader when it comes to novels and such. But this? This was as dry as it comes...something I would read if I had a raging case of insomnia and wanted to be unconscious soon. Just to make it even worse, I ignored the manual for two weeks...and had to cram all of this in during the final week before class.

As in college, cramming does have its rewards. It gives you less time to forget what you have read. After dinner every night, I sat at the kitchen bar and stuck my nose into the manual, answering all the questions at the end of each section and comparing my newfound knowledge to the answer key. My husband was only too eager to help and would occasionally grill me on what I had just read.

"I just don't get it!" I exclaimed one evening in complete frustration.

"What don't you get honey?" my husband asked.

"These obnoxious calculations about how long you can stay down at what depth before you die..."

It took a bit, but with his patient explanation and about a gazillion examples, I was able to work those tables like a pro. Could I do it for you right now if you asked? Hell, no. I'd have to review it all again...but it was fresh enough in my head then so that I could manage the classes.

The class was relatively small...about eight or so of us. A couple that was going to dive on their honeymoon, another that was just there to refresh their skills and individuals deciding, like myself, that it was the perfect time to learn how to dive. Unlike them though, I had more pressure to succeed. The class was to be taught by some of our friends and my husband hovered close by to protect his personal interest. To put it mildly...I simply could not fail.

It was December and while the weather in Arizona is perhaps more temperate than some, I can assure you that standing outside of a pool in a soggy wetsuit is an exercise in pure torture. My feet went numb as I gazed longingly at the heated pool. There were times when I truly thought my bladder would explode if I didn't get out of all that gear and into the bathroom. I just held it until the penultimate moment because the idea of removing the wetsuit, exposing my body to the frigid air only to have to struggle with the neoprene demon to reinsert my shivering body back into it, was not something I enjoyed either.

Compared to the outdoor portion of our instruction, the classroom was over-heated and guaranteed to put anyone to sleep in minutes. Seated behind me, my husband proudly awaited the result of each test.

"And once again, Laurie got 100%," the instructor announced and then laughed, "but then again, I'm not surprised since there is a master diver behind her. Say...you aren't by chance helping her are you?"

I aced every single test...because I had to. Call it pride, call it the need to please...whatever...I wanted my husband to be proud of me. I didn't want to be one of those people who shouldn't ever dive.

The pool work wasn't really that difficult either. This was after all just a swimming pool...and with so many people around who knew so much, I felt very safe. Not once did Darth Vader the asthmatic make an appearance.

The only problem I seemed to have during the pool exercises was maintaining neutral buoyancy. Occasionally, kneeling at the bottom of the pool, my body would start to list to the side and then I'd flail about in a panic trying to right myself only to end up with my head somewhere below my ass. Still, I managed to get through this portion...although not with as many stars as the written part.

There remained only one impediment to my certification...the open water dive.

Most of the class did theirs immediately following the class in a local lake. I, on the other hand, opted not to immerse my body into forty degree water and since there was no rush, decided to wait until spring and hopefully warmer water. It's amazing how much one can forget in just a few months.

In April, I finally agreed to do my open-water dives. While the air temperature hovered in the sixties...so did the water. The weekend that was chosen, turned out to be windy and over-cast. I added gloves, a hood and boots to my gear to compensate for the weather. My husband decided it would be a perfect opportunity for him to try out his new dry suit.

I watched the choppy waves with growing dismay as I waited my turn to jump into the water. This was not good...not good at all. I could feel my chest constricting with that all too familiar panic. I looked to my husband who smiled and gave me a thumbs up. There was nothing to do but try...succeed or fail...I couldn't give up now. I jumped in.

Bobbing at the surface, I was close to complete panic as the waves broke over me. My mind was a cacophony of screaming..."get us out of the water...get us out now...what were we thinking...stupid, stupid...you are one of those people." Suddenly, Tom, our good friend and instructor grabbed my BCD and put his mask up to mine.

"It's okay Laurie...you are fine. I'm here...don't panic. We'll go down slowly...okay? One step at a time. It's a lot calmer...a lot better...down there. Okay?"

It reminded me of husband #1...and realizing I'd come full circle somehow...I placed my trust in Tom and nodded. He wouldn't let me go...and he wouldn't let me be hurt.

I began my descent.

I was probably the most ungraceful diver in the world. If Tom hadn't been there to occasionally stop me, I would have rocketed to the bottom twenty feet below. When I did finally arrive, I slammed into the bottom with enough force to stir up an amazing amount of silt. But amazingly...there was no panic.

Except for the reassuring inhale and exhale of my breathing, the world was wonderfully silent. It was mesmerizing. Tom motioned for me to follow and I bumped along the bottom after him. We knelt on the floor and performed the things I had practiced in the pool. Looking up, I could see the shimmer of the surface and I was amazed...just simply amazed. My husband joined us and pointed out through the limited visibility as fish swam in and out of our vision, like ghosts.

Over the course of the weekend, with each subsequent dive, my moments of surface panic grew shorter. They never completely disappeared...and even to this day, I still suffer them to one extent or another. But I learned to descend with grace...fanning my body out like a sky diver to control my speed. Even my neutral buoyancy improved...although quite by accident.

At one point, Tom grew a bit frustrated with my awkward bumping and scraping along the bottom and to my surprise he suddenly thrust his hand in my face, palm outward, ordering me to stop. Just...stop. I was so shocked I did just that. And then...just like that Tom smiled. I was confused...wasn't he just angry with me? Why was he suddenly smiling? And then he clapped his hands together in approval and pointed...below me...

I looked down...

To my amazement, I was simply hanging there...suspended a couple of feet above the bottom. My arms weren't flailing and my legs weren't kicking. *click* It all came together just like that. Rather than trying to control myself, all I had to do was relax and let go....and not over think it.

Having completed the course and received my certification, I celebrated by removing all of the heavy gear and leaping overboard. Snorkeling would always be my first love...and learning how to dive only made me appreciate the freedom of it more. I doubted I would ever be an avid diver, like my brother, but at least I no longer feared it.

Later that night, I picked up the phone and called my brother. "I'm no longer one of THOSE people..."I began. I have a few dives under my weight belt now, and while I'm not so foolish as to believe that makes me a truly experienced diver, it has earned my brother's respect. He's even suggested that perhaps we should go diving together some time. I think I'd like that very much.

Photo courtesy of my talented brother

Sealion in an underwater canyon
Sealion in an underwater canyon

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