A Tale of Three Husbands - A Near Drowning
To my dismay, as I began to organize my thoughts for this particular piece, it refused to stay cohesive. It was like a brush fire...where one incident led back to another incident which of course brought to mind still another related incident...and before I knew it, the fire was totally out of control. Do I try to smoosh it all into one very long story or....
...and so this three part story was born.
I call it, a Tale of Three Husbands, which coincides nicely with the fact that I've been married three times.
Rather than continue to tease you, let's just get on with it and begin, shall we?
I love the ocean. To be fair...I love all water, whether it's a bath tub, a lake or the deep blue sea...but the ocean truly has my heart. Like a lot of people, "Jaws" gave me a few sleepless nights. I made sure that no toes or appendages hung over the edge of the bed to be devoured by the shark that lurked just underneath and out of my sight, but it wasn't enough to keep me out of the water.
My first husband was water-challenged. Unless it came in a tumbler, with ice and whiskey...he liked to stay as far away from it as possible. When we went to the beach, he would wave from shore as I swam further out into the numbing cold of the northern Atlantic waters off the New Hampshire coast. So of course, it was only logical that he would insist on going to an island for our honeymoon...right?
What I had not foreseen was the lure of the "all-inclusive" package. Husband #1 was thrilled by the prospect of the eternal open bar. If not for the fact that I rarely took advantage of it, the hotel might have had to declare bankruptcy after our visit. Still, it being an island and all, inevitably there would be a clash of interests as I yearned for the wide expanse of the Caribbean Sea and my husband could not resist the siren call of happy hour.
As a good wife, it was my duty to try and find outings that would include both the sea and the Seagrams. Therefore, one afternoon, I raced down to the beach bar and plopped the pamphlets onto the wooden surface, flushed with my success. I had booked us both for an excursion on a schooner. There would be snorkeling at several stops, haute cuisine and an open bar.
"It sounds good," my husband replied, "but...I don't know how to snorkel."
"No problem!" I replied, "I can teach you...easily."
And so, that afternoon, we grabbed masks, snorkels and fins from the hotel's available equipment and headed down to the shore. I explained the proper use of each as we stood waist high in the calm waters. With that done, I proceeded to swim away slowly parallel to the shore. After about ten yards, I turned around to see where my husband was.
He was standing up, choking and sputtering.
"There's something wrong with my equipment," he exclaimed. "The mask leaks or something...and I keep getting water in the snorkel."
Without hesitation, I swapped gear with him. After double-checking to make sure that his mask and snorkel were in the proper position, I swam away again. Another ten yards and once again sans husband, I stood up to find out where he was.
Choking and gasping for air, he ripped off the mask...
"This isn't working. I don't want to go tomorrow..."
Well this was unacceptable to me. Seven days on an island and only being allowed to go waist deep in the water while he spent it under an umbrella drinking himself into a stupor was not how I wanted to remember our honeymoon.
"Here," I suggested, "put the mask and snorkel back on and let me watch. Just swim a few yards...and perhaps I can figure out what's wrong."
"I'm not doing anything WRONG...it's the equipment!"
"Fine...just do it. Humor me."
Shooting hateful glances my way, he angrily put the mask and snorkel back on. I reached out and made a few adjustments and then nodded toward the water.
Sure enough, no sooner had he started to kick, his head dipped low enough to place the snorkel beneath the surface. As soon as he had recovered from sputtering indignantly, I attempted to point this out to him.
"Okay..honey...this is what's wrong. You have to look straight ahead...if you want to see what's behind you, then you have to turn around. You have to keep the snorkel ABOVE the water."
"That's not it," he fumed, "the water is simply too rough. How am I supposed to keep the snorkel out of the water with these waves?"
I looked around doubtfully as the surf gently rolled onto the beach...the surface about as glass-like as anyone could wish for. Arguing, I sensed, would be futile.
"I'll tell you what...we can go to the pool. It's how I learned (not really...but a small white lie I could live with if it helped) and I'm sure you'll see how easy it is there."
Mollified, he followed me to the closest pool, grabbing a fresh drink as we passed the bar.
As luck would have it, we were not alone at the pool. At the shallow end, sitting beneath the shade of an umbrella sat two older women on vacation from Queens. They were the epitome of Jewish matrons...big dark sunglasses, wide brimmed hats, swimsuits that had never been sullied by chlorine and fingers bejeweled with rocks that put my own to shame.
"Oh isn't he just too cute for words!" remarked one. The other nodded, adding, "Cute as a bug's ear he is...and such a natural in the water! What a lucky woman you are, sweetie!"
I bit my lip to suppress a smile, agreeing with them wholeheartedly. All of this adoration was having the desired effect. Eager to prove just how adorable and cute he was, my husband was soon swimming entire laps in the pool without a single sputter. Simply amazing.
"So, Handsome," asked one of the matrons eyeing my husband as he toweled off, "now that you've mastered snorkeling...what will you be doing?"
"My wife and I are going on a schooner tomorrow. I can't wait to go snorkeling!" he replied with a very wide and proud smile.
"How wonderful!" she said and winked at me. I simply smiled in gratitude and winked back. Smart old broad...she hadn't missed a thing.
I am a natural floater. Ever since I was a kid, I could easily roll on my back, relax and lay on top of the water. It always puzzled me how others would sink like a rock the moment they ceased to kick their legs. My husband was a sinker. As a precaution, the following day, I snugged him into a life vest before placing a more minimal flotation device around my own waist. I didn't need it, but regulations aboard the boat made some sort of flotation device a necessity. It would rule out free-diving, but it didn't matter.
To my utter delight, my husband was enjoying the snorkeling. I made sure to stay nearby in case of any emergencies, but it was a pleasure watching him point out one fish after another in child-like wonder. Still, after one dive, his curiosity was satiated and he spent the remainder of the excursion, happily seated at the bar. At this point, I didn't mind. He'd done everything I'd asked...he'd earned his down time.
"Did you have fun?" I asked as we left the schooner that afternoon.
"It was awesome! I'd definitely like to do that again!"
"Well, funny you should say that...because there's a place I'd enjoy seeing tomorrow. It's an atoll...and there's snorkeling involved."
He gave me a doubtful look.
"Oh...and a bar right on the beach too."
"Oh...okay...that sounds like fun."
The next day we hopped an excursion bus heading for the destination I had in mind. Since this place had no flotation device regulations, I bypassed the stall handing them out and headed straight for the pier. My husband did the same.
"Uh...don't you think you should get a life vest or something?" I asked with a bit of trepidation.
"Nahhh...I did just fine yesterday."
Just to be sure, I started him off slowly. We hung around the pier for a bit, in shallow water, feeding the fish and staying with the group. Eventually though...I wanted to explore more of the area.
"Why don't you stay here with the others. I'm going to just head in that direction for a bit." I explained, pointing further away.
"I'll be fine! Geesh...it's not like I can't swim."
"Okay...then stay close and let me know if you have any problems" I said with misgiving.
I set off for the shoreline about fifty yards south. It was actually rather shallow and to my dismay the current made it rather tough to negotiate the prodigious amounts of fire coral. I surfaced in a clear spot and indicated to my husband that I was taking us out a little ways to get us out of the coral. No need to accidentally brush against them and receive a painful welt.
He nodded in understanding and the two of us headed out perpendicular to the shore. I was enthralled by the scenery as the bottom gradually sloped away. The water was crystal clear and I could see in all directions for at least a hundred feet. Every so often I would look to my side, locate my husband and assure myself that he was doing fine.
During one such check, I turned and saw just his legs...and these were firmly planted on an immense brain coral. We had both gotten the speech about how much damage such contact could do and I started to swim back to give him a big chunk of my mind on it. As I surfaced in front of him, all those nagging reminders vanished from my lips as I saw his eyes begin to roll up into the back of his head. His face was white and from the snorkel came the most horrible raspy gagging sounds as he tried to breathe.
My first thought was...shark. Had my husband seen something that I had missed? I looked around quickly for any telltale signs of a man-eating menace. Nothing. I turned back to my flailing husband, barely catching what sounded like "can't breathe" as it mega-phoned through the snorkel. I reached out and plucked the mouthpiece from his lips.
"What did you see?" I asked quickly "A shark...a barracuda?"
He shook his head, gulping in large quantities of air as he paddled desperately to maintain his tenuous hold on the coral.
With a bit of exasperation, noticing he was trying to breathe through his nose, I lifted the mask.
"Okay...okay...relax. I'm here. What happened?"
Although the water was as calm as a bath tub, I figured now was not the time to question the veracity of his claim. Perhaps there had been a rogue wave...maybe.
To my chagrin, I looked back toward shore and realized that due to the clarity of the water I'd inadvertently taken us out about four hundred yards. Not good. While I had no doubt that I could make it back safely, I had a panicked sinker on my hands and even if I managed to get him close enough to shore, there was still the fire coral to consider. It wouldn't be pretty.
"Okay...okay. Well first thing we're going to do is calm down okay? As long as you are on the coral, you'll be fine."
When it came to a choice between wiping out millions of coral or my husband's life...I figured the coral would just have to deal with it.
"I...I...don't know if I can make it" my husband sputtered, struggling to keep his head up as he followed my gaze to the rather distant shoreline.
"Of course you can...just look at me...at me...that's right. Breathe in....now out...slowly...watch me...in....out. I was thinking tonight...we'll try those big juicy burgers at the beach bar...sound good?"
"We're in no hurry here...all the time in the world. Feeling a little better?"
He nodded again. I noticed with relief that some color had returned to his cheeks and he was no longer fighting to maintain his footing. I smiled reassuringly keeping my voice soothing and confident. If he panicked...
I didn't even want to consider that.
"We'll take it in steps. Little hops back to the beach...okay? I saw other spots just like this where we can stop and rest if you wish. Think you can do that?"
With an uneasy look in his eyes, he nodded and put the mask and snorkel back on.
"I'll stay right by your side the entire way.....take my hand...good. Just squeeze if you want to stop okay? Go ahead...give it a squeeze. Good. Okay...ready?"
After a semi-panicked start, my husband began to relax. I guided him in slowly, stopping whenever he squeezed my hand. Luckily, he recovered completely from panic before we had entered the field of fire coral and this became a non-issue as he navigated it under his own propulsion.
I tucked a towel around him as he stretched out on a lounge chair and placed a drink in his hand.
"If it's all the same to you," he said in relief, "I think I'll just stay here while you snorkel."
I decided that was perfectly fine by me. Becoming a widow on our honeymoon was just not an attractive scenario. However, I had to smile when a few hours later, my husband, now wearing a life jacket, jumped back into the water to feed the fish by the pier. While I would never have blamed him if he never put another toe into the water, I had to admire his tenacity.
We'd both learned a lot on this trip. My husband may have learned to snorkel...but the two of us had gained a very healthy respect for water safety.