Darth Vader is all I hear. Slow drag in on the tail of a rasping exhale, one chasing the other. Too fast, now too slow, not enough. Underneath that the sound of my hammering pulse. A hair must have been caught in the perimeter of my goggles because water is trickling in, salt stinging one eye.
I slow my fins for a moment trying to reconcile my breathing. It’s too harsh, too loud, and the ocean’s answering silence is deafening. 30 feet above me the water is choppy with wind and opaquely gray to match the sky. The feeling arises that we shouldn’t have gone down.
The day before practicing in the pool we felt silly bumbling about in the six feet of chlorinated water with our tanks and equipment. We dreamed of slipping into the silken warmth of the Jamaican sea, free as mermaids to explore and dance along the ocean floor. There would be swirling schools of rainbow colored fish, kingdoms made of coral, and perhaps a sassy eel or two to befriend.
Looking around I see nothing friendly, just endless space, cloudy and infinite. Panic raises a ringing in my ears, a strange disorienting cacophony now with the ventilator’s ceaseless grate and the heartbeat in my head. It’s the water’s secrecy that is the most unnerving, however. The weight of it is crushing, but I’m surrounded. Where are all the fish? What am I missing? Wait.
Where is everyone else?
I kick upright and look behind me. I’ve drifted. I’m alone. With a surge of alarm I scissor to rejoin. Oddly the frenzied burst of energy strangles something like a laugh in my throat and the bizarre impulse does wonders in transforming the zinging adrenaline into something more manageable, more fun.
As I approach I see they’re looking at a starfish. I thumb’s up, but my neck is aching from craning. I tap my wrist with my index finger to ask for the time and get an outstretched five back. I can’t help but be pleased.
This was my first dive, and it was a dark and dangerous day. A tropical storm brewing in the sky had the waves churning and frothing around the boat. Fatigue gripped our muscles as we fought through them trying to trace the rope line back to our precarious shelter. Once on board I miraculously feel refreshed, the relief washing over me in almost painful intensity. The captain hands me a Red Stripe which I accept gratefully. "Everyting Irie," he says. I don't really know if it's a question or a statement, but I nod in agreement. Yes, now everything's alright.