The first time I went scuba diving was off the coast of Rhodes, an island in Greece. I had always wanted to do it — having grown up swimming and diving, I was used to being in the water but curious what it would be like to stay under longer, manipulating my breathing and having help to stay submerged. So, a group of my friends decided to get on a boat, head to a cove, and do it. It was the week after graduating from high school, and we were having the time of our lives.
It was exhilarating, and it was scary. Preparing to go under, being weighted down with all the gear, felt unnatural. I wanted to be in a one-piece suit, not a full-body skin, and I didn’t know how I felt about breathing into a tube and having my face covered with goggles. But I wanted to try this, to be able to swim and move and explore for longer. After about ten minutes down under, I started breathing too fast. For the first time I could remember, I felt claustrophobic, despite being in the largest body of water I had ever been in. I struggled and wanted to kick to the surface but I knew deep down I wanted to be there and that my breathing was going to be okay, I didn’t need to fight the oxygen or the water. Slowly, steadily, I became calm again. And then I started exploring, and I couldn’t stop smiling like a fool through my scuba mask. And then I had maybe the most freeing forty-five minutes of my life.
When it came to swimming, I was used to the sounds and the silence. How, underwater, laughter from the kids on the pool’s edge was muffled and far away, but the sound of cracking my knuckles was loud and sharp and crisp. That quiet of skimming along the bottom, arms extending and sweeping, pushing water out of the way to make room for my gliding. I loved how in the water was the only place it felt natural to make frog legs, pulling my feet in and away from my body as I moved doing breaststroke. My body propelling itself without thinking about it. To this day, underwater is one of the most peaceful places in the world to me.
To begin a dive, I stand one step forward from the back of the board, shoulders back, eyes fixed on a tree in the distance. When I am ready, I shift my gaze down to the end of the board and begin my approach. Arms by my sides, one step, two, three, arms by my ears, my knee has started my jump, up, down, two feet hit the board and I am in the air. My mind is off. I hear nothing except my limbs and the quiet of the water below me. My body knows what to do and before I know it I’ve struck the blue, hopefully ripping the water and making no splash as my hands, arms, torso, legs, and toes are submerged. I soar to the bottom and my body settles, stops moving. If it was a good dive, I smile, tilt my head back, and push myself to the surface. If it was bad, I’ll stay down for a little while, maybe clench my fists and shake my arms loose before coming back up. The thing about diving is, it’s all over in a matter of seconds. You execute the dive and celebrate or take refuge in being swallowed by the water, the waves, that thing you have come to trust to catch you. If it hurt, the water soothes. If it was beautiful, if the movements were perfect and crisp and tasting of that thing we call grace, then the water takes you and your grace in, tumbles and wraps you in a gentle embrace, and nudges you back to the surface as it whispers, Again, again.