That First Breath

Early the morning of July 1st, pleasantly overcast and cool, I said good-bye to my husband and sons, had a hearty breakfast, and set off on a grand adventure.

Fuel for the grand adventure.
Fuel for the grand adventure.

My companion on the journey was Captain Rambo, a stalwart woman of keen insights and good cheer so long as you don't have a camera pointed in her general direction.

Captain Rambo does not approve of your photographic shenanigans.
Captain Rambo does not approve of your photographic shenanigans.

With a stop long enough to fuel the carriage (carriages do not run on chocolate milk, which isn't as unfortunate as it sounds as I'd finished breakfast by that point), we set off for the wilds of Point Defiance.

Point Defiance. You'll never find a greater hive of cute, fuzzy animals with big sharp teeth.
Point Defiance. You'll never find a greater hive of cute, fuzzy animals with big sharp teeth.

After a minor difficulty with our papers, the guards allowed us through the gates.

Our paperwork to cross the border.
Our paperwork to cross the border.

Point Defiance was truly a wondrous place filled with works of art crafted from waste findings that had washed ashore.  The sculptures were dedicated to the natives and their struggles maintaining a healthy oceanic ecosystem.  Seeing these displays was a bittersweet reward, and served as a reminder of how fragile our world could truly be.

Honorific statues made of plastics and waste washed ashore. Beautiful and sad at the same time.
Honorific statues made of plastics and waste washed ashore. Beautiful and sad at the same time.
In honor of my people...
In honor of my people...
Memoriam.
Memoriam.
Octopus or eldritch menace? Only Cthulu knows for sure...
Octopus or eldritch menace? Only Cthulu knows for sure...
Watch out, Captain Rambo!
Watch out, Captain Rambo!
Priscilla looks lovely today.
Priscilla looks lovely today.
Starfish flourish.
Starfish flourish.
Leafy seadragon.
Leafy seadragon.
The male carries the eggs under his tail.
The male carries the eggs under his tail.
Captain Rambo contemplates the great white seal. Yes, that is a mask in the center of its flank.
Captain Rambo contemplates the great white seal. Yes, that is a mask in the center of its flank.
Turtle!
Turtle!
The beauty is in the details, as is the realization that this art makes a statement about what is cast aside.
The beauty is in the details, as is the realization that this art makes a statement about what is cast aside.
Animoy...Anemmee...Animomo...Oh, forget it!
Animoy...Anemmee...Animomo...Oh, forget it!
We're going to need more peanut butter.
We're going to need more peanut butter.

The natives of Point Defiance were equally charming, though most not as obliging of the camera.  I started to think that Captain Rambo had sent word ahead of my interest in documenting our journey, though she assured me this was not the case.  I returned her courtesy of this assurance by not capturing one of her later encounters.

The natives take a moment to freshen up.
The natives take a moment to freshen up.
Captain Rambo takes a moment to admire the local pokey-pricks. Sadly, she would later learn they should be peeled before consuming.
We  Captain Rambo takes a moment to admire the local pokey-pricks. Sadly, she would later learn they should be peeled before consuming.
Friendly fellow. Excellent conversationalist.
Friendly fellow. Excellent conversationalist.

Though we enjoyed exploring the hidden treasures, the time came for us to journey to the coral reefs of the South Seas and the reason for our journey.  Anemones drifted, and rainbows in the shapes of tiny fish darted in shallow pools.  Guides admonished us not to touch, and instead directed eager hands of the crowd to a pool where some of the smallest members of a family with a history nearly as grand as history itself swam in idle contemplation.  Captain Rambo and I paid our proper respects, and what may seem a small gesture to some offered truths I will carry in my heart until my final day.

Introducing myself to a stingray.
Introducing myself to a stingray.
Bamboo shark.
Bamboo shark.

Then it was time for us to retire to the main event.  Captain Rambo and I were directed with two others to a back room where the guides gave an overview of what we could expect.  Above all else, they said, we were to remain calm and keep our hands to ourselves.

We engaged with representatives of each delegation save the Japanese wobbegong. Very shy. Kept to itself all afternoon.
We engaged with representatives of each delegation save the Japanese wobbegong. Very shy. Kept to itself all afternoon.
The entourage.
The entourage.
Taking in the layout.
Taking in the layout.
Breathing is good...
Breathing is good...
I...might have forgotten that.
I...might have forgotten that.
Think about it.
Think about it.

Finally, we were ready.  Captain Rambo was more nervous than I, yet she remained true to her sense of adventure.  There was no turning back.

Captain Rambo and the giant blueberry. In my defense, much of that is air.
Captain Rambo and the giant blueberry. In my defense, much of that is air.

Sadly, here is where pictures fail me.  Our hosts were the retiring sort and the guides declined to allow us to take cameras with us into the inner chamber.  We were escorted into the great, muggy room where the guides fit us with respirators.   The far wall was glass; behind it, spectators waited for us to arrive.  Captain Rambo allowed me the honor of being the first in the water.  I found it a comfortable temperature, and was surprised at how tight the suit clung to my body every step down.  I raised my right arm and put my left down against my body so the guides could remove some of the air from the suit.

"Are you ready to put your head below water?" said one of the guides.

Understand something, gentle reader.  For as long as I can remember, in dreams where I took to the air I inevitably lost the power of flight.  Every time without fail, I sank gently to the ground and searched the rest of the dreamscape for a way to recapture what I had lost.  Yet my dreams of swimming, oh they were glorious!  I streaked through the water, twisting and turning in the rush of currents, and all around me flashed and slithered the entirety of the life of the oceans.  My joy was more than mere words can describe, as was the terror that came with the realization that I could not breathe under water, that I was going to drown.  As I struggled against the stuff of sleep to reach the surface, my body took its final, instinctive breath and I would find I could, indeed breathe under water.  It is unfortunate that I always mirrored this breath in real life, waking from that radiant moment before I could draw my second breath.

I did not want to put my head below water.  I did not want to take a breath only to wake and find this grand adventure only a dream.  I did not, yet I did, so I did, and I did not.

That first breath. . .

I did not wake, the dream remained.  I exhaled a stream of bubbles.  FIsh swam before my eyes, and I took a second breath.  A third.  A fourth.  I grasped the bars of the cage and stared in wonder at the giants of that inland sea.  The sand tiger representative swam like a languid mountain, while the representative of the black tip reef darted about in constant "Hello!" and "What are you doing now?"  We never saw the Japanese wobbegong, shy fellow indeed, and the nurse delegation preferred to remain piled on the bottom in lazy abandon.  The most curious minded were the triplet representatives of the sandbar, each making a circuit of the sea and cage, each considering us with bright, black eyes.  One even swam so close that I reached out a little farther than I was allowed and brushed the fingers of my left hand along its pectoral fin before the giant darted away.  Later still, the guides opened the cage allowing for an unobstructed view, but the giants kept their distance and the guide in the cage reminded me more than once to remain inside with the others.

You may wonder why I do not offer any more details.  In truth, some memories are too precious to share, some waking dreams unable to withstand the weight of words without crumbling to fairie dust.  You can find snippets of our grand adventure on the book of faces if you know where to find me, or perhaps search out my mark on the wall of honor should you ever find yourself down Point Defiance way.

After.
After.
I made my mark in solidarity.
I made my mark in solidarity.

There and back again, carrying the memory of that first breath.  I can't wait to sleep and dream of swimming.

'Nuff said.
'Nuff said.
The end until the next time.
The end until the next time.

2 thoughts on “That First Breath

  1. What a great adventure! I recall those first breaths underwater as well, while studying SCUBA with my father. My girlfriend couldn't do it. I barely did. It's such and unnatural, alarming feeling. And yet, I imagine, liberating once you get used to it.
    Thanks for sharing your experiences and your reactions. Those sculptures are really something as well. I've worked in that medium, but never so large. If only I had the space. I look forward to future adventures!

    Reply
    1. Sandra

      I am now determined to get my SCUBA certification, if only so I can go outside the tank. I may never have money enough to swim with sharks in the wild, but I will never forget the joy of watching them glide by, watching me in return.

      Reply

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