I am half brave.
This is why I spent the afternoon vomiting off the side of a diving boat into the Atlantic Ocean as schools of fish swarmed below.
My father, who is 100% brave, organized a diving party for our Bahama Vacation. My mother, who is 5% brave, said “No way, I will read on the beach while you dive.”
My twin sister, who inherited my father’s bravery gene, said, “I’m in.”
I, who got a little bravery from both parents said, “I don’t know…that sounds really scary…but I want to….but maybe it’s too scary….but it would be cool…but freaky…and an amazing opportunity…so I’ll try it?”
Yes, they said, try it in the pool they said, breathe they said, you’ll be fine, they said.
My dad and I planned our tactics, that I would use my yoga breathing, prana, to remain calm in the pool. He would help me remember the number one rule of diving: keep breathing. I practiced yoga before we left, to center my breath. I was ready.
We watched our diving video, geared up, and jumped in the pool.
I submerged my head, regulator in my mouth.
Prana, breath of fire, breath of life, I am brave, prana, fire breath….ok ok ok
We moved to the middle of the pool to practice our critical diving skills.
I kept myself under control…Prana, breath of fire, breath of life, I am brave, prana, fire breath…until the skill where we slowly let water into our masks to defog them and then blow it out under water.
As I watched water slowly fill the dive instructor’s mask, I could only think of a person trapped in a glass box as it fills with water. FYI not good imagery for someone trying not to panic underwater.
I maintained my cool long enough to complete the skill then leaped out of the water, hyperventilating.
“Why did you come up? What’s wrong?” The dive instructor asked, emerging from the water.
“It’s too scary!” I shrieked. “It’s so scary!”
“But you completed your skills perfectly!” He responded. “You’re doing fine!”
“I know! But it’s like a freaking horror movie in there, man! AAARGH!” I yelled, struggling to calm my breathing. “A HORROR MOVIE!”
“Hm,” he said, looking doubtfully into the clear four foot water where Beth and her boyfriend swam below. “You calm down, we’ll talk more later.”
He submerged to help the others. I took a deep breath, replaced my regulator, and dove back under. I completed the training, and decided to try the dive. I would be brave.
As if a fear of being underwater isn’t enough to make me a poor diver, there is also the matter of my seasickness. As in I look at a boat and get sick. I was so busy conquering my fear of water that I had pushed that little fact to the back of my mind. It became a fact at the forefront of my mind as soon as the boat took off. I focused on the horizon, trying to be cool while the experienced divers around me prepared their equipment like navy seals about to enter battle.
“Are you excited?” Asked my dad.
“Well…um…if you call the feeling you have before getting a root canal excited,” I responded.
“Are you feeling sick?”
I nodded, struggling to keep it together.
“Mind over matter! Breathe deep! You can do it!” My dad coached, patting me on the back encouragingly. Motion sickness and fear are foreign to him. He jumps out of airplanes, off mountains, and into shark infested water without a second thought. I nodded and gave him a thumbs-up, thinking that people like him belong on this boat, not people like me.
We reached the dive site and were instructed to put on our gear. I started buckling up, but immediately got sick over the side of the boat. But with my dad’s help, I got my gear on and walked into the ocean as instructed. I clung to the rope off the back of the ship as the others jumped in behind me.
I put on my regulator and sank underwater. I am brave, prana, breathe in, breathe out, breath of fire, I am brave….
Suddenly fear overtook me again, and I bolted to the surface.
“I can’t do this!” I shrieked. To the dive instructor’s concerned queries I could only yell, “It’s too scary! It’s so scary!”
“This happened to you in the pool, remember? You were ok, yes?” He asked.
I nodded, yes.
“Ok, calm your breathing, you are ok, we can do this.”
I nodded and focused, yes, I can conquer this. I have always wanted to see the underwater world. I will do this.
“You put your hand on my vest, hang on to me and I’ll descend. Just worry about your breathing,” He said.
I nodded and grabbed his vest with a vice like grip. We descended again, the ocean water closing over our heads. In, out, in, out, prana, breath of fire, I am brave… when panic threatened, I looked the instructor in the eye, he motioned that we were ok, and we continued to descend…I am brave, breath of fire, I am ok…He took my hand off his vest and placed it on the rope. He turned away, and I lost eye contact and looked around at the endless, limitless ocean, the surface far above me. I thought about going further down and staying there, and suddenly I couldn’t anymore. Terror reigned. I swam back to the surface, to quit for good.
“What happened? Why did you come back up?” Asked the instructor as he emerged behind me.
“I just can’t!” I sobbed. “It’s too scary. I can’t do this.”
“Are you sure?” He asked.
“YES!” I said, vomiting again into the ocean.
The boat driver pulled me aboard, and I rocked miserably on the side of the boat for the rest of the dive, wishing I were smart enough to stay on shore with my mom, or brave enough to be on the bottom of the ocean with my dad. Half brave isn’t any good at all.
My dad, family and friends say they are proud of me. Proud that I tried, proud that I faced my fears, even if I didn’t conquer them.
When I was a little girl, my dad tried to get me to ride the Big Bad Wolf roller coaster at Busch Gardens. He said he’d buy an “I rode the big bad wolf” T-shirt for anyone who went with him. Beth got the T-shirt. I did not.
After our dive, I sat in the Jacuzzi at the resort, pondering my half-bravery, wondering if I should feel proud or ashamed of myself. I glanced up and saw my dad, a big dish of ice cream in hand. He grinned down at me.
“Here, this is for you,” he said.
I smiled. I was too wimpy to earn a “Big Bad Wolf” t-shirt, but I did get raisin-rum ice cream in the Bahamas. Because I am half-brave.