Traveling became one of my favorite hobbies when I was in my late 20’s. I loved the idea of experiencing other countries, cultures, food, and scenery. It allowed me to try so many different activities that I more than likely would never do here at home.
I loved the ocean. The different hues of green and blue always took my breath away. The waves crashing against the shore during high tide soothed and relaxed me to sleep when I would lodge close to shore. I would always stare in wonder at the water, watching the colors merge while trying to figure out if the green to dark blue change meant a drop off point to the large fish filled depths of the ocean.
I traveled to Tahiti, Fiji and Belize in the span of three years. Snorkeling became a must for me as scuba diving was just not up my alley. I was not an avid swimmer, but snorkeling didn’t require a trained status, so I always figured I’d be fine. I always tried to plan at least one snorkeling trip while I was vacationing so the locals could show me where the best underwater scenery occurred.
Belize is known as a hot spot for snorkeling and scuba diving and not surprising- I booked a snorkel trip to an island off the coast for the day. I was traveling with my ex-spouse at the time who also planned to snorkel with me.
We made our way to the island on a boat with several other people. The day was bright, sunny, and windy. The wind caused big white caps on the rather calm waters of the island. As I peered out at the water from the island, I looked for the green to dark blue changes so I would spot that potential drop-off right away and stay away from those particular areas. I remember thinking about the beauty of the island, the sounds of the waves and the sun beating against my brown skin, causing the need and desire to run into the water to cool off.
A part of me lacked confidence due to my smaller stature at the time and the powerful water speed. I was a novice snorkeler and relied mostly on sticking with others when trying to navigate. I had many years of swimming lessons under my belt, but still felt the need to stay in shallower water where I most often could feel the safety of the sandy ground.
My body was immediately engulfed with the warm waters of the Caribbean Sea after a short sprint and jump. I floated on my back and looked up at the clear, blue sky and remember wanting to stop time just for a while so the relaxed feeling I was experiencing would not cease.
After a few moments, I decided it was time to see what I could find within the depths of the water. A group of other tourists had found what appeared to be the gold mine of coral and fish about 50 meters away from where we stood. My ex spouse encouraged me to swim with him directly across the water which was parallel to the shore, so we could get to that point faster.
I nervously looked at the path- it confirmed my fear. It crossed directly over what appeared to be deeper water. I nervously tried to explain my way out of the trip but my ex-spouse continued to tell me to try it and that he’d be there watching, and helping, if necessary. I reluctantly agreed.
As I placed my snorkel over my face and took one last deep breath before submerging my face, I remember reassuring myself that it was only 50 meters and I could do this. I continued to self coach myself, even though my anxiety was exploding into an internal fireworks show.
I began to swim. I remember looking at the ocean floor and as the water became noticeably deeper, the coral and other ocean life started to disappear. Just as I was starting to feel comfortable with the swim I realized something was not right. My mask was starting to fill with water. I looked up quickly out of the water to see how far I needed to swim only to realize that I had swam diagonally towards deeper water and now extremely distant from the shore.
I began to get anxious. I frantically turned around and tried to swim towards the shore, which now seemed miles away. I tried to quickly empty my mask, but the water was not coming out and I could not adjust my mask without being able to stand on my two feet. I quickly tried to find a piece of coral or something to push off of as I was beginning to sink. I located a piece of coral and submerged myself underwater. I soon realized that the coral was much deeper than I thought and when I pushed off, I didn’t have enough strength to get to the surface. At that moment, I started to panic as I desperately tried to claw my way to the surface.
I fought the water and waves for what seemed like an eternity. I was completely submerged at this point and was beginning to lose energy. My body started to slow down. My lungs started to fill with water and I began to sink.
As I continued to lose energy and sink further into the deep blue, I remember looking up and seeing the beauty of the sun hitting the water above me, and splitting into what appeared to be hundreds of chards of light which broke through the crystal clear ocean water, creating a peaceful scene. It was beautiful. I remember thinking about how relaxed I was and my struggling body began to turn into a sinking sand bag that was heading toward the ocean floor. I was dying, but it didn’t feel frantic. As I continued to stare up at the light towards the ocean surface, my body slowly relaxed more and more, and I struggled less and less.
Just as I was about to hit the ocean floor, I felt an arm around me and I was all of a sudden resurfaced and headed towards the shore. I was throwing up and coughing up water from my lungs. The sudden entrance into the world reminded me of a child suddenly ripped from the comfort of their mother’s amniotic filled womb.
I was alive. It was the moment I came back to the shore that I realized how serious the situation was when I swam the wrong way and my snorkel gear failed me. As I took in the amazing fresh air I almost never felt again, I began to think about the experience.
I had little confidence going into the swim. I agreed anyway. I panicked. I almost drowned.
The weird part about surviving something like an almost drowning is remembering the surreal part of it not feeling so awful. You see movies and other interpretations that concentrate heavily on the struggle of drowning. It looks awful and appears to be somewhat painful.
My experience was different- it didn’t feel awful. It was peaceful at a certain point and actually quite a beautiful sight. The chards of sunlight hitting the ocean surface and breaking into a hundred pieces will forever scar my mind, as well as the pleasant sounds of the ocean pounding against my ears as I sank deeper into the beautiful ocean abyss. There is some solace in knowing the peacefulness during a dire situation.
“Death must be so beautiful. To lie in the soft brown earth, with the grasses waving above one’s head, and listen to silence. To have no yesterday, and no to-morrow. To forget time, to forget life, to be at peace.”
—Oscar Wilde, The Canterville Ghost