30 - Panic & Pessimism (Komodo National Park, Indonesia)
Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow, that I shall say good night till it be morrow. Between the devil and the deep blue sea. Tough titty said the kitty to the big brown cow.
by The Nostomaniac
FREDERICK AND I PARTED WAYS. I know this because it happened, but I have no memory of our separation. I can’t recall if he moved east into Flores or flew back to Bali to continue his trip. I know I was sad to see him go. We got along famously, sharing a sense of humor warped by sarcasm and self-deprecation. It’s nice having someone to share moments…all moments, not just the big ones like stalking a dragon over a bridge, but the little ones too, the ones that might be lost if you’re a memory’s sole proprietor. Is it not reassuring to have an extra “server” out there somewhere you can tap into with the click of a mouse or by dialing a few numbers? And then there was the soothing release from the strain of constant unilateral decision-making.
But, a la Mr. Frost, nothing gold can stay, ‘kay? And so he was gone. “Friends come in and out of your life like busboys in a restaurant.” I heard that in a movie once, and it always stuck with me. Never truer than on the road. Some busboys vacate your memory. Others never leave.
I hung around Flores a few more days. Komodo National Park is a premier dive location. Pretentious assholes the world over come to explore. I couldn’t leave without a peek underwater. But it’s not for amateurs. Heavy currents bring tons of wildlife and plenty of danger. I had around sixty lifetime dives under my belt, which is to say I was, indeed, an amateur. Still, I thought I’d be okay at less challenging dive sites. I thought wrong.
Not sure which dive site we visited. I want to guess Castle Rock, but I wouldn’t swear to it. There was a group going out, so I hopped on board. My fellow divers knew where we were headed, so I let the details slide. I had a negative experience with swift currents before, but thought it an anomaly.
Our first dive required a furious descent to avoid being swept away. Paddling my balls off to the sea floor was the appetizer. Bottom currents kept the fun alive. Undersea rock climbing, anyone? That was my impression as I grasped for one rock and then another against the flow. It was exhausting, and I was in trouble from the start. The descent took it out of me, and I never really caught up to my breath. How can I describe the feeling? Put on a snorkel and mask. Sprint up twelve flights of stairs. Sprinkle in a moderate to severe impending sensation of doom. Breathe normally. Calm the fuck down.
My heart rate quickens as I write this. I can almost feel the panic overtake me even now. Fuck. Me. Lack of shit loss required real discipline. There was nowhere to go—a wall of current lay between me and the surface. The trips are planned just so. Start here. Float to there. Resurface. Rise too quickly and you risk decompression sickness. I knew this. Trapped. Suffocating. Fuck. Me. The other divers were well-seasoned. Only one guide. My freakout risked ruining the adventure for all. These were not productive thoughts.
Thankfully, my guide was well-trained with years of experience. He assisted my effort to prevent meltdown with a calming up and down hand motion. I managed a slight recovery but there was another problem. I’d been sucking oxygen like a fiending air whore. Without an intervention, I’d force everyone to surface prematurely. No bueno. The needle on my guide’s tank, however, had barely budged—a real air hero he was. He offered me his spare regulator so I could piggy-back off his supply…literally. I was a baby manatee refusing to leave its mother’s side. Awwww, adorable…shit. That was a potent adjustment to my self-esteem. Thanks, universe.
Eagle ray. Ghost pipefish. Crocodile fish. Rare nudibranchs (sea slugs). These were just a few of the treasures that should’ve blown my socks off, especially the eagle ray. Harnessing your child-like wonder becomes exponentially more difficult when trying not to shit your wetsuit. Weird. Our second dive was in a less turbulent spot, so I was able to revisit a few friends (pipefish, crocodile fish, and sea slugs). Still, the damage was done. My aspirations of becoming a divemaster washed away with the undertow. In one sense, this was a relief. I no longer had to chide myself for leaving Gili Trawangan without getting the certification. I saved time. I saved money. Win-win. Or was it?
Did I draw the right conclusion? I’d reached the limits of my abilities, a wall of fear so to speak. True, fast currents were an enormous challenge, but what would it take to hone my skills, overcome my fear, and push through? Dunno, cause I didn’t bother to find out. It’s not that I should’ve screamed, “Never say die!”, growled at the heavens, and hunkered down at Komodo diving until I’d vanquished the demon. Admittedly, this wouldn’t have been a terrible call, but not the essential takeaway.
It was my hasty conclusion, my rash decision to cast diving aside that haunts my psyche. I chastised and excoriated myself for a “failure” that, in hindsight, was a mere obstacle, a stepping stone to a success, a mini-triumph. My self-talk was all wrong. It should’ve resembled something like this: You freaked out. You lost your shit. Tough titty said the kitty to the big brown cow. How do you really know? Lack of experience. That’s all. Do this twenty, thirty more times and see. Then decide. Maybe this isn’t for you. Maybe. But there’s only one way to know for sure. Do it. Do it over and over with a competent instructor. Just do it, ya wacky goof muffin!
Maybe my diving days were still over regardless of staunch determination. Maybe, after a time, I would’ve concluded scuba isn’t something I truly value. Doesn’t matter. What matters is the inner dialogue at the time of the adverse event. It had nothing to do with diving. It was about confronting fears and treating my inner child with the same compassion I would show others in that situation. Be kind to yourself. Give yourself room to maneuver, to make mistakes. Have the wisdom to see the difference between what really matters and what’s nothing more than caustic ego, monkey mind, and insidious self-devaluation. Easy to see. Easy to understand. Not so easy to implement…for obscure bloggers, brilliant scholars (ancient or contemporary), or even Roman emperors.
I was grateful for my companions—a French telecom worker living in Korea and an American who’s occupation has slipped from memory. My scuba comrades were kind, down to earth, and interesting. They refused to reinforce my negative emotions. The American shared a story about a diver he met who told him he had a complete freak out/ripshit episode underwater after about fifty or sixty dives. No discernible origin or provocation. This intrigued me, and I certainly appreciated this man’s thoughtful attempt to take the sting out of my own perceived shortcomings. Should’ve taken it more to heart, but I was still reeling. If I could confront my former self, I’d tell me to get a fucking grip.
“So, on your open-ended world tour you discovered you’re not Johnny Superscuba? Well, there’s true adversity if I ever saw it. Talk about your first-world problems. Take those tiny violins playing in your head and stuff ‘em in you colon. Rotate twice. Rinse. Repeat. Now, go fuck yourself…with compassion and child-like wonder, naturally.”
Nothing like a post freak-out feast to calm your nerves. Doesn’t get any fresher.