“Daphne, what are you doing?” asked my brother?
“I can’t breathe,” I said through wheezes and giggles. I knew I must have looked ridiculous, but it really was the only way I could breathe. I could hear Mathieu laughing, but unfortunately, I couldn’t bring myself to sit up and confront them about their mocking of me.
I forced myself to stand up, the typically small task draining my body and causing my head to spin from lack of oxygen.
“Allons-y, allons-ette,” Mathieu said as we trekked down toward the railroad tracks.
I smiled; his Canadian accent never ceases to crack me up. It turns the simplest of sentences into ammo for me to make fun of him. I had only just met Mathieu, but it was clear that he was my brother’s best friend for a reason. He had quickly turned into another older brother that found happiness in teasing me. The three of us carried our flippers, masks, snorkels, and spear gun towards the edge of the cliff.
At the edge of the cliff, we climbed down a path made by the torrential rain that California had poured down a few weeks earlier. After sliding down the crumbling face of the cliff, we had our first taste of freedom. The ocean waves were crashing against the rock beach. The smell of the ocean reminded me of home. I couldn’t wait to taste the salt on my lips. We scampered along the coast as fast as we could, the lead weights around our waist weighing us down. We passed seagulls and pelicans, as they dried their wings in the California sun. I watched each step I took. I was careful not to slide on the seaweed covered rocks, or sink too far into the pebbles on the beach.
“Ugh, it’s so hot, I’ve gotta get in the water,” said my brother.
“Non, coum on. Juste a lettle bit farder, that whey we can start at the kelp foreste.”
I remained silent. I let Mathieu and my brother make the decisions; they were the experts here. They agreed that walking to the kelp forest was the better call, but my brother continued to voice his feelings about the warmth.
We reached where the beach turned from small pebbles into big rocks and decided that this would be our launch point. I put my flippers and the spear gun down on the rocks. I rinsed my mask with salt water and then spit into it, my brother and Mathieu following suit. The spit would keep the mask from fogging up while in the water. With one last rinse of my mask, I pulled my wet-suit hood up, put my mask on and picked up gear. My brother was already in the sea.
The ocean waves were small like they were beckoning me to come and play. I started my walk out. The cool water snaking its way around the neoprene suctioned to my body. With each step the sea pulled me deeper, the waves curling into foam just behind me. I put my snorkel in my mouth. Plunging my face below the water, I had my first feeling of release with the cool liquid finding the openings where my skin didn’t fully meet suit and slithering its way into the wetsuit. The icy veins of water felt so refreshing. I tugged my flippers on over the surfing booties I borrowed from Mathieu. They were about three sizes too big and their rubber soles made it harder to put on the yellow flippers. With a few extra tugs, they were finally on and I was ready. I popped my head up to the surface and exhaled. I forced the water that had snuck its way into my snorkel out. I felt like a whale, pushing water out of its blowhole. I dove back under as a wave crashed overhead; the current sweeping me towards shallow water. I kicked my way back out to sea.
The commotion of making my way out into the ocean was over. I was free to play in the waves. The visibility in the water was only a few feet, so it was hard to see how far away the sea floor was. I dove down. My hands hit rock before my eyes saw it. I pulled myself along the rocky bottom looking under the different crevices, until my need for air sent me to the surface. I did this over and over looking for lobsters, fish, colorful shells, and whatever I could find.
I popped my head out of the water disturbing my routine of diving and searching. My brother’s blue flippers had just splashed into the water; clearly he was doing the same thing I was. Mathieu was snorkel side up, but I knew he was doing the same as well. I dove back into the water. My face had adjusted to the numbing of the water and my eyes were getting better at searching through the cloudiness. I saw something ahead. A brown tail with black spots had just flicked its way into my vision. I dove down further inspecting the creature. It was a horn shark. The three-foot shark darted under a rock. I pulled myself down peering into its hideaway. I flipped my fins and shot up to the surface. I had had my fun in the shallows, it was time for Kelp.
As I swam deeper, the cloudiness faded away and gave way to the deep blue abyss of the ocean. There’s something so humbling about it. I dove down knowing fully well I would never hit bottom, but I wanted to cruise in the blue. The bubbles escaping from the top of my snorkel as I flipped my way somewhere in between the ocean floor and the sun glazed surface. In the middle of what is known and that which is unknown, I swam. I felt so small. One enormous wave from the ocean could destroy a city. One medium wave could capsize a boat. One little wave could knock me off my feet. But under the water, the dangers were different. The creatures that lurked in the cloudiness remaining unseen swum on all sides of me. I was the visitor on a short term visa. I ran out of air in my lungs and had to kick my way up towards the surface. My visa had expired.
I stuck to the surface as I approached the kelp. They shot up from the sea floor like flexible towers, their little branches curling back and forth with the swirling of the ocean. I dove down, their long tendrils lapping against my wet-suit. I spun around so my face was facing the surface and I was looking up at the kelp towers. My feet flicked the large yellow fins that sent waves of water disturbing the kelp. Their branches wrapped around my legs and feet. I felt like the cartooned Snow-white when she runs through the woods and the trees tear at her wrapping themselves around her. A feeling of terror took hold of me. The kelp was still winding itself around me like an anaconda. My brother’s voice filled my head, “Move slowly and the kelp will slide off.” I calmed down and ignored the burning in my lungs. If I panicked I would never reach the surface, for air. So I relaxed and felt the kelp slowly slip off as I gently pulled myself forward with my hands.
The ocean is beautiful and dangerous. I continued to frolic within the underwater forest keeping my movements gentle and slow like a seal gliding past the kelp. If I were to play in the ocean, I would have to act like I belonged there. And quite honestly, the ocean is where I belong; the salt is my air and the views are my food. My home is just below the mirror for the sun.