Facing Fears

 

Cancun, Mexico: October 12, 2018

The rickety boat skirts across the blue, clear ocean. Josh empties the red backpack of the bottles of water and soda — taken from the hotel mini bar — and sticks them in the tiny Styrofoam cooler. The man driving the boat, David, hands a bag of ice to Josh, even though it barely cools in this 90 degree heat. The David’s skin, tanned dark in the Mexican sun, glistens with sweat. His eyes meet mine, we share a smile. Turning away, I stare out at the water as we rush towards the first spot. The water splashes my hand and my face as we slam down on a white-capping wave. I watch as Josh slides yellow and blue swim fins on his large feet. My feet are very small, size six, and our guide is still digging for a pair of fins that will fit; finally he surfaces with a pair and hands them to me.

I am wearing children’s size flippers and fogging goggles, and am trying to clamber my way to the side of the boat where Josh is sliding off. I stagger and trip, but finally make it to the edge and swing my feet over. The water is only a foot below and though it is a small drop, my breath catches in my throat. Maybe if I slide down or use a ladder I can avoid the slight height. I have to do this though, Josh and the guide are waiting. I close my eyes, breathe in deeply, and belly flop into the cool, salty water.

 

Guernsey, Wyoming: September 5, 2016

                  “That’s easy for you to say! You aren’t the one who has to be talked off the cliff!”

Opening my eyes I peer over the edge of the cliff. We have to be at least fifty feet off the ground and the water below is calm, but I still cannot justify the jump. Josh stands behind me telling me to just jump and not to think about it.

I should have known that this would happen, considering the fact that I am terrified of heights. Josh’s sister Tori made comments about me being weak, boring, about how I never try anything. I could only take so much of the insults and harassment for not going. So I climbed up the rocks, not daring to look down, and made my way to the edge of the cliff.

I breathe in slowly, trying to steady my heart rate, but it is pounding out of my chest. Finally, I close my eyes once more, start screaming, and run off.

 

Cancun, Mexico: October 12, 2018

A tall mast juts out of the water, a single pelican watching the people below. Other boats appear in the distance and I feel the sun burning my skin. Sunscreen drips down my arms melding with sweat and sea water, my skin turning slightly pink. Josh swims in front of me taking pictures that are barely recognizable on the underwater camera I purchased specifically for snorkeling. Blonde hair droops over his forehead, covering his deep hazel eyes, protruding over the plastic goggles. Hundreds of Mailed Butterfly fish surround me, the electric yellow stripes stark against the ocean water. My hand reaches out, barely missing the tail of a Yellowtail-Damselfish as another darts around, obscuring my vision. A barracuda makes its way across the ocean floor, unaware of my existence.

The current is strong and pushes me away from the shipwreck. I spot a stingray among the sand and take a picture of it before realizing just how close to it I am. Having thoughts of dying in the middle of an ocean in Mexico and leaving my cat wondering why I never came home causes me to panic a little. Flashbacks of almost drowning in Florida and the regret of never taking swim classes flood my brain. I kick my legs and flail away from the ray almost clipping it with the edge of my flipper. Struggling against the current, I steady my breath as I make my way back to the boat.

 

Florida Keys: July 7, 2013

“The water is getting choppy, we need to head back to the boat before it gets worse.” I pull my lightning blue fins on and tug on my life jacket. Once zipped up, the buckles are snapped into place. I follow my brother and dad down the beach, flopping my feet dramatically for attention.

The boat is anchored just outside the buoys that line the swim area, my brother already half way there and my father close behind. The current is picking up and I drift farther from the boat despite my efforts otherwise. My legs tire from fighting the waves, I am not a strong swimmer even though I spend most days in the pool at home. The water crashes over me, my life jacket barely holding me up, and the salt stings the back of my throat when I pause to catch my breath. The possibility of drowning in the ocean becomes more realistic and I start to accept that this is how I die.

A strong hand grasps the back of my life jacket and pulls me through the water. My dad hauls me into the boat and wraps a large beach towel sporting the Winnie the Pooh character Eeyore around me.

“Why were you just sitting in the water? We’ve been calling your name for two minutes.”

 

Cancun, Mexico: October 12, 2018

The fins come off easily in the water and the only thing keeping me from drifting away is the guides grip on my hand. His hand is rough and calloused. He helps me climb up the ladder and I collapse onto the seat in the boat. Once we are all on the boat and our gear is put up, we each grab a soda and enjoy the ride back, leaving the shipwreck in the distance. David takes us back to the beach and we leave him with a tip and a ‘Gracias’ and make our way back to the resort. I am exhausted and ready to pass out in the white linens that cover the bed.

 

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