I wondered how far we could go in Mexico, since it’s not really all that far away. I’d even taken the very same flight before, Mexicana #1. How far off the map could Mexicana #1 take us? Plenty, it turned out.
My personal physician and I began our trip with four days of diving while we waited for our personal epidemiologist to be released from her disease-controlling responsibilities. The Pacific Coast of Mexico is not known for its diving (it’s the Caribbean where serious divers flock) but we didn’t have the money to fly all around so we tried our luck and happened upon Scott, whose motto is, “If there’s an ocean, you can dive in it.” He was true to his word. Visibility was low and the surge was rough, but dive we did. The good doctor and I are both certified but had never dived together and very much wanted to.
On our first dive, I got so excited I tried to convey to Layla, “Layla, you are my friend and I love you and I am so glad to be diving with you and sharing this marvelous underwater experience!” but in aquatic sign language it came out a little like the Running Man. When we surfaced and got back on the boat Layla said, “I thought at first you were giving me a distress signal but then I realized you were saying, ‘Layla, I love you and I am so glad we are diving together!'” Thus this new dimension in our long friendship was cemented, that of diving buddies.
We dove the next morning and signed up for a night dive that night. The middle of the day was long and hot and by early evening we were languid and sleepy. Still, we persevered and set out for the dive shop.
We were both a little nervous to dive at night. We’d both done it before but agreed to hold hands for extra comfort in the disembodying darkness. When we got to the shop we told Scott our badass game plan. “We’re going to hold hands,” we said, already holding hands.
“Oh, no you’re not,” said Scott. He announced that we’d be split up, buddied with him and his divemaster-in-training, so we could fan out and catch lobsters with our bare hands, which we would not be holding. He explained the method for catching lobsters, which involved a chain mail bag and a big hook, if one preferred a big hook to one’s bare hands. We could stick to spotting or we could attempt to catch lobsters with our bare hands, hoping they wouldn’t curl up and slice our fingers with the spikes on their tails.
“You’ll have to stay pretty close to me and Bjorn,” he said, “because when we go chasing those lobsters we could lose you in a second!”
“What if you lose us?” I asked.
“Wait one minute, swing your light in a circle and if I don’t come find you, do a controlled ascent and swing your light at the surface until Chincho comes to get you with the boat.”
It was at that moment that I decided that while Scott might be hunting lobsters, I would be hunting Scott. I had no intention of being left alone at the bottom or the surface of the pitch black ocean waiting for Chincho to come get me with the boat.
When we got out to the dive site, the sea was rough. We put on all our gear and hoisted our awkward, heavy bodies to the lip of the boat to prepare for the backward fling. “Em,” said Layla, “I’ll see you on the other side.” There was a lightness in her tone, but it underneath it, a certain lack of certainty. As is often the case before I do something unforgettable and unregrettable, I had the fleeting thought that maybe I shouldn’t, which always makes me think I absolutely should. As I wrapped one hand around my mask and the other around my gauges, I comforted myself with the thought that I’d done far stupider things with far less appropriate equipment. At least I had all these gauges and tanks and hoses, I thought. That had to count for something. Also, would this Scott character have brought us out here if he routinely lost people to the deep blue sea? Probably not.
Once in the water, I realized it was actually quite choppy. We couldn’t find the anchor line in the dark and struggled against the waves. Finally, we reached the line and submerged. Layla began her usual steady descent, kicking steadily and gracefully down. I began my painful one, fighting every step to equalize my defective ears, to which I am still grateful, as some people can’t equalize at all.
The moment I was underwater I heard the simple voiceless voice of my aquatic self, which always tells me simple but important things. “You fucking idiot,” it said, “this isn’t scary, it’s beautiful. Don’t ever be scared to jump in, don’t ever be scared to get wet, just fucking look at this, look at this, look at this.”
The water was full of phosphoresence, millions of pinpoint organisms possessed of the ability to regurgitate sun. They sparkled every time you moved, so as you dragged a hand through the water you saw not things but simply motion. It was drugs without drugs, it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. My body had dissolved and I was capable of seeing and perceiving without having to exist, in a world where everything was just a shimmering trail of blue-white light.
At the bottom, the dive guys diverged, and that was the last I saw of Layla. I followed Scott as he bouldered weightlessly around the reef, plunging into holes and coming out with lobsters. I was no help on the hunt, occupied as I was playing with the phosphoresence and staying eighteen inches from my dive buddy. A particularly large one got away and I heard a muffled cry of frustration. Scott’s light eventually died and we ascended. While we waited for Layla and Bjorn and I paddled around at the surface. When it was time to get hauled back in the boat Chincho accomplished this with an unusual breast-cupping maneuver I’ll never quite be able to decide on the intentionality of. It didn’t matter. I was high on depth.