December 2005 I went on a cruise with my mother and some of her friends. I took the place of someone who – because of health reasons – had to cancel at the last minute. What good luck! I was excited to go. Excited that I could go. Excited that I had a career that allowed me time to go and a husband that was all like “Are you kidding me??? That’s awesome! GO!” when I approached him with the idea.
I’m not sure why but on this cruise I decided to face a couple of fears. I don’t have many fears. The ones I have some consider a bit irrational. I do not. One of my fears, for example, is being eaten by a crocodile. Not just because it would surely result in my death but because of the WAY crocodiles eat their victims. They catch them, you know. And then they roll them over and over again … sometimes letting them get away for a minute and then grabbing them again and rolling rolling rolling. This results in your death by drowning. Is that bad? Yes. That is bad. But it gets worse. After they capture you in their gynormous freakin teeth and roll the life right out of you they take your dead bloated carcass and stuff you under a stump or rock or somewhere underwater where you can rot. And do you know why? Because they LIKE TO EAT THEIR MEAT AFTER IT HAS ROTTED. That’s how they are. There is nothing good about a great bloody croc. Nothing. Boots. Other than that, nothing.
Sometimes people, upon learning my crocodile fear, tease me. They say Don’t you live in Missouri? Yuk yuk and I say, Yes. And they say, Is there a big crocodile problem in Missouri? Yuk yuk. And I say, Whatever, Turd, Because crocodiles can walk many many miles. And it only takes one smartass flushing a tiny pet crocodile down the john and next thing you know I’m lunching on the Plaza and hey here comes my worst nightmare out of the sewer. And I don’t mean a woman from Johnson County on a shopping bender.
So I prepare. I think about whatever I would do if I ever came across a croc. I have plans. And contingency plans. And contingency plans for my contingency plans. I have to, because my mother moved to Florida and expects me to come see her every so often. And I do. I even swim in her pool. But I have a whole strategy laid out in my mind for when a crocodile on a rampage comes flying across the golf course, crashing through the screened porch and slamming into the pool.
Because That. Shit. Happens.
My crocodile fear is NOT the fear I decided to face on the cruise with my mother. In fact, that entire crocodile story has nothing to do with this post other than to illustrate how well thought out my fears are. Because I want you to understand when I say I have a fear and I decide to face it I want you to really KNOW what I mean. I’m at least a few lifetimes away from facing my crocodile fear. I did, however, have an opportunity to go Snuba Diving. And this, I figured, would be a good start to facing a fear I have about the ocean. And if you think the crocodile fear is well thought out you should see the thing I’ve got going in my brain about the ocean.
Snuba is a poor man’s SCUBA. Pretty simple, really. You use a regulator to breathe just like in SCUBA diving but your tank of air floats on the surface of the water in its own little raft and a looooooooooooooong hose carries the air from the tank to you. Because of this, you can only go down about 30 feet – which may not sound like much but remember that’s 30 feet UNDERWATER pulling air through a straw and not being able to go OH MY GA! outloud when you see something cool. So there is some danger involved. Not much, but some. A group of us decided to try out this Snuba thing somewhere in the Caribbean where they are known for keeping all their equipment in tip top shape and never having accidents. Well, it wouldn’t be facing a fear if it was TOTALLY safe now would it?
So I did it. I went through the little crash course, got suited up, got my regulator, fins, etc. and got in the water. The very first thing we had to kick kick kick and swim out a ways … pushing our little tanks in their little rafts in front of us. This was important because the “really cool stuff” was a ways out. So there I was. Pushing my raft. And kicking. And kicking. And kick ing. I have never kicked so hard in all my life. And I felt like I was going exactly nowhere. After about a thousand kicks I had gone a good 10 feet. I was exhausted and absolutely sure I was going to drown. And that was fine as long as no Caribbean crocodile was around to shove my corpse under a log. I have to be honest, I was a little embarrassed. Even with the big fins on my feet I was sooooo tired in just a nanosecond. Man, I thought, I must be in worse shape than I thought. But I’d come this far and my thighs spontaneously combusting wasn’t going to keep me from doing this, so I kept kicking. And eventually was told I could stop kicking and go underwater. Which I did. I put that regulator in my mouth and went right underwater. Down I went. Glub glub glub.
It was awesome. It took some getting used to but man that breathing underwater thing is better than butter. I loved it. Loved it. I could have stayed down there all day. Except for that fact that, you know, I have to talk sometime so eventually, I came up. I hated coming up out of the water. Because being underwater was so cool but also because I hated the idea that I was going to have to kick back to shore. Shore seemed too far away. I wasn’t sure I’d make it. But I started anyway.
It was about this time one of the instructors said something amazing. I had to ask him to repeat it as I could hear him over my own puffing. What was that? I said. Take off your weight belt! He said.
Now. I don’t really know much about SCUBA or Snuba but apparently one of the things they outfitted me with was a weight belt and not the kind that supports your back so you can do dead lifts, the kind that has WEIGHTS in it. I think this is so you can go down in the water – which makes sense because after all, that is the point. I was reluctant to stop to remove my weight belt as I had a tiny bit of momentum but I stopped anyway and reached down and unhooked this thing around my waist and with the instructors help heaved it on the little raft and began kicking again.
And I shot thought the water like a fish!
WOW! I had no clue it was holding me back THAT MUCH. It was like a toddler around my waist had been cut free. I had no idea how exhausted I was carrying that weight around. Here I was thinking I was a bad swimmer when really, I just had this REALLY HEAVY THING holding me back. And now that it was gone – holy mackerel! I felt weightless, limitless …. at ease.
It was beautiful.
This past Monday I stopped by my oncologist’s office to pick up a copy of the report from my PET scan on the Friday before. I tried to act all nonchalant as I took the sealed envelop from the receptionist. I wasn’t two feet out the door before I’d ripped the envelop open and began reading the 3 pages of information. I stood in the hallway just outside the on-site pharmacy and read each word. Elevator doors dinged open and shut. People walked around me. I caused a log-jam at one point. I couldn’t help it. I was nailed to the floor. My eyes flew around the paper. Seeking. Finding. Seeking. Finding. Seeking.
And just like that I was back swimming in the middle of the Caribbean - effortlessly. Each word was like dropping a weight. A weight I didn’t even know was there. Up until I read those words I had no idea how hard I’d been kicking to move just a few feet every day. I had no idea how much effort it was taking to stay afloat, to enjoy the surroundings. To breathe. Of course I knew I was still worried about the cancer not being gone. Of course I knew it was in the back of my head.
I just had no idea how heavy it was.
And now I’m weight-less, limitless. Free.