Off The Map

I took a day off from life today. I kind of just left. Disappeared. This life that I took a break from is one I put a lot of work into perfecting. I have experimented through trial and error to create the perfect formula for my best life. And boy do I stick to it. Everything is repeated, day in and day out, even down to the timing because I know what I like. Of course, I change it up sometimes, if a better option comes around; but I tend to enjoy my “perfect life prescription” very much. But today I didn’t take it.

I woke up to the sound of ocean waves outside the window of my condo in Cap Cana, Dominican Republic. It was 7:00 a.m., and I had to get up. This wake-up call was not my decision, so I already. lost the control with which I usually conquer my day. A bus picked us up at 8:00 a.m. The driver spoke only Spanish and luckily I can get by with the Spanish I learned in high school. I ended up having many interesting conversations with this man in Spanish on our way to the location of my life hiatus. Midway through the ride, I pulled out my breakfast, a peanut butter sandwich, the lunch I ate every day for four years. But, on the bus ride, I look at this double-breaded peanut buttery meal and realize…I haven’t had a sandwich in years, and a peanut butter sandwich in longer. I haven’t necessarily gone out of my way to avoid a sandwich, but I definitely don’t ever volunteer to eat one. Herein lies part 2 of me losing control. Here is why I know I was not part of life today- I had no control and I felt nothing. I felt like I did when I was a kid and didn’t care about anything at all. I said “Adios” to my new amigo as I hopped off the bus and landed in a busy, hectic Dominican Village. The dive shop was a random shack behind an organic juice bar that served sugar cane juices with an entire sign to inform customers that the glucose in these sugary drinks would be their best bet to receive the energy their body needs to get through the day…questionable data, but I appreciate the effort nonetheless.

I signed the form at the dive shop to prove I am physically able to scuba dive and then watched as our guide taught us some very useful tips about scuba diving. I later realized, watching someone demonstrate to you how to breathe underwater is much different than being thrown underwater where breathing through a regulator is not the same thing as breathing normal air. At all. We will get to that later. I squeeze into a wet suit which highlighted every single one of my flaws and compressed parts of me that really would rather not be so compressed. Once suited up, we stepped on the boat. The trip to the location of the first dive was 30 minutes of pure speed, splashing and bliss. The morning sun shone down on the water and then reflected back onto the boat. I watched the land as we quickly zoomed past and realized, I forgot my morning meditation. My Unplug app is going to tell me I missed a day. But wait, I didn’t have to miss a day, I could simply guide myself through a meditation. I closed my eyes and asked my intuition to please bring forth a mantra for me. And in that moment, I made up the mantra I plan to repeat every morning. WAIT. I had nowhere to right it down. It was such a good idea, and I could not put it in any notes. NOW WHAT? I decided I will just remember it. If it was a good enough idea, then I would remember it later. I didn’t need to immediately report back to my phone.

And now it all begins…Our dive guide/ Instructor, Petr (No, I did not misspell that. He simply is the type of guy who would have a normal name like Peter, but just not need the e. That would be too much for my chill friend, Petr) hooks us up to our vest thingy with the big tank… professional divers call them BCDs, but I my friend, am perhaps as far from a professional diver as one can get. I struggle to fasten my weight belt, and I tug and shimmy my flippers onto my feet and give myself a nose job attempting to put on my goggles. I stand up and then immediately am pulled back down to the seat because this massive tank on my back in addition to this weight belt is causing quite the toll on my ability to get anywhere. Petr helps with the weight as I shuffle backwards in my flippers towards the edge of the boat, where I sit, get set, and back flop off the boat into the choppy water.

It is important to note that while BCDs look like life vests, they absolutely do not function the same. The waves were chopping and I was sinking into the water with this heavy tank on my back and Petr says to just wait there until we could start… START? It gets harder?! Meanwhile, my brother asks me how I am doing; and I try to reply that I was in fact doing horrible, but I can not get the words out because I am busy inhaling a wave full of salt-water. My feet kick furiously underneath me, and I reach my stringy arm up to hang onto the edge of the boat. Then Petr calls us to the other end of the boat for our “practice test”. Once I get there, he asks if I’m ready. Of course I say yes because I just do, and he has me walk my hands along a rope until I am totally underwater with him. He does a series of scuba movements. I watch and then repeat to prove I too can puff water out of my regulator while it is in my mouth and I can also retrieve my regulator in case it has fallen out of my mouth. Then I am supposed to show that I can get water out of my goggles which, after four tries, I still can’t do. I’m getting really freaked out about being underwater with this man, and I start really missing this thing called air and oxygen so I pretend I did it right and open my eyes wide to show him. Jokes on you though, Petr, because I was actually opening my eyes in a pool of salt water.  With my contacts absolutely enraged, I passed the test and got to swim up. Thank God, I did the test, so now I could go back on the boat and fix my goggles and my flippers and my nose piece and my stupid weight belt and then talk about how hard that all was and what the heck I am doing wrong because I thought this was supposed to be easy and fun. I wait again in that half drowning- half spastically water treading state for my return to the boat. And then Petr says, “Ok! We are going down.” Then I said a lot of words in my head that my mom would not enjoy reading on my blog.

We all are called back to the front of the boat where my parents (who are both certified divers) are treading water awaiting the first dive. I get as close as I can to my mom because I am an absolute Mommy’s girl and I will forever rely on her for absolutely everything. My mom is my right hand man. Literally, when I give birth one day, there is no way in hell my husband will be the one holding my hand. It will be my Mom or no one. So I am basically on top of my mother while she is doing enough work staying afloat herself, and then she has a panic attack. The most chill, adventurous, certified diver with the most experience in my family just totally flips. She has to go to the back of the boat with Petr, and we later realize the waves were really worsening her vertigo symptoms. So here I am, with my brother who somehow was more terrified than me and my Dad who has never been the nurturer of the two. My Mom decides she can’t dive and I therefore declare that I will not be doing so either…not without my Mom. But Petr decides that I actually will be immersing myself into the depths of the deep blue sea with no one to keep me cool. Wonderful. I may be a lot of things, but a chicken I am not. So I pretend I am tough and I go down for my first dive. I try to breathe normally but then I realize when I think about breathing it becomes very difficult and overwhelming. I try to look around and take in my surroundings but then I begin floating up. The one thing I know about scuba diving is that you can not go up too fast or you can seriously damage your brain and body. So I start floating up and the button to deflate my vest doesn’t seem to be working. Everyone starts getting farther away and I am absolutely freaking out and realizing my brain might shrink if I keep going. I start to scream as loud as I can while keeping my regulator in my mouth, and my Dad hears and swims up to grab my hand and pulls me back down to their level where Petr deflates my vest and I can swim a little bit more calmly. And there was my first Scuba Diving Experience.

We come back up and I declare that I will under no circumstances be participating in the next dive, and my brother agrees, and my Mom sadly agrees because she physically cannot because of her health. I eat an apple and reflect on my near death experience and then realize, Hey. I did that. And then Petr informs us we are going again; and I decide I may not ever get the chance again and if I didn’t die last time, then I probably won’t die this time. So we’re back underwater… just me, Petr and my Dad… and I am actually okay. I am panicking for sure, but then I realize I have myself. I wrap my arms around my body and I talk to myself: Claire, you’re doing so well. I am so proud of you. You will be so glad you did this. I am here now. I am here now. I am here now. Usually my self-talk is a series of criticisms along the lines of; you didn’t do enough of this, you should’ve had less of that, you seriously should be better at this by now. However, today, since I basically have fallen off the face of the Earth and everything is different, I am actually being so kind, patient and gentle with myself. I have never felt this loved in my entire life. During my love fest with myself, Petr rudely interrupts by tapping on me and pointing to the left at a group of five squids. They all move together as a team and do not seem to mind us at all. We follow the squids a bit and Petr pointed out stingrays, eels, and fish. Then he really starts gesticulating very excitedly at something. And there in the coral reef, right in front of my face, is the cutest little sea turtle in the whole world. He was maybe five feet away from my face, and I just stare at him. And he stares back at me. I think of how peaceful and happy this little guy looks, and I too feel a bit of the same peace. After a few minutes of admiring him, he swims up to the top of the water. We swim on with the squids and then our turtle friend returns and swims along with us. This is truly one of the most magical experiences in my entire life.

We stop at an island for lunch with 2 huts and not many people. One hut was there for drinks and the other was a restaurant. Petr shows us to a booth and lets us know that lunch is on the way. Something tells me this lunch will most likely not consist of my usual vegan tofu bowl, or a big salad with roasted veggies and hummus. I sit there, hungry, and very unsure of what to expect. For the past two years, with one or two weekend dinners out, I had prepared all of my meals and all of my snacks and I like it that way. Since living at home, dinners are usually made by my Mom  but I am very used to (and also a huge fan of) her cooking. Eating out at restaurants every day of the week is already weird enough for me because my order often turns out differently than I expect. But now I have no idea what to expect, and it kind of feels good, exciting. Next thing I know, plate upon plate is being set on the table in front of us: pasta with tomato sauce, bread, potato / celery /onion salad, grilled chicken, grilled pork, cabbage, cucumber, onions, pineapple, and Dominican rice. I fill up my plate with the chicken, veggies, potatoes, a little bit of rice and some pineapple. The flavors salsa among my taste buds along with the music coming from the hut. It was all so delicious. I finish my plate and realize, MAN, I want pasta. I didn’t originally get it because as much as I try to ignore it, the messages regarding common nutrition fads get to my head and I just want to be good at wellness / healthy / doing it all right, but the only thing that feels right in this moment is eating some dang pasta. So I add some pasta to my plate and  is it good! We all finish our plates and decide to walk around the island a bit, taking it all in. I pay a woman $15 dollars for a massage which is much needed for the amount of tensing I participated in during the Scuba Diving Endeavors. Then Petr brings us back to the boat and we begin a slow trip back.

We slowly ride the waves away from the island, and I pull out my camera to capture pictures of my smiling, present, beautiful family. Petr asks if I am a photographer and I explain to him that I am not.. I was an ice dancer, but I am not anymore. He does not know what ice dancing is, which has always been a fairly common reaction when I tell non-skating people what I do. I used to fervently try to describe it, but now I shrug and say, “and you never will need to know” with a smile. And then I tell him I want to be a journalist because I like to write, learn and create, which brings me back to why I enjoy taking photos, but no I am not a photographer. I am not really anything right now. And if you asked mi amigo, Rafael, the bus driver, he would tell you that I should not be a writer, but that I should be President of the United States. While Rafael’s suggestion was enticing I think right now I am okay with not having a label. Right now I am nothing but here on this boat with four people I am so insanely blessed to call my family and my favorite people on the planet, nowhere to be…nothing to do…no ONE to be, just me, today, one with the waves. And, the turtles.

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