I love the ocean. You all know this. I've talked about it a lot. Brent actually pointed out on this vacation that it's not just the ocean, it's all water. I love to be in the water, on the water, by the water, near the water, thinking about the water. A pool, a hot tub, a lake, a river but especially the ocean. Nothing makes me feel larger, smaller or more connected than the ocean. Larger because when you are in the water, and the tides are moving you it's like you are breathing with the world. Or at least it is to me. Smaller because when you are standing on the shore looking out toward the horizon and you cannot see the end, well...it's amazing. More connected because that water, the Pacific Ocean, that I am standing in in Hawaii is part of the same body of water my friends in California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Japan, Australia for goodness sake, and on and on are standing in or looking at or near.
When we got in Monday we didn't have a lot of time between checking in and heading to our luau, but I made sure to go right down to the beach and put my feet in the water. And every time we would go in our room I was out on the lanai looking at our view of the ocean. It's not really feasible with Brent's job just yet but there is a huge part of me that would love to get a little house on the coast and just live out there year round. Though, to be perfectly honest, I would rather do it in Southern California or Hawaii where the water is warmer. Our water never gets really warm up here, wet-suits are standard even in the summer.
Tuesday was a busy day with the tour of Pearl Harbor and a hike as well. And we planned badly on the hike and didn't bring water and got a little over heated so anyway by the time we got back to the hotel and had dinner and cooled off it was already sunset and I was beat so I didn't go swimming. Brent said he would have lost a bet about it. I had been in Hawaii for two days (a day in a half really) and hadn't yet been in the ocean. I told him I was in it right away but he didn't count the feet. But we just had a lot to fit in in a few days so things got shuffled. Also I had built in ocean time in our activities for the next two days so I wasn't worried.
So finally Wednesday came and it was a big ocean day. Whale watching. I love whales. When we booked this trip I hadn't even thought of the fact that it was the right season to see the humpback whales. When I was planning out things to do and realized we would be there right smack in the middle of the season I made sure one day was spent on a cruise. Now here's the thing with these cruises, the whales don't always co-operate. When we lived in San Diego I went on a lot of gray whale tours. Usually we saw at least one, but sometimes you just didn't see any. So I knew that even though we had seen some the day before on our hike, it wasn't guaranteed we would see any that day. But the bonus with this tour was it included snorkeling as well as the whale watching; so no matter what happened it would be a good ocean day.
My worries were for nothing. Within the first 5 minutes on the water we spotted whales. During the tour we saw at least 8 different whales. Some far away, some closer. We saw full breaches (which has been a dream of mine since I was very little) we saw tail flukes, we saw them slapping the water with their fins to get attention. For one stretch we parked the boat and dropped an aquaphone in the water and listened to them sing. There was one male very close to us, we had seen him dive, and one farther away. I honestly could have sat on the boat and listened to that all day and been perfectly happy. It was awesome. And to top it off toward the end of our whale watching a mother and calf came to the surface very close to the boat. The calf was probably male because he made a little trumpet noise (think baby elephant) when he would breathe. Tori (the captain of our boat) said she had never heard a baby make a noise like that before. It was a nice surprise to see them so close and to see a baby and mother like that.
It was the best day.
Oh wait, you are waiting for more because of the title of the blog right? Yeah...
So I discovered a few things about myself on the trip as well. One is that though sea sickness isn't usually an issue for me it can happen. See, we were racing spotted dolphins in the boat, super cool experience, we were in the middle of a large pod and they were racing along the sides of the boat and jumping over our wake in the back. When we would slow down to look for whales they would swim up next to the boat slowly then dash off then turn around and do it again, like they were trying to encourage us to race more. It was awesome.
I had been standing on the front bow of the boat as we had been out sailing and while the dolphins were playing I turned around to take some pictures toward the back. Mistake. The speed of the boat, the movement of the boat in the waves and the wake and looking backwards all combined to make me a little sick. Oooph... Okay, not a big deal, I just sat down and stared at the horizon, pressed the pressure point on the inside of my wrist and ate a peppermint. Before long I was feeling okay. It was probably only a half hour or so of touch and go with my breakfast. But I did miss out on being able to lay on the deck of the boat and put my hand over the water and feel the breath of the dolphins when they would come up to the surface. But I've been on boats with dolphins before that's okay. Next time.
Then it was time to go snorkeling. One of the women on the boat really wanted to swim with the Honu. That's sea turtles to you and I. And anyway, there was a spot that they knew about, a cleaning station, where the turtles would come in and little fish that live there would clean them of the algae and such that had accumulated on their shells. Super cool. We got the briefing on how to swim along side the turtles but not get too close, how to recognize when we were too close and needed to back off, and how to use the equipment. Brent and I had never been snorkeling before and were really looking forward to trying it. We had the small side trip that day and another full snorkel trip planned for Thursday.
So we get our gear on and get ready to go in the water. The woman who had wanted to dive with turtle specifically almost backed out. Seems her husband (who was wearing a Navy ball cap so Brent and I had assumed he was a former Navy guy) had gotten VERY seasick while we were out and she wasn't sure about going out without him. The boat guides told him and me that the best thing for seasickness was to get in the water. Since I was already over my spell I was fine but thought that was interesting and would keep it in mind if I ever had another bout. So as we are getting in the water they tell us to hold our mask tightly so they don't leak and either jump in or slide in. I decided on the slide in.
You want to know the absolute worst time to discover you are suffering from PTSD from you near drowning a few years ago? Yeah. Then.
So I hit the water and (as I discovered the next day as well) my hair is so thick that once it's wet my head shrinks quite a bit and I have to re-tighten my mask or it's useless. Yes, I know, who would have guessed right? I have very fine hair but I have a ton of it. So even cut as short as it is my head is actually smaller in the water than out of it. Very interesting. Or it was later. Right then, not so much.
So anyway, holding on to my mask did no good. I hit the water, my mask loosened I got a snootful of sea water and my mask sealed it in my nose for a second and then the world started to slip away. There was this thing that happened when I almost drowned. My mind kind of split. There was the rational part that was giving directions and the panicked part that was trying to override everything. Happened here as well. I could feel the panic starting to seep in and knew there was no way I was going swimming in the ocean. I just needed to get back on the boat. And now. I told Elizabeth (our dive guide) I wasn't going after all. She had me hold on to her for a second and stabilize my breathing then watched me get back on the boat. I waved Brent off to go without me and sat and watched everyone dive. And proceeded to freak the fuck out.
The shakes started. The panic kept creeping back up. Was the ocean ruined for me? I always said my second biggest regret was not getting in the ocean the day we left last time just so my last ocean experience would have been a good one. And I hadn't been swimming in the ocean since the near drowning. I had been wading, I had been strolling, but I hadn't been swimming. Was I never going to be able to swim in the ocean again? What about our tour the next day? I didn't want to miss it. More so I didn't want Brent to miss it. I could see the turtles coming up and going down and see the little group from our boat swimming along in a circle snorkels up masks down. And I couldn't even get myself to stop shaking long enough to grab the camera and take a few pictures.
The only other time I came close to dying (and was aware of it) was due to a bee sting. For years after that I had panic attacks around flying bugs. Not just bees, though they were the worst, but anytime a bug would fly towards me I would panic. The breathing would get shallow, the run NOW instinct would kick in. This lasted until I made myself get over it. Slowly. Calmly. Exposure over and over to bees. Standing next to bushes where they were flying. Taking pictures of them on flowers. Regulating my breathing. Reminding myself that I had been stung before with no consequences and the sting that almost killed me was a fluke. It took time but I got over it.
What was I going to do about this? I don't have an ocean that is warm enough to just work slowly toward getting over it. I didn't have years to do it. I wanted to be in the water TOMORROW. Hell I wanted to be there right now. Look at everyone out there and I'm on the fucking boat. Even seasick Johnny was now swimming behind the boat (it did cure his seasickness, amazing) and I was sitting there in a towel shaking like a little bitch.
The swimmers came back on-board and dove in to lunch. I wasn't hungry. There was no way I could force my body to unclench long enough to swallow. The tour ended pretty shortly after and Brent and I headed for the North Shore which had been our plan for the day. To see the waves off the North Shore during the winter was another big moment for me. You see them on TV and they are HUGE. Well there wasn't much wave activity that day so though you could see how the pipeline forms and they were much bigger than down in Waikiki they weren't as impressive as they could have been. And I was in a hurry to get back to our hotel. I was on a mission. I wanted to go in the ocean there. To see if it was just a blip on my psyche for a moment or if I was permanently damaged.
Brent knew I was freaking out and he knew I wasn't ready to really talk much about it beyond, "I'm terrified" so he let me call the shots. We looked in a tide pool at the North Shore, walked on the coolest beach ever, if we go back I want to spend more time there, where the sand was "new" and you could still make out the shells that sand is made out of instead of it just looking like small grains.
Then we headed back and the moment of truth came.
As I waded out in to the ocean I reminded myself of the hundreds of times I had been in the water. Of all of the times I'd gotten a snootful of seawater and done nothing more than snort it back out. I reminded myself that I got in trouble last time because I got cocky. I wasn't paying attention to where I was. I hadn't given the respect to the ocean that it deserves. And then I looked at Brent and said, "Here I go" and I submerged myself in to the ocean. Felt the water rush over my head and fill my ears. The pressure on my face. The feeling of ocean all around...I resurfaced and smiled.
It was a fluke. Just a momentary blip. One last reminder that I had almost drowned and that part of my mind remembered. But it wasn't going to control me. I let it go. Relief flooded me. I turned over on to my back and floated. Let the waves carry me along for a bit. Brent and I stayed in the water for awhile swimming and floating and then went to grab some dinner.
Suddenly I was starving.