This story was inspired by one of the "Thinks" proposed by Dr. Seuss's "Oh the Thinks You Can Think!". If you are unfamiliar with the book, you can find an online version of it here. Every day from now through February 15th, I'll be posting a short story or poem based on one of the "Thinks" in the book. Enjoy!
The force of the tank landing on my back almost brought me to my knees. The weight brought jolts of pain through my lower back. My body kept trying to teach me a lesson that my mind refused to learn. Even after all these years, I still did it the hard way. I finished buckling up the BCD then waddled over to the edge of the rocking boat where the other divers were already disembarking. I slowly lowered myself on the railing, making sure to let the rail take the weight of the tank, and slowly strapped on my fins.
The dive boat was well lit and even at night I had no problem readying my equipment. Even several hundred yards away from the shore the halogen lamps attracted dozens of flying insects—all pulled in to the warmth and light. But what would happen when the lights went out? Where would these flying bugs go? What would they feel? Would they be as lost as me?
I closed my eyes and turned away from the light. I needed my vision to adjust to the dark. Blindly, I put the mask over my head and tested the seal. I could hear the sounds of inflating and deflating from the rest of the group out in the water. There were much more splashing sounds than there should have been. The novice group seemed to be having a hard time getting used to the equipment and the divemaster had his hands full making sure everyone knew what they were doing. In the past I would have been out there helping him, making sure everyone felt comfortable and ready. But that seemed like a lifetime ago, before my light went out.
I heard the splash of the person to my right and knew I was the last diver onboard. I scooted up higher on my perch leaving the heavy tank to be supported only by my shoulders. This used to feel like an adventure, letting go of the railing and leaving the safety of the boat for the abyss. But that adventure was long gone. What was it like for her when she finally let go? Was it an adventure? Or did she fall into blackness and fade into nothingness? No, if there ever was any proof of heaven, she was it. When she finally let go, she floated up into an unseen white sky.
Still closing my eyes I counted to twenty, then brought my knees to my chest and leaned back. I let go of the railing and fell into the black water.
The warm tropical water took the weight from the tank on my back. I opened my eyes again to see the familiar sight of a ring of divers huddling together around the divemaster. Turning on my flashlight, I swam over to the group and numbly watched the divemaster through the hand signals indicating the plan. I waited as one by one, the divers disappeared below the surface. Finally, I let the air out of my BCD and followed the rest of the group below.
I let the group swim ahead while I went through the drill of inflating my vest with just enough air to achieve neutral buoyancy.
I slowly made my way toward the faint lights along the reef that indicated the rest of the group as they followed the reef. The colorful fish of the reef lit up brilliantly under the handheld lights. Although the group swam contently along the reef for now, that wasn’t their main objective that night. We were headed for a clearing in the reef where we would all place our lights on the ocean floor creating a pillar of light shining up toward the surface. In the column of light, plankton would congregate to feed. In turn the concentration of plankton would attract swarms of filter feeders such as sting rays, manta rays, and jellyfish. It was an impressive sight that I had seen before, but I couldn’t bring myself to care.
The group had gotten far enough ahead that I could no longer see them, a fact about which I felt decidedly indifferent. I had become used to being left behind. Left alone.
Alone in the darkness. Alone with my hand held light in the black water. Alone with the rhythmic breathing of pressurized air.
Each slowly exhaled breath made a swarm of bubbles that floated by with a bloog. Floated up. Eager to get back to where they belong.
Where did I belong?
I looked down at the tiny light in my hand. So small, so cold, compared to the radiance I once held in my arms. A light that was no longer in my life.
I saw mists of living particles gather in the handheld light. Like the bugs on the surface, these little creatures knew instinctively how to gather in the light. These little plankton, knew that this light wasn’t permanent. They were accustomed to the coming and going of the sun. They had figured out a way to have the light in their lives sustain them through the darkness. Why couldn’t I?
I turned off my light and let the darkness of the black water surround me again. Alone in the dark, where I had been since the night she died. I exhaled a deep breath and listened to the bloog of the bubbles. Even the bubbles knew where to go.
I thought of her in that moment, like I frequently did.
I had thought that light in my life would last forever, but life had other plans for us. Just like the plankton had no say in the length of the day or how long the night would last; perhaps that was just the way it was meant to be. The sun came and went on its own schedule, but it warmed the water and allowed the plankton to grow enough to survive the darkness.
Were those years with her enough? Was my time in the light enough to sustain me through this time of night? How could I know? How could I know, lost in the black water.
I turned the light back on and watched the plankton again gather. I couldn’t find the answer to that question wandering the black water alone. Could I find hope that the light would rise again?
I let another bloog of bubbles float by.
I had to try to hope. I had to try.
I swam along the reef until I could faintly see the pillar of light from the rest of the group. I swam toward the light and joined them. I added my light to theirs at the bottom of the ocean, strengthening their pillar. I looked up.
Above me I saw swarms of rays, shrimp, and jellyfish come and feed in the light. For the first time in a long time, I smiled.
It was an impressive sight.
Ken Curtis is taking baby steps toward his dream of becoming a full time writer. Until then, he tries to act professional in his day job while feigning adulthood. Ken recently scored 48 wpm on a typing test, an accomplishment that he feels deserves a trophy.
He is old enough that he saw Nirvana play live, but much younger on the inside and would rather watch cartoons than the news. He has an amazing wife he doesn’t deserve and four little kids he adores.
Ken grew up in Arizona, but now lives near the mountains in Utah where he can be found hanging off cliffs in the summer and skiing off cliffs in the winter. He is very self-conscious of his blogging and only does it to try and fit in with the writing crowd. You can also follow him on Twitter @CurtisKen