Sitting on the edge of a boat with 45-pounds of scuba equipment strapped to my body, I can feel the choppy waves and see that the underwater visibility is about ten feet. In three seconds I’ll be pushed off the edge of the boat and into the Caribbean to follow a man I barely know 100 feet underwater where he’ll insist I remove my mask, cut off my air supply, and use a compass to navigate in the murky water. What could go wrong, part of me wonders.
Everything, another part of me answers.
“I don’t want to do this anymore,” I tell Frank, my diving instructor.
“Let me help you then,” Frank says as he pushes me backwards into the ocean.
Descending, the water is so blue that it’s difficult to tell where the sky ends and the water begins. I’m being pulled under from the weight of the lead belt, but when I look down, I can’t see the bottom. When I look up, I can’t see the surface either. This seems like as good a time as any to do the thing I knew I’d do all along: panic.
I give Frank a signal he’s very familiar with: Pointing up, letting him know I’ll be heading for the part of the world where breathing happens naturally—should he need me.
I don’t want to trust Frank. But I grab his shoulders and we slowly descend again. I fight my natural instincts and realize that much of scuba diving is mind over matter. I forget that I’m doing something mammals aren’t supposed to do: breathe underwater.