Tags: community centers, forgetfulness, ingenuity, middle aged bodies, nudity, roman baths, swimming, towels
Tags: caretaker, elder care, elderly, living at home, living with mom, nursing home, stroke, wheelchair
I moved to chicago two years ago to get my mom out of a nursing home. We were lucky in that mom has a trust that allowed us to buy a home that fit her needs (she’s in a wheelchair) and mine (married, with, at the time a kid still at home, room for two dogs). We found the perfect house in a neighborhood where everyone fell in love with my mom.
She’s great, 86 and very easy to live with. The only thing that didn’t work as planned was getting a job. My husband and I are both teachers and so expected to find jobs easily. We forgot to take into account that all my years made me too expensive to hire. So I got hired to take care of my mom which is ideal and very rewarding. It also gives me time to write. My husband went back into acting after 30 years and is having a great time! we are basically ignoring the future financially and are living like kids out of college (with mom, pursuing the arts). I wouldn’t change it for the world.
It was my last day in Hawaii when I decided that I should try scuba diving. Looking back, I can’t imagine what made me think that was a good idea. I had never even snorkeled but proving once again that ignorance is bliss, I signed up.
The instructors, all bronzed and blond, gave me and some other nitwits a fifteen minute course on breathing under water. They showed us the gear and explained the gauges. We climbed aboard the boat as our underwater adventurers put inflated life vests on us. They explained that when we got into the water they would slowly let the air out thus causing us to sink. If there was a problem we were to signal with a thumb pointed up and they’d magically put the air back and we’d bob to the surface. Simple.
The day was cool and overcast. I was not the first one in. That poor unfortunate promptly began swallowing her bit of the ocean. Once she stopped hacking, she and her instructor decided that maybe snorkeling would be better suited to her abilities. With facemask on and mouthpiece in she immediately managed to fill the air tube with seawater and proceeded to inhale it. They pulled her out, slapped her on the back and wrapped her in a towel.
This would have been a perfect opportunity to stop and question the situation. But did I? No. I was the mother of a two year old and had hit that selfish stage in a young mom’s life. For two years I had tried to answer my child’s every whim. Now for the first time in his young life I was without him. I was determined to find the wild fun-loving self I’d left behind. All this is said to explain why I didn’t do what I should have done: i.e., stay in the boat.
My turn. I had confidence. I knew better than to try and drink the ocean. On television, scuba diving always appears as a graceful ballet, a silent journey through coral reefs with strains of orchestral music rising in the background as multicolored fish weave their way through the dappled sunlight which filters through the blue-green seas.
Just like Jacque Cousteau I put on the tanks and fins and rolled backward into the water. I bobbed on the surface excited and cold. I practiced breathing through the air hose. In. Out. In. Out. It was surprisingly noisy, a hissing and sucking sound. Unexpected, but not alarming.
Slowly they let me sink. The air from the tanks was now making bubbles in the water. A lot of them. The bubbles were everywhere and made an incredible din. Where was the peaceful silence and beauty? Where was the French accent? The red stocking hat? Before the water had covered my eyes I was signaling UP! UP! “Pant! Pant! I’m sorry. Pant! Pant! It’s just so noisy. Pant! Pant! I couldn’t breathe!”
I smiled bravely at my mentor, took a deep breath and put the mask back on. “OK. Pant! Pant! I’m ready. Pant! Pant! Let’s go.” I felt like an idiot for having been so shaken. How ridiculous. Millions of people scuba dive. What’s the big deal? I took control of myself and nodded I was ready.
The air in the vest began to deflate and once again the bubbles filled my head. “Up! UP!”
Before I am judged too harshly let me state how unnatural it is to breathe under water. I know that scuba means Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus but what does that really mean? It means having faith in a machine in order to breathe. Underwater. And let’s face it faith is an uncertain virtue. I mean as soon as you’re sure you have faith you start to wonder why you have faith, which causes you to doubt that you have faith and then where are you? Breathing underwater! With a questionable faith in a machine you don’t understand. A machine that is supposed to keep you alive!
Breathing under water is not normal. Biologically speaking we humans are not made to do it. We are an above water breathing species. Do you breathe under water on a regular basis? No. Well, neither do I. In fact, up to this point I had never breathed anywhere but above the water, in the air, where we’re supposed to be breathing.
I had paid money for this “great adventure” and so I tried again. Faith does not always involve intelligence. After about the fifth attempt my instructor was ready to put me in the boat bound and gagged. People actually do this on their honeymoons! I thought.
The woman who had almost drowned encouraged me. “Go on! Have fun!” She appeared to take a perverse pleasure in my attempt to not end up like her. I bobbed in the water, looking at Poseidon who was holding my life in his hands. I couldn’t help but question his sanity. He obviously did this day after day and thought it was fun.
One more time. I swore to myself that this time I would keep going down even if every molecule in my body screamed that I was going to die. Why I thought it was so important to face my fears at that time in my life, I don’t know. I just knew that this was something I had to do. So down I went, my heart pounding like a sledgehammer.
That’s what it felt like, and it was even more awful than it sounds. A sledgehammer, not your heart, is supposed to pound. One can assume that if a sledgehammer is pounding there is someone at the end of this hammer making it pound. It thus follows that this someone, if he so wishes, could make said sledgehammer stop. There was no one at the end of this hammer, it was in the middle of my chest and had no intention of doing anything other than sledging with a chance of explosion.
But down I went. My eyes were glued to my guide, who I’ll call Brad.
Forgive me for stating the obvious, but you can’t talk when you’re underwater. The mask and breathing apparatus, to say nothing of the bubbling, inhaling, exhaling, sucking, gasping noises, make it impossible. Darth Vader is quiet by comparison. So my normal way of relieving tension: senseless giggling, and non-stop talking, was a strategy that I couldn’t employ here. And beside, I was really afraid I was going to die. If I could have talked all I would have said was, “I’m going to die! I’m going to die! I’m going to die!”
Still, I was determined to do this. It was my Waterloo. Wait, that’s a bad example. Napoleon lost at Waterloo. It was my… I was Hillary climbing Mt. Everest, which, please note, is conveniently placed well above the water line, Lawrence crossing the Sahara, which you should also note is a distinctly non-soggy environment. This was something that for some inexplicable reason I had to do “or die trying.” I had always thought “or die trying” was just an expression but you know what? You really can put yourself into a situation where “or die trying” is actually a possibility.
Down we went. Down, down, down.
Brad was beginning to look less beguiling and more drug crazed as we entered the depths. Deeper he swam, carrying my precious life in his hands. My poor son was about to be motherless and it was all Brad’s fault.
He pointed out a moray eel. Ooo. Isn’t that wonderful. Another way I can die.
Like a tempting Satan, he led me deeper and deeper into the mysterious depths Images of the Titanic filled my mind, I was swimming amongst those lost souls down in Davy Jones’s locker. About fifteen feet, I think.
My eyes were glued to the irresponsible Brad, who made a living by carelessly letting me risk my life for cold hard cash. Hypnotized by his bubbles I remember only dark vague images. Slowly my breathing calmed. I started to relax. I went from petrified to terrified. I figured if I stayed under long enough I might be able to calm all the way down to scared stiff.
We stayed down there for what seemed an eternity, my guide pointing out the beauty of the underwater world, while my racing mind tried to calculate how much air we still had in our tanks and what did all the gauges mean, and why was there a business that allowed innocents like me to risk our lives.
My heart had found its rhythm as we pushed through the water, a sort of maniac calypso. I had lost all control over my life. I went where he went, looked where he looked, sank where he sank. My life was his, certain that I wasn’t dead only because he knew how to keep me alive. After days, weeks, months submerged he pointed thumbs up and he set my life vest to inflate.
We worked our way back to the surface, exhaled bubbles following behind. We swam toward the light, toward the blessed air. Our faces broke the surface where I was finally able to breathe the way I was meant to breathe, silently and through my nose.
I smiled at the handsome stranger who had become my savior. If he had asked I would have jumped into bed with this god of life. Nothing is more erotic than putting your life in another’s hands. Ask any girl who ever worked with James Bond. It’s not the accent, or the flashy car. It’s the gratitude of finding yourself alive.
But of course he didn’t. Ask me to jump in the sack, I mean. I doubt that watching someone act like a baby isn’t nearly as big a turn on as following Neptune.
Life! God, I was exhilarated! I felt a bond with Evil Kneivel, a bond I hadn’t known I wanted to make. I had faced my fears, jumped my Grand Canyon, and survived! I knew I could accomplish anything. I had never considered myself a brave person, never really felt I ever needed to be brave but now I had proof! I was incredible!
Triumphant, I boarded the plane headed toward home.
Back in LA, I spent the following week telling everyone I knew about my great adventure. I was running out of friends to impress when I ran into Sylvia. She is a tiny, wrinkled old woman who is older than dirt. She had lived an adventurous life and I knew she would appreciate my smooth rendition of heroism and lust.
“Hey!” I said, a bit boastful but deservedly so. “You’ll never guess what I did last week. I went scuba diving!”
She smiled in appreciation. “I did it for the first time last year. It was so much fun!”
Perhaps bungi jumping.