When We Were Brave

Last week, as I snorkeled out to a sunken ship in the Caribbean Sea, I had two thoughts:   first, I think this is the bravest thing I have ever done, and second, I can’t wait to get home and write a blog post that begins: ‘Last week, as I snorkeled out to a sunken ship in the Caribbean Sea…’

Ann and vacationed to Mexico, a real beach vacation along a remote spot of the Yucatan peninsula. She is much braver about travel and committing to plans, so in January I took her seriously when she said with excitement, “Mexico, baby!”

She travels the world because she’s interested in other cultures, other cities, other people. I’m interested too, but it’s easier to look things up on wikipedia. I find traveling requires a certain type of bravery, a confidence that details will simply work themselves out. Almost 15 years ago as I fussed over what to take with me to Italy, Ann told me, “The only things you need are good walking shoes and a Visa card. Everything else you can buy.”

She was right.

Last Sunday, when we didn’t find each other at the meeting spot in the Cancun airport, I panicked. When I finally got ahold of Ann, she answered her phone cheerfully, saying, “Hey, how ya doing?” She wasn’t flustered in the slightest. Everything would work out.

Four days later, we found ourselves taking our resort owner’s recommendation to drive deep into a Mexican jungle, find a certain unmarked road to a deserted beach, park our rental semi-legally, and then walk down the beach far enough to snorkel our way out to a sunken ship.

Marsha, our resort host, promised that no people would be around. She said this as if it were a good thing, whereas I could only picture me being dragged into the ocean by a giant squid and Ann yelling, “Shark! Shark!” but nobody would be around to help.

(The point may have been moot, but I was hoping Ann would have the common sense to yell “Shark! Shark!” because, really, who’s going to come running for “Squid! Squid!”)

Despite Marsha’s description, we decided to be brave, to have this adventure.

As we drove deeper and deeper through Mexican jungle, we laughed ourselves silly about how if we got lost, nobody would ever – could ever – find us. After all, our hotel location was located 18 kilometers down a gravel road in an already-sparsely populated part of Mexico. No cell coverage, no nearby convenience stores, no neighboring towns. The hotel enjoyed electricity for only six hours a day and we showered with collected rainwater. So when Marsha described the sunken ship spot as “remote,” Ann and I glanced at each other nervously.

On our drive, Jurassic Park did not seem like a far-fetched concept, so much as a logical extension of the landscape. Several times, as the car bounced along a road that can only be described as “tire ruts” trees and brush pressed against the car and we grew quiet.

We kept our eyes peeled for crocodiles, iguanas, small foxes, car-eating snakes, and other creatures. Aloud, we wondered what would happen if we actually saw something. I kept promising that I would most likely hop out of the car and punch said crocodile in the head repeatedly, just to show him who was boss. Ann would listen politely, point out the drivers’ side window, and exclaim, “Croc!” just to make me swerve the car in terror.

Studying Marsha’s homemade map, we counted kilometers until we found the unmarked turn off, and parked the car near an assembled collection of assorted wood and aluminum that is best described as a ‘murder shack.’ Two growling, snarling dogs greeted us, and we looked at each other dubiously. Although I do not speak Mexican dog, I caught the gist of the message: drive away now or we will rip your fucking calves off.

We could see half the ship sticking out of the water, a good quarter mile away from us.

“Still want to do this?” I said.

“Sure!” she said.

Of course she did.

Reasonable people would agree to lie to all their friends back home. Take pictures from the shore, swear we swam out there, talk about how great it was, so many fish, etc. But reasonable people wouldn’t make each other, you know, actually do it.

But Ann is brave.

That’s not to say she doesn’t get scared – she does. We talk on the phone when she’s afraid and she tells me about these fears. And yet, whatever it is that’s scaring her, she often does it anyway. After 15 years of marriage, she started life over in Iowa to pursue a PhD. Upon completion, she started over in North Carolina. Professionally, she keeps extending herself, risking, challenging, pushing. In her personal life, she examines her own motives and actions with an unflinching flashlight, and when she finds answers she does not like, she says, “Well, shit.”

Some days, when she is tired of pushing the world to be a better place, or tired of pushing herself, she can’t see it. When we talk on those days, she feels broken. But I am not fooled. I recognize bravery when I see it.

When we refused to back down, the snarling dogs relented. Like so many of us in life, they used their bark to mask that they wanted love and were afraid we would not give it. One trotted closer, head bowed, asking for forgiveness. Instantly, we loved Scooter. (And if you saw this adorable beach mutt, you would know right off his name had to be Scooter.) He had happy eyes and a deep scar across his schnoz that made me feel sad for his past fights. When we invited him to accompany us on our walk down the beach, he wagged his tail eagerly, zipping between our legs and running ahead of us, looking back as if to say, ‘C’mon! This way!’

I fantasized smuggling him back to Minnesota.

Soon, it was time.

We attached our flippers with typical comical results, falling over in the surf, more sand in our butt cracks while gurgling salt water and laughter out the breathing tubes. Scooter raced around our belongings on the beach, as if promising to protect them. In return, we promised him pretzels and water upon our return to the car.

As we dunked into the water I wondered if Ann felt this was brave or was this no big deal. I kinda thought she might call this brave because right before we started swimming, I removed my breathing tube and said, “Marsha said that it was unlikely sharks come into water this shallow.”

Ann said, “Let’s hope the sharks remember that.”

Yes, we were a little scared, but fear quickly met beauty. In the clear water, we swam near fish with neon blue ridges, shimmering spectacles that darted away easily, tiny silver sprinters, and big fatties that looked at us with surprise. What the hell are you doing here? We pointed out favorite fish to each other, and as Ann swam steadily toward the ship, I remember thinking, ‘This isn’t even phasing her in the slightest.’

The further we swam out, the waves pushed harder and the water got deeper. But we kept going. Beautiful coral met us, delicate purple fans of exquisite underwater lace perched on orange reefs. We met orange fish, fish with green stripes that blend into the grass nearby, blue and yellow-stripers, and really, where the hell was Sebastian from The Little Mermaid?

I forget there is a payoff for bravery.

As we swam out further, I thought of when I was brave: quitting a job, saying “No,” to a boss, telling a friend, “I think you’re messed up.” I have been brave with cancer, brave in the grocery store, brave with strangers, and even with lovers, brave enough to say,”I’m not happy.” I remember having a huge fight with Ann many years ago, and we had to be brave as we negotiated our reconciliation, both of us reeling in hurt and surprise.

We reached the ship.

I faced my disappointment in not finding a skull and bones chest spilling over with golden treasure. An enormous pelican – big enough to sit on my chest and make me gasp for air – perched on the stern, eyeing us with suspicion. Though we splashed around pretty close, it refused to surrender its position. I swear I could see its feathers trembling and I thought, “It’s brave, too.”

With the surf pushing us harder toward shore and simultaneously trying to seduce us deeper, it did not take long for Ann and I to say, ‘Okay, we’ve seen it.’

We snorkeled back, stopping to swim around coral reefs and admire our swim mates.

Once on shore, we were disappointed to find that Scooter had deserted us. As we collected our flippers and headed back to the car, I asked Ann if she thought this was the bravest thing she had ever done.

“Yes,” she said immediately. “No wait, getting divorced was first. This is second.”

Today, sitting in my comfy chair upstairs in my home with a Diet Coke at my side, I look at the photo of our sunken ship and I think the caption should be: When We Were Brave.



6 Responses to “When We Were Brave”

  1. Ann Says:

    YAY! Yes, we did it! But if I knew YOU were having second thoughts… ;) Perhaps Scooter would have gotten his pretzels.

  2. Edmond Says:

    I miss Scooter! Do you think he’s thinking about me right now?

  3. Sam Says:

    Great read Edmond.

  4. Edmond Says:

    Thank you, Sam. Good of you to drop by.

  5. Alesia Says:

    Sounds amazing. You are BOTH very brave! Can’t wait to hear more about your trip.

  6. Ann Says:

    I am certain that Scooter is longing for you to scratch his ears and speak sweetly to him…

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