Ben had never liked the ocean, its dark expansive depths... An uncomfortable thought in an already uncomfortable world. Sand offered no stable footing and the salt water made his skin rough and raw when it dried. In fact thinking about the beach made ben shudder. Not terror just an attempt to shake of the ghost of a feeling. Yet here he sat, on a boat headed out to a world famous diving spot. Ben stared down at the webbed black masses that were his feet. The dark blue suit that was his skin. He shifted uncomfortably as the heavy tank pulled at his back.
The boat was nearly thirty feet long and moving at an incredible speed. An awning covered most of the vessel with a wraparound bench seat encircling the entire interior. A young man, in his mid-twenties if Ben had to guess, stood at the wheel, seeming to enjoy the boats movement as much as Ben hated it. A woman of a similar age, who after many furtive glances towards the wheel could only be the captain’s girlfriend, sat near the back organizing a netted bag of masks and fins. He had paid extra to dive alone, this experience was daunting and he wanted no one else to witness his discomfort.
The boat jerked to a halt causing Ben to land on his side, the tank dragging him along as it moved. The captain laughed. Then apologized, though his smile never left. The words did little to console Ben as he struggled to right himself. The woman approached, helped him attain a normal sitting position and began checking all of his diving equipment, humming a song all the while as if there was no reason to be nervous. As if this was the best place to be on a bright Saturday morning. He lowered his head, partly to hide his embarrassment partly to gather his thoughts. He drifted off.
Ben’s stood at the hospital entrance, staring up at his seemingly countless floors. The call had come just thirty minutes before, the sickly sweet voice of some young nameless nurse telling him his father would not live through the night. He did not think, he did not cry, he simply drove, and now he could not bring himself to walk through the glass sliding doors into the yellowish white waiting room of the hospital. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone, the long thin numbers showed him the time not obstructed by any icons, he had no new messages. Why would he? He had no friends, at least no close ones, just colleagues that smiled at him in the halls.
Ben did what he had always done, what he was good at, he buried his feelings, heaping dirt and mud on them until the surface of his mind began to settle and the episode joined the countless others in an emotional graveyard. His fist closed around the phone, knuckles went from soft pink to bright white. Squeezing as if somehow he could bully it into giving him a message of encouragement. From anyone. Anyone at all.
Ben opened his eyes as the young woman walked back towards the end of the boat. His equipment was ready and checked out for the dive but he wondered, was he? The captain was talking to him now telling him the rules of the dive, nothing he had not heard in the dive course he had taken back at home. He pulled his mask down in hopes of covering the obvious signs his eyes were giving that he was not paying attention. The speech lulled him back into his pensive thoughts. The masked fogged up as he sighed and once again closed his eyes.
He found himself in his father’s hospital room. Where did he get the courage? The ever present beep let the hopeless know their loved ones are still here. Sounding off on every heartbeat, a mournful cadence. He hated hospitals. His father gave him a warm smile as he saw him, his eyes opening slowly as if each lid carried an enormous weight. The each said hello, their eyes never leaving each other’s. Something deep inside Ben whispered to reach out his hand and place it on his fathers but he resisted the urge. He didn’t want to force his grief on him. His father was speaking now and Ben had to struggle to stop his constant inner monolog to listen.
His father’s voice began to shrink and become uncrecognizable as he scrambled to focus. He found himself once again looking through a fogged mask. He shook his head to concentrate. Peeling off the mask to rid himself of the claustrophobia. A sharp intake of breath. He nodded to the captain. He was ready.
With a spit then wipe on the inside of his mask he spun, a jerking, awkward movement that paced him facing away the smiling couple on the boat to the depressingly empty void that was the ocean as far as his eyes could see. Light blue shifted to a deep and dark blue, separated by an array of bubbles as he sank into the ocean. He closed his eyes and allowed his breath to steady. He calmed his panic by letting in the ache of memories.
“Live more Benjamin,” he had said “go out and see the world, you need to have more experiences. Go diving, it’s an adventure I loved when I was your age.” He clasped his hand over Ben’s, the callouses firm pillows just as he remembered when he was child. And that hand held his. “Promise me you will go diving.” The rest of the night was spent sitting in the armchair next to the bed. His father did not pass that night or the next, but it was the last time he had the strength to speak. Ben slept on the armchair for all five days before the beeping stopped and became a continuous noise.
His eyes opened when his fins touched the soft sand at the bottom of the ocean. His breathing pattern was good, just like in the practice pool. He kicked off, dark clouds around his fins. He opened his eyes wide. Small fish darted to and fro, perfect groupings. He was 10 maybe 15 yards from the opening. The great blue hole. But it looked black.
He angled himself down and began flutter kicking. For a moment he was above 125 meters of nothing. There was life in that nothing. But nothing was the only word he could think of. Nothing was what he had been searching for. He righted himself into a vertical position and began to sink.
As you enter the hole the light changes. It doesn’t go away, in fact it illuminates more. Yet the colors are darker. Ben didn’t notice. He was focused on breathing, controlling air to his BCD, and ensuring he stayed vertical. In just a few minutes he was nearly 100 feet into the hole. He could see where it started to expand out. The stalactites like teeth on a beast. Light began to fade out as the rich blue slowly shifted to black.
He checked his watch. He was 60 meters below the surface. His headlamp showed sand drifting downward. Pushed over the lip by the current. He spun, suspended in the water. He saw fish. He didn’t know what they were. They reminded him of where he was. The gravity of it. He reached up and turned the headlamp off. It was pure black. But he still closed his eyes.