July 23, 2015

My scuba instructor was shot in the back. For some reason I always meet people like this.


A person who’s been shot you can see the cords in his neck as he jerks upright at the sound of fireworks or other loud cracking sounds, head whipping to the side. G was answering a question I had about airway control and how to breathe past water that gets in your mouthpiece. Teenagers had set off some firecrackers in the park outside the pool fence.

You see how real something is in moments when people react instinctively.

I hate loud noises too and I haven’t even been shot.

Up in Virginia back in the 90s G’s neighbor fired 6 bullets at him through a door as G was in the open-air hallway trying to get into his apartment. G never even saw his shooter that day. Coming back from running he had been wearing dark blue sweat pants and a hooded sweatshirt. The neighbor was a Vietnam vet and apparently got triggered by the dark clothing, thinking the Viet Cong were coming. Even if G is 6’2 and black.

5 of the bullets missed him. The neighbor’s door blunted the impact of the bullet that burned into his body. Otherwise it could have killed him.

G managed to run out of the 2 story apartment complex. He saw a cop taking a break at a fast food restaurant. Bleeding, he waved at the cop through the glass window. I said man you lucky the cop didn’t shoot you. Later that night the neighbor killed himself, barricaded inside the apartment, the laws outside, guns drawn, the shoutings and conversations through the door over with.


Delray Beach, Florida where G trains can be a little hood in places but the athletic complex at the big community park is nice. I’m glad to see that. I always want people to have nice things, especially where people have often been left out. The pool goes to 12 feet deep and they filter the water every 6 hours. It’s very clear.

With scuba diving there are a lot of technical equipment things to get absolutely right. You know I’m an artist not a mathematician, so I struggled with some of the book instruction, but once I saw how the equipment matches to the body’s needs, I began to get it.

G told me how you can even go kayak diving, which sounds a little crazy, kayaks basically being a little piece of plastic that you sit on top of on the water. You paddle out, raise the dive flag on the kayak, throw your (properly inflated) BCD vest, tank and regulator system into the water, clip the kayak to a reel that you’ve attached to your BCD, and get in, then put the inflated vest on while treading water. You dive with the kayak tethered to your body, and it follows you around on the surface while you’re under. Your only safe way home is to come up and get back on the kayak, which can easily tip over, this little floating piece of plastic. Basically you’re out there with nothing to secure you but yourself. G says “get ready.” haha


G said: When you’re out on the ocean, and diving underwater, nothing else matters, even if you’re late on a bill.

What is it about being out there that causes a mental separation from the land and all the things that tie you down there? It’s true, even when swimming in the ocean. At that moment, out on or in the water, it’s what you are doing, right now. The water is so immediate.

We squeezed some liquid spit (defog gel) into our masks, did a safety check on all the equipment, kitted up, and got in the pool.

I applied what I had studied about the equipment, like the BCD vest, the regulator, alternate air source, low pressure inflator, purge valve, etc. I learned how to clear my mask, and also take off and replace my mask underwater, which G says is one of the hardest things for new divers for some reason. As I went down to 12 feet I practiced equalizing by squeezing my nostrils and working out pressure imbalances before they arrived.

Did you know water is 800x denser than air? I’m still amazed that an entire atmosphere of pressure is added just by going down 33 feet into the ocean. And then another atmosphere is added every additional 33 feet. Water also magnifies things by about 1/3, so you have to learn to compensate.

In scuba diving you’re not supposed to breathe heavily or overexert yourself; just keep it nice and calm. The number one rule in scuba diving is to never, ever hold your breath because you are breathing compressed air and could rupture yourself. Breathe slowly and regularly.

If I can eventually learn to free dive, where you don’t use any breathing equipment at all, just hold your breath for minutes underwater, that’ll be a whole different way of diving.

One other thing I noticed was that after a while I got cold. Water absorbs heat 20x faster than air. I was not wearing a wet suit, just a long sleeve gray compression shirt. Maybe if I had been kicking my legs and moving around I might have been warmed, but because I have almost no body fat and we were mostly stationary during instruction, I began shivering. Now I understand why seals and whales have blubber. But my body never will. This is another situation I will have to accommodate for.

IMG_3003Anyhow, I finally took my first breath underwater. And all I heard was the sound of my breathing and bubbles. Every diver and every dive book talks about that first breath underwater — they are right.

Even in the pool I found myself wanting to stay under, hanging out on the gravelly white concrete bottom 12 feet below like a nurse shark.

After having to take a whole year’s break in order to finish my novel Her Blue Watered Streets and catch up on work for my non-profit Great Plains Restoration Council, I finally passed my 4 Confined Water tests toward my PADI Scuba certification and am ready to strive forward.

My first Open Water dive test — in the ocean — is very soon.

Up ahead, it’s definitely a world of risk, danger and the unknown, because so many things can go wrong, but isn’t all of life like that, one way or another?