Admittedly, it took me a while to write this fourth post, and I knew it would do so. At this point, I have already had the surgery to remove the cancer tumors and have spent the last several weeks mired in my own scattered thoughts.
When I first was diagnosed, I knew right away that this type of cancer would require some sort of surgery, and in order to prepare myself for what lay ahead, I decided to have one last hurrah before I would be changed forever. I took a trip to Aruba.
Now in of itself, Aruba wasn’t exactly the most exotic of locales, but for me, a woman who lives for the beach, it rated high as a country I had never visited before. Buoyed by its sandy beaches and translucent aqua waters, Aruba’s siren-song breezes beckoned me to its warm shore.
During my stay, I actively tried to memorize every feeling around me from the heat of the midday sand, to the bathwater warm ocean, to the gentle way the waves floated my submerged body. These would be memories I would call upon later when I would stand shackled to yet another mammogram machine being pricked with various biopsy needles.
I challenged myself on that trip. I lived. I sang like no one was listening. I danced like no one was watching. I swam in waters like I wouldn’t drown, and I did things that ordinarily I would’ve been too afraid or too shy to do. Even though I love the water, I also fear the strength of its currents. I long for the hue of the ocean, yet am repulsed by the thought of schools of slimy fish. But this trip was different. This trip was to push myself to face my fear and get ready for the fearful that was yet to come.
My two most vivid memories were of swimming in a natural pool that was only accessible after a rugged jeep ride to the other side of the island and a climb over slippery jagged rocks, but the feeling of the cool calm water nestled amongst a forest of crumbling island and crashing waves was worth every bump and slip endured.
The second memory was of snorkeling over the Antilla shipwreck. The wreck site could only be approach by boat, and as the catamaran glided over the azure water, I felt a growing sense of determination that would accompany me into the deep coastal waters. Once we anchored at the dive site, I peered over the edge of the boat and saw the hazy outlines of the wreck. The ship itself is 400 feet long and is sunk in 60 feet of water. Nervously I followed my fellow snorkelers down between the two hulls of the catamaran and as I stood on the ladder half submerged above the wreck, I hesitated just slightly before pushing off into the open arms of the sea. And there, accented by the single sound of my breathing, was the most amazing thing I have ever seen.
The SS Antilla lay on its portside, broken in half and ghostly silent. Coral and tube sponges had grown around the edges, and layers of distant fish swam in and around its decks. A school hurried past the portholes, a large lonely fish ambled around its mast, a dark long shape slithered near the ocean floor and there I was, God-like, witnessing this world from above. Shafts of sunlight broke through the surface and blurred into the haze of the ocean illuminating the fish and other divers in a fantastic vibrancy better than any photo filter invented. Shimmers of bubbles exploded around me with each movement of my arms and the ravaged rope of the anchor stretched deep into the wreck and served as my lifeline back to the safety of the catamaran.
Days later, when I would lay on the cold operating table staring into the light above my head, dozing off into an anesthesia-lulled sleep, it was these memories that I would go swimming in.