I walked into the classroom worried again about rising to the surface of the sea too quickly, this time in my dry suit with its air lined interior and extra valves to manipulate. My new dive text was complicated, and discussed the many ways that the dry suit could burst you from your depth like a large inflated balloon. I have learned now that my lungs won’t explode if I just remember to breathe. However, if dive lessons aren’t heeded, nitrogen will bubble in my body and show up uninvited in my brain. Here I go again, testing my courage and trying new adventures, this time in an outfit appropriate for a Jules Verne novel.
After I had handed my home tests to Alec, our instructor, Galena entered the room with her daughter. Galena is a year younger than me and looks like a pixie with auburn bangs. She is my height and greeted me with a huge dimpled smile. Her daughter immediately began to translate to Alec that her mother had many concerns about the homework. The top of her text was punctuated with yellow Post-It notes, marking numerous questions that needed answering. As her daughter translated, Galena pointed to the questions with a worried expression.
“Do you speak English?”
“No. I don’t speak English,” she responded in English.
I saw her certification card beside her textbook.
“You have been diving in open water?” and I pointed to her card.
“Oh, yes,” she responded with a big grin, and showed me her Dive Log with her four dives proudly recorded.
“I saw giant octopus. Monster. Six meters long.”
She stood up and hunched her shoulders, as she dangled her arms like a large octopus. “I want to see him again.” We both laughed.
“You are better than me. I have only been in the pool. You are an expert.”
I spoke slowly. Galena loved being called the expert diver. We were becoming friends. I showed her where to write her name on the disclosure form, how to answer “no” to all medical questions, and helped her copy her homework onto the answer sheets. Her caretaker daughter left as Alec’s lecture began. Galena and I were classmates, schoolgirls rolling our eyes when there was something we did not understand. As Alec left the room to fetch dry suits, Galena whispered that they wanted us to buy the equipment. She is smart.
“Tula,” she said deliberately and slowly, repeating my name as often as she could, “Why do you take lessons to dive?”
How would I condense a long and complicated explanation?
“I am divorced.”
Galena nodded, “Yes, I understand.”
“I wanted to try something new. A challenge.”
“Yes, I understand.”
“I am a writer. I will write about this in my book.”
I made silly walking motions with my fingers, as if to visually explain that I could write.
“Yes. I understand.”
I looked at Galena’s hand. There was no wedding ring. She did understand.
“Galena, why are you learning to dive?”
“Challenge. I will explain to you another day.”
I know why she is diving. We have a lot in common. Our age and our ringless left hands bond us together in experience, despite the difference in our backgrounds. We were born one year apart, but a half a world away from each other, speaking two different languages. Galena moved from St. Petersburg to help with her daughter’s new baby. She has been in this country for only nine months. She had worked as an accountant in Russia, and spends her time now learning English. We have become friends, and are both happy to be sitting together in dive class.
“When I get my certification,” and again I pointed to her card on the table, “we can dive together.”
“Yes. Good,” and Galena bobbed her head in joy. “We will dive together.”
I felt the same joy. I have a dive buddy. We drove together to the pool, sharing power bars and planning future adventures. Galena offered to teach me to ski when I return from Paris in January, and to take me to St. Petersburg one day to see the art. I asked her to share a room on the dive trip to Indonesia in the spring. It’s nice to have a buddy.
The dry suit class went well. Galena saved me, and I saved her. At the bottom of the pool, we practiced our skills. We removed our vests and cylinders. We took off our masks, and discarded our regulators. We signed to Alec with our hands that all was OK, and he clapped continually for our progress. He flipped us upside down and sneaked air into our suits. We righted ourselves and floated downward by flexing our biceps and releasing the air. It would not be long before I practiced this again in open water. I am looking forward to diving in the Puget Sound in January. My suit kept my shorts and shirt completely dry, and my body warm. Watch out giant octopus. I will be wearing a dry suit and will be on my way.
My dive lessons are over until I return from my travels. It will be the beginning of a New Year when Alec takes me to the open water, and I earn my certification. Deeper than I have ever been, in a fascinating new world, I will signal that all is OK. All is OK with me. There have been many beginnings for me recently. New beginnings are my way of life now; new adventures and new experiences for a life to be lived as if each day is New Year’s Day.
I hugged Alec and Galena goodbye and wished them a Happy New Year. We agreed to email each other over the holidays. We made our promises to dive together when I return in January. As I walked up the hill and back to my car in the cold night air, I turned and waved to my dive buddies, smiling at the limitless beginnings that life presents, and eager to start them all.