Diving in the San Diego Sea

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Chapter IV

Girls.

If you were a boy who wasn't thinking about girls by freshman year of high school, you were going to by sophomore year, and if you weren't thinking about girls by sophomore year of high school, then there might have been a closet involved. At the very least you were aware that it was expected of you, and either played into it or tried to stay as far away from it as possible. I was very much in this latter group, back then. Tim, however, was not.

Tim was just as invested in the dating game as his peers. Or, so he thought, and so he let on. It was inevitable that the lunch talk, at least four of the five days of the week, led straight to a discussion about the whoever was the "hot topic" at the time, much to the dismay of the girls who sat with them.

This particular week, in junior year, it was Bobbie. She was this beautiful, blonde, big chested girl that had all the boys going primal. Deep within their baboon souls, deep within their ancient monkey brains, fireworks and airhorns were going off, telling them that she was by far the greatest, grandest, most important thing they had ever laid eyes on. Until, of course, next week, when it would be someone new. But monkey brain didn't think that far. Monkey brain was very in the now, and now was Bobbie.

In the grande scheme of things, Bobbie wasn't particularly special. She could be now, for all I know she's an architect who's sworn to celibacy. But back then, she was "girl of the week". The table talk was rambunctious, more than a little shallow, and highly hormonal. As was custom, each of the boys — except maybe Ricardo, who made it a habit to be mature for his age — talked about how they'd ask her out. Of course, none of them ever did. They were all pipe dreams and fantasies, the common excuse being those baseball analogies. "She's out of my league," they'd say. "No way I could even talk to her."

Tim, though, never had this excuse. Out of his friend group, it was no stretch to say Tim was the popular one. He was the one that got them invited to exclusive teen stuff, he was the one with all the connections, he was the "cool one" of his friend group. Sure, he couldn't be in the top league — there was a caste of untouchables in the school, and Tim wasn't quite that high. It could probably be chalked up to the fact that he actually cared about something.

In any case, Bobbie was a new girl, and new girls were not yet in the top league. Pointing this out, all the boys egged Tim on. "You gotta do it, man," they'd poke. "Now's your chance!"

The egging got even more enthusiastic, if a bit quieter, once they saw Bobbie walking, strutting, showing her stuff all the way from the courtyard to the cafeteria, where she was going to pass by their table. Eva and the rest of the girls were at this point, if they hadn't been already, rolling their eyes. One of them probably whispered, "boys will be boys".

But Tim did something he hadn't done before; he gave into the egging, and stood up. He didn't even wait for Bobbie to come close to the table. Maybe he didn't want the possibility of his friends overhearing, or interrupting, or otherwise sabotaging his chances. Either way, they saw him approach, begin to talk… then they saw her smile, and they saw her hand over a little piece of paper.

Tim came back, beaming, and the boys were all over it.

"I got her number," he said, and the crowd went wild.


* * * * *


So that weekend, Bobbie and Tim met at the beach, a prime date spot in San Diego. The sun was hot, the waves were cool, the beach was teeming with life. Human life, but life. Bobbie had kept asking for another beach — one a bit closer to where she lived, but Tim insisted on this one. She kept asking why, but he wouldn't budge. Said it was a "surprise". She finally gave in, and here they were.

Mission Beach. It was right next to a bunch of vacation homes, on its own little island.

The date was going rather swimmingly, excuse the pun. Bobbie and Tim didn't have much in common, sure, but small talk and flirting stood in for actual conversation rather well when the main reason for being there was physical attraction. She couldn't help but notice, though, that Tim was pretty eagerly checking the time on his watch. It was likely confusing from Bobbie's perspective. The mixed signals of impatience, but with active social engagement, left her in the dark. When she brought it up, though, Tim just smiled wider, and gave her a knowing look.

He tried to explain, as best he could, that in twenty minutes, a boat would be leaving to give a scuba dive tour. Bobbie didn't follow.

"Do you want to go scuba diving?" Bobbie admonished.

"Not quite," Tim replied. The whole time, Tim had slyly aimed their meandering towards the boat rental, and when they arrived, he laid his plan out clear. To go scuba diving, you needed a license. No such restriction with free diving! He had bought two snorkels and they were stored in the boat he had rented, which they could use to follow the scuba boat. The scuba divers would undoubtedly stop somewhere that was perfect for diving, so they would hop out close by and swim.

As he explained this, Tim's eyes couldn't have been wider, but Bobbie looked less than pleased. She curtly said that she wasn't going to go swimming; she was afraid of the water. As one might expect, Tim thought that was utter nonsense. They went to the beach, after all. What did she expect to be doing?

"Sunbathing," she replied.

She even teased that she might let him apply sunscreen to her. Now that was a tantalizing thought to teenage Tim. He wasn't a stranger to romantic encounters by this point — being the partier he was, he'd had his fair share of flings and month-long relationships. So maybe he thought, "I've been through this song and dance before". Maybe it wasn't so appealing, because he'd done it already.

But I think that, no matter what the circumstances, his priorities would have been roughly the same.


* * * * *


Tim clambered onto the tiny white boat, uncontrollably excited to go diving in the bay. Going out with a girl was a perfect excuse to spend money. "It's not all for me," he would have told himself. But deep down, he knew that he was going to be more into it than Bobbie was. He might not have expected to go alone, but oh well. He didn't mind it one bit.

As soon as he saw the signature blue and green of the scuba boat, he took off from docks and followed them from a distance. Once they had stopped and were jumping in the water, Tim fastened his snorkel, and dove for his first time ever.

When Tim told the story, right about here was where he got extra special giddy about being beneath the waves and looking out at all the fish. I don't think there are that many fish, sitting right there just off the coast, but the way Tim told it, the sea was bursting with life.

Maybe it was, to someone who'd only ever been in the city.

But that isn't to say that there isn't some natural, captivating beauty to the massive expanse of blue that suddenly surrounded Tim.

Through the hazy ocean he could make out craggy rocks below, with fish swimming in and out of the cracks and holes that had been punched into them either by erosion or microorganisms. Tim wasn't exactly sure, he only knew that the circular tunnels in the rocks looked unnatural, and he mentally pinned that as a point of interest next time he went to the library.

Above him was a shimmering mirror. It was impossible to see through the surface of the water, but those patterns, the waves, as seen from below, were mesmerizing, enticing, striking. Like a liquid glass barrier between the sea and the surface.

Back towards the beach, he could sometimes make out the rippling and underbelly that marked boats, and more frequently he could see the kicking of someone's legs, or the bright plastic of a float. Turning out towards the ocean, he saw…

Blue. And only blue. After the few floating fronds of seaweed passed out of view, all there was to see was the impenetrable azure of the unknown. To some, it's terrifying. Hell, to Tim, it was terrifying. But even more than the sparse life below, it demanded his attention. Tuning out the rest of the world, Tim just stared on, into the hypnotic darkness. It told of an entire unexplored world. Somewhere beyond San Diego. Just a boat drive away, Tim could be apart from civilization, the great wet wild from horizon to horizon.

But Tim didn't get to experience the sight for long.

In a strangely endearing way, we have a good gauge for just how exciting the scene must have been for him. His first real time feeling outside of the city, surrounded by nature. He began to feel palpitations, his heartrate rising in intensity.

The last thing he remembered were sea turtles, suddenly coming into view, and swimming towards him.

But that's when he fainted.


* * * * *


No one knows exactly how much time had passed before Edna got the call that her son was in the hospital, but when she did, she just about ran out of a cat surgery at her clinic. For reasons that must have been solely kept in memories since forgotten, Elliot never made it to the hospital room, but the grapevine took the information to several of Tim's friends. Firstly, being the pragmatist that she was, Edna immediately called the school to inform them that Tim was going to be on an indefinite leave of absence, explaining that he was likely to stay in the hospital. Blake's mom worked in the office and overheard, which led to Blake finding out shortly thereafter, and following that, everyone that would want to know, knew.

Edna barely registered that Ricardo and Pablo were already in the hospital lobby as she rushed to see her son. A nurse led her to where he was lying, unconscious, breathing irregularly. The nurses explained that he had been taken by ambulance from Mission Beach, where he had been near some divers. No one knew how long he was out before they noticed him limply floating there, snorkel just barely above the water, out into the deep blue sea. As soon as they could, they had pulled him on board, made it back to the shore, and called 911. There was even one of the diving instructors staying in the lobby, hoping that the young boy made a swift recovery.

The good news is that he hadn't inhaled any water. The bad news is that they didn't know what was going on. Edna asked what they'd done. They said that they brought him into the ER, done a CT scan, an EEG, and they didn't find a thing. Edna wasn't taking that as a good thing. There were a few reasons why.

First and foremost, he was still out. People didn't usually faint for this long. But before Edna could complain, Tim started muttering, and moving to sit up. After some confusion, Tim had been filled in, and he was skeptical, but his protests were drowned out as Edna and the nurse went back into conversation.

Tim didn't pay much attention, but a couple times Edna had turned to him to ask him a question. Something about his performance in PE at school, something about his breathing, and that's all he heard. Lastly, Edna placed a hand on Tim's chest all of a sudden.

"What's this about, Mom?" Tim asked. "I just fainted in the middle of the ocean on a diving trip you didn't even know I was going on, what's the big deal?"

Maybe he didn't say it quite like that.

But Edna explained to him that her family had a history of heart problems — specifically tumors. She'd been holding out hope he didn't get any of it, but in the wake of this event, she couldn't put it off. They were in the hospital, and he was going to get an ultrasound.

Tim of course thought this was ridiculous. He was fine, his breathing was back to normal, he was sure this was a one time thing. Even as the ultrasound machine was being wheeled in, Tim had this bemused smile, like he couldn't believe they were really wasting their time on this.

But the mood was different in the lobby.

Blake, Ricardo, Pablo, and Eva had all made the commute to sit and worry together. Pablo was doing his homework, but Ricardo, Blake, and Eva were too eaten up to do anything but sit. Ricardo's brow was furrowed, Blake's shirt was buttoned wrong, and Eva tapped her cleats on the floor at a humming speed. Ricardo was hoping that whatever it was, it wasn't Tim's fault.

The conversation had been brief, and they'd tried to keep the tone light. It wasn't a fun feeling to have a good friend in the hospital. It was less fun to not know what the problem was. It was worse still that it was Tim. With the exception of Blake, Tim was the glue for the table group. When he wasn't at school, some of them even hung out elsewhere on campus. He was the socialite that made everyone come together. Blake was terribly aware of how much his circle would close if Tim were out of the picture.

Eva had just begun to pace when Tim was wheeled out. The response was so immediate that they didn't have time to process the big, dumb smile that Tim had on his face before he was berated with questions about his health. He told them, after some protest and "it's nothing"s, that he had heart problems.

The spirits died then and there.

But Tim went on. He had cardiac myxoma — a benign tumor, in his heart. It put certain things into perspective. Tim knew, of himself, that he wasn't very athletic. He had put on just a little weight because exercise made him tired and light headed much, much faster than his peers. He knew that when he was walking with his friends, he tended to slow them down. But for Tim, it was only an "oh" moment. Not quite the reaction the doctors had expected from him; they had recommended he have surgery, but they didn't get Tim to budge.

"Benign?" he had asked them.

"Benign," they'd confirmed.

"So, it won't kill me?" he tried.

"It greatly increases your risk of heart failure, later in life," they told him.

"But it won't grow?"

"No."

And that's all he had to hear. He knew the surgery would be expensive, that his parents weren't rolling in it. He figured that he would have the surgery, later in life, if ever he needed it. Once it was his own money, and not his parents'. There were concerns, of course, but Tim's weren't among them.

Trying to raise his voice above the questions, trying to interject inbetween the relief and the worry, Tim was sincerely annoyed that no one seemed to want to hear about his diving trip. Every time he brought it up, they were more concerned about the fact that he fainted than what he saw. The diving instructor was relieved he was okay, Eva seemed more invested than Tim had really expected, Blake couldn't stop nervously blabbing, and Pablo had given him a small hug. The only one who seemed to be silent was Ricardo. In fact, Tim thought he looked a little angry.

He finally gave in, and started answering their questions. Questions about how life threatening it was, questions about what he was planning to do about it. Questions, questions, questions. At that point, Tim just wanted to be home. His friends weren't being as supportive as he had hoped they would.

Soon enough, the state of his heart had all but left his mind, and all that remained was the joy of having been underwater. For months to come, turtles had replaced caterpillars, and his journals were filled with fantasies of being a sailor. Over the coming days, he took some time off from school. He had a lot of visits and calls from friends and family, asking all sorts of questions, but all they got in response were smiles and dismissals. Tim was more disappointed in the fact that no one was asking him about the dive. They were all stuck on this "small stuff", like his wellbeing, and his heart. They thought he was having a rough go of it.

They couldn't have been more wrong.




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