If you’ve ever swam, stood by, lived by, or even flown over an ocean once, you know that deep waters hold a certain divinity. There’s nothing quite like diving into cool ocean water in the early days of June. There’s nothing more lovely than immersing yourself in an underwater aquamarine world teeming with yellow, blue, green, and orange fish whose silences are only punctuated by soundless bubbles and the hush of waves washing in above the surface. And after hours or even minutes swimming through the salt water, you feel more clean, sane, and free than you did on land.
That’s why there’s nothing quite like swimming in open water.
The scar on my left thigh that I got the day I went diving among the lava rocks will always remind me of a certain obscure pool along the shores of Maui. My mom’s friends, the family we were staying with, called it the aquarium because of the beautiful fish that swam around their home coral. Even if I knew where that pool was now, I’d never tell.
It was a locals’ place, somewhere only a true Kamaʻāina would know how to find. And even if you knew someone that did, it took effort to search for it, like the elusive secret garden, only its true beauty lie in its freedom from walls.
I used to think I knew Maui well. But Maui holds every sort of hidden enchantment inscrutable to the uninitiated. I was eleven, and it had been a few years since I’d been back to the place I was born, even though I’d visited many times. We watched my mother’s friends’ homes or pets for weeks at a time, our lifestyle changing to fit the island. We’d go to the beach in the morning, gulp POG juice at breakfast, find back roads that led to Buddhist temples or hills so green they looked like they belonged in Ireland.
We didn’t even have to leave the windows open at night in upcountry Maui to hear the animals sing, chirp, and moo at night. Those days were among the most extraordinary of my life.
But the day I went diving is one I remember more than some of the others, which often come through to me in impressions and imprints of the places we drove through on those long island days.
After parking the car and hiking through sharp lava rocks, the hot sun beating down on us, I couldn’t feel anything more than relief when we finally found our way to the aquarium. We situated our beach bags on the rocks and dove in with nothing more than snorkel gear that anyone can buy at the corner store.
I had no choice but to follow the others. Everyone else was already in the water. I was nervous, but had no idea what I was getting into. All I knew was that this pool had been there thousands of years. Many tourists didn’t know about it. For a while, I’d be swept into the quiet world of the ocean. I could see my mom sitting on the rocks behind us and knew that for one of the first times in my life, I was jumping off alone into something new. I didn’t think. I dove.
As I placed my mask over my face, the water warped around my skin, accepting me into its cool fold. The first moment I saw that the aquarium wasn’t shallow, my fins wavered and I took a deep breath through my shallow tube.
That underwater world exploded to life in front of my eyes, even though it had been there thousands, millions of years. Longer than my little life. Those reef fish swirled around my feet and arms, making their way below me, oblivious to human change, sequestered in their own universe.
But I could only focus on the fish for so long. It made me anxious every time their delicate fins swirled past me, brushing my arms and legs.
The sun that shone in pale fire on the surface gleamed into the salty medium, bearing a gradient that only grew darker around the reefs about thirty feet below me. Had I understood what that meant, I’m almost certain I would have been too afraid to go under the water. I couldn’t look down for too long: the coral below us was shrouded in wild darkness, but the ride was exhilarating.
As we returned to our snacks and towels, admittedly not far away at all, I knew I’d miss this place that I may never see again. I pushed myself out of the water and onto the lava rocks with everyone else and we journeyed back to the car. The sun beat down on us once more and the salt water receded from my skin. On the return trip, I scraped my leg, a big slash down my left thigh.
No matter how much I tried to remedy it, the cut wouldn’t heal. It bothered me at first, but now I just think about the day when I got out of my safety net for one of the first times.
The years go by and I never stop connoting the word aquarium with that obscure pool in Maui that, if pressed, I’d never be able to find for you. It always stands for the wonder that I felt at trying something so outside my quiet life of school days. I remember myself that day as a different person that takes adventures and chances.
We go about our lives and only read about great things in the pages of books, but forget that great things can happen to us. Even if we don’t know the chances we’re taking at the moment, sometimes it’s good to take the risk and listen to the waves as they wash by.
When have you taken a leap of faith for adventure? Share your story in a comment below or tweet us @BellaGraceMag!
Kayla Dean is a Vegas-based writer who reports about arts and entertainment. She also interviews writers and blogs about living a creative life on kayladean.com. Find her on Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest @kayladeanwrites.