The cleaning station could have been overlooked as just another pile of coral encrusted rock if it were not for its large population of Hawaiian cleaner wrasses and Garbanzo. Garbanzo was the famous 2+ meter long yellow margin moray eel who made that pile of coral encrusted rock its home.
We found the bottom near 15 meters just as the mantas showed up at the cleaning station. I maintained buoyancy a few centimeters off the bottom.
It was impossible to keep count of how many mantas rotated through all the available positions at the cleaning station. It was like what the final big flyover scene in the movie “Close Encounters Of The Third Kind” wanted to be.
We were all experienced divers and challenged each other in air conservation. No one made unnecessary moves in a conspiracy to catch as much of the show as possible and the dive went long.
The stars were out when we surfaced. The planned safety interval passed, the boat moved to the eastern arm of Molokini and the night dive began.
Advanced open water certification had already exposed me to nitrogen narcosis, rapture of the deep, and I was not unfamiliar with the effect of nitrous oxide. This night dive around the deep end of Molokini was something I had looked forward to with keen anticipation.
Cyalume glow-sticks of various colors tied to our equipment marked our positions and we each carried at least a pair of lights. The reef night life reflected back our lights and appeared as a giant metropolitan night-scape that we floated above like grotesquely bloated stealth UFOs.
Our dive group worked its way deeper as we moved towards the outer end of Molokini. The dive master liked going deep and I eventually found myself at around 40 meters.
I say I was around 40 meters deep because I am not exactly sure how deep I was. At first, I hung back from the group hypnotized by the fantastic visual display in front of me.
The invisible extent of the dive group was vaguely defined by the floating bits of neon color given off by the cyalume glow-sticks. The individual divers were hard to make out in their black rubber suits and the shifting lights captured all my attention.
The seemingly unattached dive lights restlessly scanned the reef in erratic crisscrossing beams illuminating the eyes of nocturnal crustaceans and undulating mollusks fleeing through the water column. At some point the uncoordinated shifting patterns of colored lights stopped making any sense to me at all.
All the colored lights dancing on the reef threatened to overwhelm me in psychedelic chaos and I turned away to peer into the darkness for relief. The water seemed to glow with a shimmering luminescence around me except for an infinitely black path directly in front.
The infinitely black path directly in front of me went down over 100 meters here. I knew all secrets would be revealed if I would but follow it.
I did not want to turn around and once again expose myself to the visual cacophony surrounding the dive group. The black path in front of me promised quiet solitude, uninterrupted peace and blessed relief from the confusion of the lights over the submerged reef in the night.
It was then that some small voice inside my head told me to breath and the rush of air through the regulator startled me into noticing that I had been unconsciously holding my breath. It was only a small voice inside my head that told me to breath and I do not know how I could have heard it over the other insistent, persistent and strangely confident voice urging me forward to discover the eternally silent mysteries of the deep.
Once again breathing, I ascended in the water column and thought to check my depth gauge. Just then rising above 40 meters, I must have emptied my lungs and drifted deeper when under the influence of the rapture of the deep.
My dive partner reached out to me and queried my with hand signs, “Was I OK?”
I signed back, “OK.”
I had only been “narked” a few moments and my dive partner later told me that I was never far away and constantly in her view. She had come after me when she noticed I was drifting deeper and no longer exhaling through my regulator.
The memory of it all haunts me still.
I was privileged with an intimate glimpse at my personal death and yet I still live. What was impressed upon me most of all was my complete lack of fear at the time.
What I found most shocking was my willingness, at the time, to become seduced by the eternal night. The promised security of total oblivion overwhelmed any sense of self preservation.
This event echoes in my nightmares.
In my nightmares I am again underwater with other people. Everyone is holding their breath, no one can breath.
It is like we all chose to self-suffocate. The overwhelming anxiety smothers us.
All we can do is
- thrash around,
- completely submerged in confusion,
- impulsively reaching out to anything that catches the eye,
- desperately inventing pointless maneuvers and
- making no apparent progress.
Some small voice beckons me to leave the others and swim towards the light. As I struggle against nameless nagging doubts about my decision, clueless to what awaits me above, a new determination takes hold of me, sustaining my efforts.
I momentarily black out just below the surface, yet somehow my journey continues and when I break into the fresh air it jolts me awake as if I had been struck by lightening.
Effortlessly, I bob up and down in the water awed by the bright sunlight, newly aware of the taste of salt upon my lips as if I had never used my senses before.
Already my memories of the life below grows dim. For the first time I can hear voices clearing calling out to me.
Straining to scan the horizon, finally I see people on a distant beach waving their arms over their heads. I swim towards the beach all but forgetting the life below.
Exhausted, I barely reach the shore and once again I black out. Strong friendly hands pull me out of the water and onto the warm sand of the beach.
Strangely, as I soak up the heat of the sand, vague sensory memories of the deeply chilling water temperatures overwhelm my last clear remembrances of being lost in the deep.
A new life fills my days.
Yet, a deep lingering sadness still troubles me because I know uncounted others still struggle aimlessly beneath the frigid waters.
Now I pray for some small voice to be heard by those still lost in their private narcotic raptures, leading them to the surface and into the light.
And I wait on the beach, calling out to those who have miraculously succeeded against all odds in breaking away from suffocating delusions, ready to help them out of the ice cold water and onto the warm sand of the beach.
The feeling of warm sand beneath your feet might surprise you.