when i was A Teen, i went to fiji for like ... 5 weeks. my stepfather paid for the trip as a high school graduation present, and it was a great time. i went with this weird like ... adventure travel group? at one point we climbed to some waterfall up on a mountain and i was walking too slowly so this huge fijian guy full-on threw me over his shoulder and ran me up the mountain like he was balto dragging TB medicine to village children through a blizzard. at one point we helped paint a building, except i was bad at it so they made me just stand in the middle of the building and sing celine dion songs a capella.
we stayed at this unused/abandoned summer camp where all the cabins were VERY harsh triangles you couldn’t quite stand upright in, and bought all our food at like, fijian cotsco. all i bought was sandwich bread, peanut butter, and roughly 24 party packs of now & laters.
looking back it seems actually very weird, but at the time i was just like, “sure.”
ANYWAY, one of the things that was included on this trip was that we "got" to go to a nearby fancy resort (where we were very much not staying) and get certified with our scuba licenses. i went into this trip thinking they’d let me sit that one out, but as it turns out, they couldn’t just “leave children unsupervised” so i had to go through the process, too.
Day one of this part of the trip, the scuba instructor (i forget his name but i loved him? i think he was like .... dave or steve or hank or something, probably hank.) walked in on me talking about how much i don’t ever want to be around sharks because they’re giant nightmare puppets, and Probably Hank was like, “actually, what the heck? sharks are beautiful & majestic creatures? humans need to shut up about sharks?”
i crossed my arms over my chest. “look, Probably Hank, i’ve actually done a lot of research on this. for example, i’ve seen deep blue sea, in which noted marine biologist ll cool j demonstrates the dangers of getting too close to sharks, especially if you’ve been experimenting on them. so i think i know what i’m talking about, regarding sharks. i’m seventeen, ok.”
Probably Hank worked at a resort in fiji, so he had to have been INTIMATELY familiar with how unbearable all people are, but especially white people on vacation. he looked to the high heavens and shook his head at me and pointed to indicate that he was too tired in his soul to argue with me, a pigeon-toed idiot who wasn’t even sure she really understood the difference between porpoises and dolphins.
don’t @ me with the differences between porpoises and dolphins.
i don’t care.
sorry!!!!!! but i don’t. i’m glad they both exist and i’m ever more glad to leave it right there at that.
anyway, this was the beginning of my relationship with Probably Hank, who--as i have said--i would come to love the way that i love almost everyone who is a grumpy older person whose authority i can flagrantly but fondly disregard. he did not want to be there, teaching children to scuba, anymore than i, a child, wanted to be learning to scuba. what Probably Hank wanted to be doing was like, swimming by himself and learning the secrets of the sea.
you know those videos where like, scientists are in a boat filming some whales swimming by, and they're just LOSING it?
that was Probably Hank's kind of party.
still, Probably Hank took me under his wing. he tried his best. at every new obstacle, he rolled his sleeves up a little farther, ready to work through it. unfortunately, by the end of our time together we'd hit so many obstacles that poor Probably Hank's sweater had become a muscle tank.
here are just a few of the things that went wrong during my training:
the oxygen tanks kept making me float to the surface when we were practicing breathing under water in the swimming pool, so they had to weight me down with increasingly comical-looking weights until it looked like i was the victim of an slapdash fijian mob hit.
i was too scared to take off my mask under water, and kept finding various seafloor hiding places when it was my turn, even after i had promised "this time i'll do it, for sure, absolutely."
my pigeon-toed legs COULD NOT handle flippers. they couldn't. every time i tried walking or swimming in them i brought myself and everyone in my vicinity closer to death.
by the time the final test came, Probably Hank had come to view me the way you might view a puppy who loves you and is trying but CANNOT figure out how not to pee in the house. like, all he wanted was to come home one day and NOT find the house destroyed. but there i would be, flippers in hand, ripples of broken equipment and wounded comrades all around me, saying, "LOOK!!!! I LEARNED HOW TO ZIP UP THE SUIT WITH ONE HAND!!!"
Probably Hank would be like, "were...were we even working on that?"
"LET ME TAKE MY VICTORIES WHERE I CAN GET THEM, HANK!!!!!"
the day we were set to go out was beautiful and clear. i haven't talked about how beautiful fiji is in this story because i haven't wanted to disrespect it by lumping it in with what a disaster the trip was. it is very beautiful and complicated, like all places, and is probably very glad that i am gone and have not returned. for the test, we were going on our first real dive. there were going to be sunken ships and everything. everybody was very excited about this.
except, of course, for me, who had hated every part of the scuba thing thus far and anticipated also hating every other part.
"you're going to be fine," said Probably Hank, in a voice that suggested he didn't think i would be fine.
"are there going to be sharks there?" i asked, peering over the edge of the boat.
"mollyhall, sharks don't want to eat you," Probably Hank assured me, for what was probably the seven billionth time.
"i didn't ask if sharks wanted to eat me, buddy, i asked if sharks were going to be there."
Probably Hank sighed. "it is unlikely that there will be any sharks there," he said.
"haha, fuck that guy, this is our house," said sharks.
the dive went mostly okay, at first. Probably Hank made me take my mask off first, denying me the opportunity to hide. i did that thing where you take the oxygen tank off and pretend you've lost it and have to swim around until you can get it resituated. everything was going great, and Probably Hank was starting to look optimistically hopeful behind his mask. even i was feeling good! i had done it. i had been dragged to the completion of a goal, even though that goal scared me and i didn't really see the value in accomplishing it. i was sure my dad would have something positive to say about this experience, in that leave it to beaver way of his.
and then the shark came.
now, let me be clear. this was not a big shark. it was not a long shark. it wasn't even, in hindsight, probably an ADULT shark. it was small, and grey, and curious, and VERY OBVIOUSLY uninterested in eating any of us. it was probably the size of like....my arm, max. in fact, when the shark saw us, a group of very weird-looking fish, swimming around, it kind of, like ... froze for a second.
fish aren't exactly full of facial expressions but i do feel like the shark's face managed to convey, "what the sweet sally kind of sea monsters ARE these things????"
none of this mattered to me. my brain went, "oh look, a shark," and then my WHOLE BODY reacted at once. completely disregarding everything i had learned about scuba diving safety and the bends, i shot to the surface of the water leaving Probably Hank and my adventure travel compatriots gurgling with alarm in my wake.
i did not touch the boat between breaking the surface of the water and landing hard on the deck. i shot out from the sea like that scene in the little mermaid, if ariel had been a screaming, grotesque humpback whale. propelled by fear and newly-mastered flippers, i cleared the deck in a single go and then flopped around, completely unable to sit up due to the oxygen tank still strapped to my back.
the guy who had driven us out and stayed on the boat, whose name i can't even guess at, ran over to me, assuming that everyone below the surface was dead or dying and i had been sent up as the messenger.
"SHARK," i said.
"SHARK?" he gasped, leaning over the edge of the boat.
at that moment, Probably Hank's head broke the surface of the water. he removed his mask. "WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU," he said. "WHY DO YOU TRUST THAT MOVIE WITH LL COOL J MORE THAN YOU TRUST ME."
what can i say, y'all. ladies listen (to) cool james.
after the dive, back at the resort, Probably Hank handed out certifications with the kind of grim resignation of an army sergeant sending his recruits to war. when he got to me, he hesitated.
"technically, you have fulfilled all the requirements," he said. "so i am...bound to give this to you. but please promise me you will never go scuba diving again."
you can imagine, readers, why this might have made him nervous.
i put my hand over my heart. "there isn't enough money in the world that could make me do any of this ever again," i promised, and Probably Hank put the certification in my hands.
FOUR YEARS LATER | TULUM, MEXICO
"oh look, the resort down the road offers a scuba trip. do any of you want to go?"
"not me," i said, pulling my sunglasses down over my face and staring into middle distance. "i made a promise, and a woman is worth only as much as her word."