Over the weekend Todd and I were scuba diving off the coast of Pompano Beach, Florida. We’ve been diving here many times, it’s one of our favorite spots. The thing about diving is you can come back to the same spot—the same site of a shipwreck or the same reef—and discover something new every single time. Maybe there’s a fish you didn’t see last time. Maybe the light is hitting a piece of coral in such a way this time that it’s a different color. Maybe since last time the current came through and cleared the sand away from something that was buried last time.

We went on our first dive Friday morning. Todd had gotten his lobster license. He was armed with a snare and a catch bag getting ready to loop in a lobster for dinner. We were on the surface when I fixed my mask onto my face before descending to the bottom.

I am kind of a baby when it comes to my mask. I really (really) do not like it when water gets in my mask. The sensation of cool water streaming in and filling up from the bottom freaks me out. The mask I had bought wasn’t seating well on my face. I was living with a chronic small rain storm between my face and the glass. And I didn’t like it. One bit.

On Friday morning I cleared my mask, but it continued to rain against my face. I couldn’t get it to clear, the water just kept coming in in in. The rate of my breath quickened. I tried to clear, the skirt on the mask refused to seal against my face. I panicked.

It’s such a stupid thing to panic over. I had plenty of air. I was plenty warm. But when you panic nothing makes sense anymore. You breathe faster and feel like you can’t get enough air, despite the fact that you know that your regulator is delivering the correct amount. I listened to my exhalations come faster and harder. Todd was face down looking under the reef for lobsters. I was floating above him, and the last thing I wanted to do was descend the five more feet to be able to get his attention. I wanted out. I wanted up.

I aimed myself up and swam for the surface from 40-50 feet. I don’t even know how deep I was. I didn’t ascend slowly as you’re supposed to do in scuba. I bolted. My head and shoulders broke the surface, I inflated my vest and leaned back. My hands were shaking. I was panting. The dive boat circled back to check on me. Todd was still below the surface.

“BJ, are you OK?” the boat captain asked.

“I just had such a terrible feeling, I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I need to go back down and find Todd."

“I can see his bubbles, he’s right there,” the boat captain said. “Are you going back down?”

“I don’t know,” I replied. The last thing I wanted to do was to go back down there. Todd surfaced.

“Are you OK?” he asked.

I immediately started crying. Then I insisted we go back down, because I didn’t want to ruin his dive.

“No, we’re out. Your hands are shaking.” And we climbed out of the water and took our gear off. I burst into tears again, completely freaked out and completely guilty that I had ruined his good time.

And that’s the thing that Todd and I agreed on when we’re out adventuring. If one of us isn’t comfortable with the situation, we immediately stop what we’re doing. There was the time when we went for a dive and Todd had gotten sick under water. He had overheated in the summer sun while we were gearing up, and it made him nauseous. He literally threw up while we were underwater. Through his regulator. I am still amazed he didn’t drown. But we got out of there and discontinued our diving for the day.

On Friday I went back in for the next dive.

“Are you sure you want to go back in?” he asked.

“Yes, because if I don’t go back in right now I am so afraid I’ll never want to dive again.”

“I don’t think that would happen.” At the time I didn’t actually know whether that would happen or not. Todd loaned me a spare mask he had. I held it up to my face and he was like “See, the skirt is actually making contact with your face all around.” Then I held up my old mask to my face, “The mask you had on this morning isn’t sealing to your skin. This is why it’s not staying on your face.”

We geared up. I felt a knot of dread in my belly. “We’ll take it slow. If you’re not OK, we’ll turn right around and come back up. It’s OK. Just relax.”

I shuffled my feet in their fins to the back edge of the boat. I stepped down on the swim platform and waited for the boat captain to yell out “Dive Dive Dive!” He yelled it. I watched the water churn below and felt the boat rise and fall with a wave. The knot of dread hardened into a stone. What if I now hate diving? Todd jumped in, I stared down at the water. He was right. I can get right back out if I am not into it.

I extended my right leg and jumped into the water. The air in my vest pulled me back to the surface. I fixed my new mask onto my face and took a deep breath to calm my nerves. Todd flashed me a thumbs down, which in the dive world means “Let’s go down.” I popped my reg into my mouth, deflated my vest and felt myself sink into the ocean. The reef at the bottom came into focus as I approached it. Todd flashed me the “OK” sign to ask “Are you OK?” I flashed it back to indicate yes.

But I wasn’t sure.

Was I OK? A voice in the back of my mind told me “You don’t belong here. There is a reason why humans don’t breathe in this environment. Because you. Do not. Belong. Here.” My lungs tugged the air through my reg just a little harder. My heart pounded in my chest. What is wrong with me? I’ve been on hundreds of dives. And these dives were some of the easiest ones I’ve been on. What the hell is the matter with me?

I slowed my breathing. Breathe in. Count to three. Breathe out. Breathe in. Count to five. Breathe out. In. Out. In. Out.

“Are you OK?” his hand asked again. “Yes,” mine replied only a bit more confidently than it had earlier.

We swam along the edge of the reef, searching under the overhangs for lobsters. They like to hangout under there. I pointed out a few, he snared them. One got away and perched himself on a rock. He was snared again and shoved into the catch bag.

I scanned the reef for more lobsters. We found a few more. Before I knew it, it was time to surface. I was disappointed because I was having so much fun hunting for lobsters. We ascended and broke through the surface, with two lobsters in the bag.

Saturday we went on four dives. I looked up from trolling for lobsters and admired the schools of colorful fish swim by, and watched the corals sway in the current just like they would if they were trees in a breeze on the surface. I saw a lime green moray eel, found a sea cucumber tucked into itself under a ledge. Parrot fish. Porcupine puffers (my favorite). Cow fish. Trumpet fish. So many species.

But it was the lobster that made me enjoy diving again.

BJ Knapp is the author of Beside the Music, available for purchase here. Please sign up for the Backstage with BJ Knapp mailing list to get updates on events, signings, dog pictures and so much more.

BJ Knapp is the author of Beside the Music, available for purchase here. Please sign up for the Backstage with BJ Knapp mailing list to get updates on events, signings, dog pictures and so much more.