My husband yearns for another frontier, the bottom of the sea. I don't mean he wants to go to the bottom of the sea and stay there—at least I don't think so—but he likes to be underwater from time to time. He also wants me to come with him—he is a psychiatrist, and he likes to be in a situation where nobody can talk, including me—and gaze at happy fish instead of troubled human faces. Snorkeling is a safe, soothing sport, he told me, no brushes with death, no hostile competition, just peace and beauty all around. I was a lucky woman: it could have been sky diving or mixed lacrosse. Besides, to snorkel you have to go to some lovely Caribbean island and drink rum and wear a bikini—rewards for all the frigid football games I have had to sit through over the years.
So I started—in the pool of a hotel on St. Croix. Those fish were out on the reef, waiting. There was only one problem at first, but it was monumental. I couldn't see. I can't above the water either, but we had decided water refraction or something would help, so we hadn't thought about it much, except to throw a pair of my old glasses into the suitcase. I mastered snorkeling in about 10 minutes, but since the whole point of it is to look at things, and I couldn't see a thing, we had a problem.
Our hotel was small, and somehow our difficulty went right to the hearts of the manager and clientele. When no available mask could be made to fit over my glasses, we got the old glasses from the suitcase and knocked out the lenses, while the bartender found some glue behind the rum bottles. Then we glued the lenses onto the mask.
The glue took 24 hours to dry, so the next day I went to sea blind, gazing at the blurry bottom, with waving, strangely colored little blobs passing in front of my nose along with a large tan oblong that could have been either my husband or a shark. The day after that was a bit better. I put on my glued-up mask and found I could see, more or less, through two circles surrounded by a fuzz of glue and myopia and a faint odor of Duco. At least I had tunnel vision, and we set off for the reef. Fifteen strokes from shore the smell of Duco had risen to asphyxiating proportions. Thirty strokes from shore I tore off the mask, gasping, and returned to the beach, waving wanly at my husband whenever he surfaced on the reef. I was, as usual, becoming a real challenge.
Everyone was terribly sympathetic in the bar that evening, and we carefully put the mask on a breezy balcony for the night, but the whole business was ceasing to amuse me. I was hearing too much about what I was missing. The following morning, 30 strokes out, I began to see fish: angelfish, blueheads, sergeant majors. Sea anemones waved gently on the bottom, and sunlight came down in bright shafts on a glob of purple coral. Then a curious thing happened. The right half of the ocean suddenly sank, leaving only fuzz. If I peered down very low I could see a tiny gash of ocean, but then the left half was still there. It took a good minute of careful thought to realize my right glue had collapsed. I mutely indicated this to my husband, who gave me a frayed smile, and I returned to the beach.
"How's the glue-sniffing?" asked some wags in the bar that evening, and I wanted to cry. There wasn't much time left. I hadn't been so depressed about being nearsighted since I went to a dance at 16 without my glasses and couldn't find my date. We held a Last Gluing, and on our final day I plunged forth with a pinpoint of vision for each eye (those lenses were getting pretty cruddy). It worked, though, and we made it all the way to the reef. Through my two dots I saw the magic landscape again, or bits of it, and my husband beaming proudly at me (I think—I could only see half his face by direct staring) as I plunged around fearlessly, a fish right along with him rather than a draggy dame on the beach. Into my minute field of vision swam a lovely little blue creature with streamers. I poked my husband. Immediately he stuck his head out of the water.
"Did you see it?" he asked.
"Yes, did you?"
He gave me a psychiatric look and said, "Let's go in. I feel like a cocktail."
I thought 3 o'clock in the afternoon was a little early to crave alcohol, but apparently he had a raging thirst, for we swam in like bullets.