A long, long time ago, back when we had one-and-a-half kids less than we do now, my sweet little family and I lived on the Big Island of Hawai’i.
*Taking a moment to sigh wistfully. Feel free to feel envy, jealousy, covetousness, resentment, what-have-you toward me for that fair bit of good fortune.*
I revisit that time of life quite often. Out of all my memories, those two years spent on a giant hunk of lava are some of my most vivid. I could spend hours telling(typing) all kinds of stories about a naive young family from Nebraska who sold all their worldly possessions (except what could fit into a few boxes) and moved half a continent and half an ocean away. Sight unseen. No clue whatsoever of what waited for us.
But I won’t. Instead, I’ll just tell you one story. For now. (I reserve the right to bore you with all the other stories at a later date. *enter evil laugh here* It’s my blog, after all.)
Not long after our arrival, we, along with a sweet couple we’d recently met, decided to go to the beach. Now, beaches on Big Island are different than what normally comes to mind when you think Hawaiian beaches. Big Island is a young island, as far as islands go, and long stretches of uninterrupted white sand are a rarity there. The few that do exist can be difficult to get to (Think 4-wheel driving across unforgiving beds of lava. Something we weren’t keen on doing just yet, especially since we were driving about in a borrowed car).
So, we headed to a place called Two-Step. One of the most beautiful places you’ll ever go for snorkeling.
The problem with Two-Step, though, is that it’s not really a beach. It’s simply a shelf of lava that juts out into the ocean. Gorgeous, mind you – the contrast of that wet, black shelf against the brilliant blue hues of the water…It’s something to look at. But there’s no sand to speak of, and the water there isn’t child friendly.
That wasn’t going to dampen our spirits, though. The Hubster and his new buddy took off for some snorkeling, while my sweet new friend Em and I stayed back to hang out with the kids, exploring the little nooks and crannies in the lava with my then 2-year old boy, while my little 4 month old baby slept on a blanket nearby. I’m not gonna lie. It was a killer way to spend the afternoon.
At some point, I decided I wanted to swim out and find the Hubster. Em said she’d stay behind to watch the kids, so off I went, eager to splash a little.
Before I go on, there’s a little background about me you need to know:
I grew up in Kansas. KANSAS. A landlocked stretch of country that boasts gorgeous skies, lovely pastures, freakishly diverse weather and unforgiving wind. Not a lot of water here, though, and nothing even laughably close to the mighty Pacific. Even though I’d been swimming since I was little, every bit of swimming I’d ever done up to that point was in muddy pasture ponds, or State-dug lakes. Bodies of water with no current. No waves. No uneven hunks of lava underneath you, teeming with things just waiting to inflict pain on you. There’s just murky, brown water that is often shared by cows and humans alike.
Even so, I wasn’t going to let my lack of experience hinder me. I boldly made my way to the edge of the lava shelf, where tourists and locals had gathered to step down into the ocean – the place where Two Step had gotten its name. Here, when the waves pulled back a little, you could see the lava had formed into two ‘steps’ leading into the great blue abyss.
I waited patiently for my turn, watching as people gleefully jumped out into the warm, tropical water. My chest was pulling tighter and tighter the closer I got. There’s no need to freak. It’s just water. You know how to swim. My little mini-pep talk was pathetic, and I knew it. But there was no way I was going to turn back and admit my cowardice. Pride pushed me onward. I was a trembling but stubbornly determined mess by the time my turn came.
Gingerly, I stepped down onto the first step. A huge wave of tsunami proportions (as it seemed to me) came rushing up at that exact moment. My feet never touched the second step. The wave pulled me out away from the shelf, and there was Midwestern Myndi flapping around in the water just like a fish out of water.
Ever aware that there were people around me, watching, I tried to act cool about it. Like I’d been doing this my whole life. I’m 100% certain no one was fooled. For one thing, I’m a terrible actor/liar. Everything I’m feeling in a particular moment is displayed on my face whether I want it to or not. I’m pretty sure the expression my face carried in those moments could be described as utter-terror-I’m-too-young-to-die-oh-my-gosh-what-in-the-heck-just-brushed-by-my-leg??? . But even if my face hadn’t given away just how out of my element I was, my skin color certainly did. I’m what my friend Liz calls ‘an alabaster beauty’. My skin is so fair, that when our family doctor in Omaha learned that we were moving to the Islands, he advised that I take out stock in a sunscreen company. And he wasn’t joking. Anybody with half a functioning eye could see that I didn’t belong.
So not only was I flapping around like a fish out of water, I looked like a fish out of water. On top of that, I felt like a fish out of water. It suddenly dawned on me that I was terrified of this thing called the Pacific Ocean. I think I even hated it a little. I may have even told it so, in the water-logged, profanity-filled language of a native Kansas cowgirl.
It was at that moment that some idiot dude in a snorkeling mask swam up to me. Somehow I was managing to keep my head above water, but every time my breathing would begin to even out, a killer wave intent on sending me to a watery grave (Em’s hubster would later inform me through thinly masked amusement that these were hardly considered waves, but ripples) would send me back to borderline hyperventilating and hysteria. It was at this exact moment that this idiot dude decided to hit on me. For real.
Him: It’s a rush, isn’t it?
Him: The water. It’s a rush!
Me (frantically looking around for the Hubster, barely able to comprehend that this guy was trying to talk to me): Yeah, I guess.
(Wave hits again. I splash wildly trying to turn direction and swim the heck away from this moron.)
Him: Hey, where are you going? I thought we’d swim out together.
(Now I’m not only worrying about being drowned by an ocean that apparently hates me and wants me dead, but I’ve got some kind of aqua-stalker following me around. My paddling becomes even more frantic, getting me absolutely nowhere.)
Me (trying to sound indignant, not panicky): I’m going to swim with my HUSBAND.
Me (to self): Oh my god, he knows my name. How in the hell does he know my name??
Him (louder): MYNDI!
Me: *sob* Leave me alone!
(Somehow the evil ocean has turned me around again. I’m face to face with this weirdo, and I’m trying to figure the odds of me managing to paddle straight through him without drowning in the process.)
Him (a little more urgently): Myndi, it’s me. It’s Thomas!
(He pulls the goggles and snorkel off. I stare at him in shock as he morphs from some weird-a$$ stranger to my dearly beloved Hubster, who just moments ago I was certain I’d never see again.)
Of course I immediately sea-cow lunged for him, locking my legs and arms around him in a vice grip, nearly drowning us both. He couldn’t stop laughing as he towed his poor water-logged wife to shore. I’d never been so happy to see him, or my kids, or dry land.
After that day, the Hubster and I had an agreement. I wouldn’t go back to Two Step. Ever. And I’d never attempt snorkeling. Ever. I didn’t give a rats behiney how gorgeous the underwater world was. How it was just like ‘Finding Nemo’ down there. How the turtles would swim with you and the world would go silent around you. Nope. Not ever. Not for me. We’d seek out the few sandy beaches and stick to those – beaches where I could feel the sand gradually slope down under my toes, where I wouldn’t be afraid to pull my kids into the water.
That, my friends, was my first plunge into the Pacific Ocean.
Any other aqua-phobes (word?) out there? Funny underwater stories that you’re dying to share? C’mon, make me feel better about my first foray into the wide blue yonder!