Ever since Michael moved into his beach house, he became gradually obsessed with scuba diving. It started off with just some goggles and a tube so he could skim tide pools and collect shells. But now, he had a collection of different colored wetsuits, an oxygen tank, and a marina membership so he could rent a boat whenever he pleased. His girlfriend, concerned about his newfound obsession, made him go to counseling twice a week, where a woman in a long black skirt, a white blouse, and an almost tantalizing calming voice, guided him through meditation. Let’s breathe in and relax our toes, feet, calves, thighs…” but the therapist's voice would always turn into a sort of white noise as Michael imagined himself miles from his house, underwater, surrounded by neon coral reefs, scaly fish and whales swimming around him in pods, the only sound that of his breathing. Although it was calming, the activity felt rebellious in a way. When the fish swam away from Michael, he wondered if they instinctively knew he was not supposed to be there.
After a long day of scuba diving, Michael would lay in bed feeling weightless from fatigue, and tell his girlfriend in a sluggish voice of all the sights he bore witness to. “Today I saw a humpback whale and rode on its fin,” “When I was coming back up, there was a school of jellyfish below me, almost glowing this pinkish color with the way the sun was shining on ‘em” or, “I think tomorrow I’m gonna to try to get a picture of the edge of a continental shelf, what do you think?” and the girlfriend would smile or nod. Ever since they started dating, her boyfriend had always been a solitary creature. Preferring to run errands alone, oftentimes talking to himself in the mirror when he thought his girlfriend wasn't looking. When he fell asleep, Michael's girlfriend brushed his hair behind his ears, her stomach heavy with tension. If he was cheating, she thought. But no. Men who are obsessed with scuba diving don’t cheat. So she’d kiss his head and roll over.
The next day after a long dive, Michael took his girlfriend out to dinner and she complained they never did anything together. That she missed the "Old Michael," whatever that was supposed to mean. “Maybe I could come scuba diving with you one day,” she said. Michael wiped his mouth and looked at his girlfriend, her straight blond hair, her eager expression. She looked like a dog who’d been promised a walk. For some reason, he felt extremely unnerved. Michael imagined her floating behind him in the waters like a grocery bag, how she’d probably get scared if she saw a humpback whale or a school of pink jellyfish. She would probably scream and waste oxygen or rise to the surface too quickly and damage her lungs. It annoyed him when she got all excited like this, as if she had found a solution to a problem when there hadn’t been a problem in the first place. “No,” said Michael, “I like it best when I go alone.” His girlfriend got up to leave. Michael watched her, for a second feeling guilty. Guilty that he denied her access to the most intimate and spiritual activity in his life, guilt that he couldn't let go of the urge to be alone all the time. This guilt would then quickly turn into shame. Shame that he wasn't a good partner, shame that he couldn't surrender to his vulnerability with the person whom he loved the most. When these unhappy feelings got to be too much, Michael gathered his scuba gear, rented a boat, and ventured in the deep waters to find his peace once again.
During his next therapy session, Michael spent the entire hour complaining about his girlfriend. The therapist nodded with her eyes closed and proposed that Michael needed to relinquish of his desire to be alone all the time if he wanted his girlfriend to stay with him. Or at least, that he needed to share his passion with someone. “You don’t have to scuba dive with her right away, maybe just, find another way to make her see what you do down there.” Michael opened his mouth at this revelation. “That’s a brilliant idea!” He said. His therapist smiled, satisfied with herself. After the session was over, Michael drove all the way home, got his gear, his camera, and navigated a boat that would take him far into the ocean. He swam with his camera under his armpit until he reached the edge of the continental shelf. When he reached it, he looked down at his fins, the abyss in front of him, and took a picture of it to show his girlfriend. He put the camera back under his armpit and swam into the deep sea. He swam and swam until the edge of the continental shelf was barely visible. He turned around, stretched his arms in front of him and took another picture for her.
When Michael was back in his boat, he scrolled through the photos. Colorful reefs, shiny eels, schools of jellyfish. The last one he took of the continental shelf seemed to be just a bluish background until he turned the brightness up. After this, he saw the outline of a naval mine, its rusted, barnacled, algae polluted chain like a diseased umbilical cord sprouting from the edge of the shelf. When he saw this, his stomach filled with warmth. He took out his phone and took a picture of the photos for his girlfriend. He drove the boat back to the marina, giddy for her response. Michael finished docking the boat when his phone rang with his girlfriend’s message: I don’t get it, is that like an eel or something in the background? Michael turned off his phone, angry at his therapist for proposing a solution that didn’t work. Bitter that his efforts to share his life with his girlfriend resulted in more misunderstanding. Loathing himself with this sensation that something had been stolen from him. Michael put his phone down on the dock and stared into the ocean, longing to plunge himself back in.