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Yours truly, on her first dive.

This weekend my folks are planning to update their website with photographs from their latest expedition. When I was a kid, they took three or four major photographic expeditions every year.  Usually one trip was The Big Trip— an international journey to Mexico, South America, the West Indies, Australia or the South Pacific.

At twelve, it was my turn for a Big Trip. I joined my folks on the ship The Cayman Diver, chartered for diving around the Caribbean Islands. I had snorkeled since I was a tot, but I had to be twelve for scuba certification. My first ocean dive was beyond belief.

With Mom as my partner, my first dive destination was the shipwreck Balboa. Slipping into the cool, swaying water my breath dragged through the regulator like Darth Vader. Water enclosed me, isolated me. Sounds resonated strangely. Every breath I pulled seemed extraordinary. I was an astronaut, remote and alien from anything I ever imagined. A hundred years ago, could a twelve-year-old girl do this?

We swam to the wreck and explored. Strangely,  many specifics have been obliterated from my memory. Vivid pictures still remain, but unconnected to the chronology of our dive. I do recall returning to the Cayman Diver. I snatched up an odd looking fist-sized greenish glob. I displayed it to Mom. Curious, I gave it a few good squeezes. Mom replied with harsh hand signals. Instantly, I understood that the blob was a living sea creature and that I had thoughtlessly harmed it. I was deeply remorseful.

Other memories from my Big Trip  include being afraid of the well-meaning second mate who told me that nail polish was unbecoming on someone my age. Even at twelve, this seemed unsavory to me, since I wore it in such innocence.

The first mate caught me reading his dirty housewife book, which was endlessly fascinating to me. He wound up taking it from me three times.

I drank coffee for the first time. Dosing it liberally with cream and sugar, I had four generous cups before my alarmed mother rescued me. I recall protesting because it was so delicious and energizing.

When I went shopping for souvenirs, a portion of my money was spent on a small cosmetic kit, resulting in a lecture. I remember the lesson: don’t buy meaningless crap here that you can buy at home.

A small stubborn part of myself still defends my little purchase. I bought it because I felt I was becoming a young woman–it was symbolic. After all, a collection of Mother’s frosty eyeshadows captivated me as a child–I wanted to be just like her. Today, the make-up buyer in me is alive and well with a flourishing collection of plumping lip-glosses. Nevertheless, if I were in the Caribbean today, I’d spend my money on music, not makeup.

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