I barely heard the yelps from under the warm, choppy waves, but I knew I heard something. My head popped up, and even in my foggy snorkeling goggles, I could see Ian. He had drifted about thirty feet behind me since the last time we checked in, and he was bobbing up and down, flailing his arms, signaling the boat about sixty feet behind us.
Well, here goes nothing, I thought. I'm a terrible swimmer. Ever since I started experiencing excruciating ear infections every time I jumped in a pool (or shower), I stopped learning. But I was now throwing my arms into the warm, kicking as hard as I could, fighting the waves pushing me further from my drowning friend.
I reached Ian, and he looked terrified with his flushed face and diluted, bloodshot eyes. I tried to extend the end of my noodle, but in all his fear, he grabbed a hold of me and started pushing me under, trying desperately to keep himself afloat. In my head, I was screaming, No Ian! No Ian! But with the snorkel in my mouth, and the water rushing around me, I couldn't make a sound. Ian's adrenaline had kicked in and all his strength was keeping me below.
Finally, an instructor reached us, and hooked Ian around the life saver, pulling him from his grasp on me and back to the boat. I paused in the water, pulling out my snorkel and gasping with words of comfort, "Ian you're ok! You're ok now!" He couldn't speak between his deep gulps of air and his white knuckled grip on the life saver.
It was only an hour earlier that I was anxious, pulling on my wet suit, shoving little tubes of Styrofoam into my ears. The waves looked dangerous and angry. Why was I doing this to myself? I couldn't swim, I hated water, I knew that there was sharp, piercing pain just around the corner if I jumped in...
Ian pushed me right on in, laughing and shrieking with excitement. I cautiously started to paddle, lightly dipping my face into the water. It took quite a lot of kicking, and struggling against the waves, until I finally saw the first coral ridge. And then... it felt like the angry waves parted so I could drift along the calm seas, breathe coming easy so I could see the wonder below.
I felt like the Little Mermaid, bobbing with my blonde hair curling around me in the ocean water. Fish came up and graced my arms, swam almost between my fingers. The coral was the most beautiful shades of gold, orange, and red, the seaweed waved back and forth welcoming me to this beautiful new world. I saw a giant clam open to reveal a beautiful, soft, iridescent padding and I gasped at it's beauty.
Wait, I thought, panicking for a second. The boat! And Ian!
I pulled myself up out of this mysteriously beautiful world. Looked to my left, to my right, and there was Ian, awkwardly bobbing and adjusting his snorkel, spitting salt water like one of those stone cherubs in Italy. Relieved, I dipped my head back under.
A swarm of beautiful, small, yellow and black fish swam under me. I dove under, disregarding the pressure on my ears, and followed them. They swam slow against the current, and I was able to keep up. I'm not sure how much time had passed, as I swam along, daydreaming and smiling. The water felt amazing as I pushed it away from my arms, and I felt free, weightless. How had I missed this for so long?
That was when I heard the slight, muffled yelps from underneath. What could that be?
Ian and I had been friends for awhile. So far on our Australian excursion, he had been the adventurous one. On the top of the Sydney bridge, I was shaking, hyperventilating, crouched to the steal stairs and squeezing my eyes tight as can be.
He was the one who suggested ziplining, as I was content spending an hour in the massage chair. And here I was swimming like a little fish, while Ian was flailing and scared for life.
That's just how the Great Barrier Reef can change you...