Monday, September 23, 2013

Cat Lost, and Cat Found.

A few of you asked me yesterday if you missed the weekly Middle Flipper post.

I feel badly that I let you down.  Work has been crazy (in a good way) and I didn't have time to write a thoughtful post the other day.   Luckily, my missing blog entry for the week is the perfect segue into a story about me, Cat, disappearing.

Disappear? Impossible, you say.

It's very possible if you ask my dad and my dive instructor.

When I was 13, my dad and I got our open water PADI certification in suburban Illinois.  You know, where people come from all over (sometimes from up to 10 miles around!) to dive the beautiful rock quarries.  

Haigh Quarry, where the story begins.

Well, if I'm being totally honest, most of our dives took place in Mitchell Pool, where I took all of my swim lessons as a little kid.  But the actual certification dive happened in a massive quarry built expressly for such dives.   I don't remember why none of our fellow dive students did the same dive, but I recall that on the fateful day, it was just my dad, me, and the instructor.

We donned our gear and swam out to a section of the quarry, BCs completely inflated.  There were divers everywhere, their flags and bubbles the only evidence of their activity.  The entire quarry was filled with dive platforms at varying depths, sunken boats, planes, cars, and manmade caves.  When we reached our platform, the instructor told us the following:

1) Deflate the BC and descend to the dive platform below us
2) Wait for further instructions; he would do each of our tasks one at a time.

Easy.  And exciting.  This was the culminating step in achieving my first official goal in qualifying for a marine mammal training job.  You just can't get a job working with marine animals without a scuba certification*.  

Here is me before a dive giving a new trainer her whistle. 

We slid beneath the charming mud-colored water at roughly the same time.  As I slowly dove deeper, I realized I couldn't see inches in front of my face.   Whatever, I thought, I was so excited to be getting certified.  And I figured as long as I kept descending straight down, I'd eventually hit the platform.

So I went down.

And down.

And down.

And down.

Whomp.  I hit the floor.  A large cloud of silt swirled and billowed around me, further reducing my visibility.  But I was told to wait, and wait I did.  The dive platform felt squishy and strange, but what did I know about common materials used in dive platforms?  I just knew I'd sank down until I hit bottom.  I was on the right track.

My view underwater.

I heard the sounds of many people breathing underwater.  It was a calming, mesmerizing experience.  The only visual object(s) my mind could process were the tiny particles swirling 0.0004mm in front of my mask.  It was hypnotic.

I breathed and waited and breathed and waited.  What the hell was taking my dive instructor and my dad so long to do their thing?  I laughed in my head, wondering what misfortune fell upon my father (and for those of you following this blog, you know exactly what I'm talking about).  

Ten minutes passed, and still I waited.

A flash of neon orange shot into my field of vision milliseconds before the dive fin slapped me across the face.  I fell back a few feet, stumbling to get my footing.  BAM.  Another kick in the back of the head.  I turned around to see if it was my dad or teacher attempting to contact me, in much the way I expect a zealous believer in alien abduction waits in the dark for the tractor beam to pull them skyward.    Alas, the fins that flayed me belonged to strangers in the smudge.

Breathe in, breathe out.  Breathe in, breathe out.  Where the hell was everyone?  I remained obediently still, knowing that my turn would come.  I got kicked in the face and head a few more times, and yet I remained loyal to the instructions.

Suddenly, a bluegill appeared in front of my face.  


Awww, I thought to myself. What a cute-




The bluegill slammed its face into my mask right between my eyes.   

Me: WTF?!
Me: WTF?!
Me: FTS!!!!! ***

That did it.  I couldn't sit down at the bottom any longer, not with this completely unmerited, abusive response from the locals.   I rose to the surface, seething in irritation. I'd wait for the slowpoke men in my life where I wouldn't get booted in the face by man or fish.

When my head cleared the surface, I saw my dad and the dive master.  Their faces were locked in expressions of terror and panic.   Ha! I thought to myself, they're pissed about those ridiculous bluegill, too!

I yelled out to them, "Hey guys! Where were you?"

They quickly turned to look at me.  My dad cried out, "OH THANK GOD YOU ARE ALIVE."

The bluegill weren't THAT bad, I thought.

Me: What? I'm fine.
Dad: We've been up here for 15 minutes trying to find where you are!
Me: I was waiting on the dive platform for you.
Dad: We were on the dive platform! We realized you weren't there and started looking for you!
Me: I was down there the whole time.  
Bluegill: I can attest to that! That dirty ape destroyed my home!

Much to the relief of the instructor and my father, I was not floating around the rock quarry unconscious (or worse).  When we went back down to the platform, I realized I had just missed it by roughly 10 inches.  But in the horrendous visibility, I could've been 780 miles away or one inch away, and it'd all look the same.  

And so was the first large step in a long journey towards my current occupation.  A Middle Flipper event (i.e. the disgruntled panfish) was at the start of it all, setting the mold of my experience with animals yet to come.  And, luckily for my father, he found at least one thing he lost in a mysterious, silty body of water.  

* Unless you are able to hold your breath for over 45 minutes while operating heavy machinery

** Official sound effect of bluegill territoriality

*** PG-rated translation: Forget this silliness


  1. ahahaha "Forget this silliness"?? That's gold

  2. i really appreciate your work, you are doing a great work, loving it. Lost and found