After Moving Out
Swimming Underwater to See the Tzvaleubhoi
Arriving early at the Nipeiskwari, swamped by uncertainty, by fear, excited for adventure and discovery, for success, and weighted down with anxiety and the scuba literature in a waterproof container, I waited for Utcoozhoo, eager to begin. To see the Tzvaleubhoi at last could only be entry into a Shangri-La or disillusionment, though the task was to find the voters against Zusoiti. I stared at the blue waters.
At the appointed time, Utcoozhoo leaped out of the water like a hairy gray dolphin. He said, “Doug, do you have the scuba brochures?”
“OK, then, I want you to do some deep breathing, but be careful: only hyperventilate slightly, because if you faint underwater it would be tragic. When I raise my hand, we will both take our final breaths. Then, I will dive into the water, and you will follow me to the Akwangtqua and into the Tzvaleubhoi.”
“What do you mean don’t hyperventilate?”
“Well, I mean, you should be able to hold your breath in a natural way. Umm, OK, let’s do a practice run. Do some deep breathing and hold.”
I breathed in and out as deep as I could for several minutes, and held my breath.
Utcoozhoo said, “Now flap your arms like you’re swimming …”
I was feeling sick. I had to sit down.
“Now breathe. How did you feel?”
“I felt dizzy. I thought I was going to faint.”
“That’s not good. You over did it. Next time, a little less. You’re going to have to depend on your natural lung capacity. OK, you’ll just do a few preparatory breaths and then one deep breath. OK, start and I’ll give you the signal when to dive.”
When Utcoozhoo gave the signal, I followed him underwater. He dove to the bottom of the K’ut’mbletaw’i, swam along some corals, by some odd blue and orange stones in a mosaic, and for a long time in an unknown direction with few markers, an expanse of empty blue water, until we reached a tunnel opening. I already felt like I was running out of air. We entered the tunnel and I knew that I did not have enough air to turn around and go back.
Several feet into the tunnel there were several branches. Utcoozhoo swam into the rightmost tunnel. I followed close behind until we reached another fork; he went left. Then right. Then right again. The urge to breathe was strong.
He went left, and then right, then right, then left. I was totally lost in this maze of tunnels, desperate to breathe, claustrophobic, praying, picturing my grand leap into the air. I couldn’t hold my breath much longer and couldn’t speak to Utcoozhoo. I just followed behind him as he swam rapidly. It did me no good to know that the order for the scuba gear was subject to 4-6 weeks delivery time with the notice that they were not responsible for unforeseen circumstances beyond their control that could delay fulfillment of the complete order. And yet, Utcoozhoo has done this for years without equipment.
Utcoozhoo picked up speed and headed straight for a wall. When he got there, he stopped swimming, floated upward and disappeared.
I swam as hard as I could into the wall, stopped and waited. I floated up and with a final push, burst out of the water into an enormous chamber, gasping for breath on a ledge with not even the energy of a flopping fish, exhausted.