Authors: Camilla Grebe,Åsa Träff
Tags: #FICTION / General
I started to seriously consider learning how to dive. This was right at the time I started working as a cognitive behavioral therapist, and the very heart of CBT is to expose yourself to your fears. It is the only way to move past them. So I decided to fulfill his wish.
I will never forget my first dive. It was on one of our long winter vacations. Stefan took special care to make sure he introduced me to his great passion under the most favorable circumstances. We went to the Maldives. As I stood on the warm white coral sand with the tank on my back, all my doubts vanished. The Indian Ocean gently received me as, unaccustomed to the heavy equipment, I carefully slid into the water.
The first things I registered were a feeling of weightlessness and the rays of the sun breaking through the surface, forming a moving pattern on the solid sand bottom. Everything was silent, except for a persistent clicking and the hissing and bubbling that my own breathing caused in the regulator. Stefan took my hand and together we swam out to the reef. He was attentive, helping me equalize the pressure as we started swimming deeper. Six feet became twelve, which became twenty-five. We floated along the wall of the reef. Surrounded by millions of fish in all the colors of the rainbow, I felt a stillness I had never experienced
before, and I remember thinking that now, only now, do I understand Stefan.
I received my diving certification and started to accompany Stefan more and more often on his trips, both in Sweden and abroad. We dived in warm, salt, tropical seas, in the turbid waters of the Baltic, in old abandoned mines, in shipwrecks, and in forests of brownish-green kelp billowing along with the waves. As my diving improved, my fear of dark water gradually disappeared.
Then something happened that shouldn’t have happened. We were diving outside Kungsbacka on the west coast of Sweden with Stefan’s buddies Peppe and Malin. Stefan and I had just started our first dive when something frightened me and I was seized by panic.
It was dark, of course, a loathsome, dense, impenetrable darkness, massive as a concrete wall. The black water’s chill penetrated through the seams of my wet suit. I remember an almost transparent shrimp swimming nonchalantly past my mask and vanishing into the darkness, like a space probe on its way into Nothing. Its small legs moved jerkily and made it look like a mobile on a string, the kind you hang over a baby’s crib. Against my will, I felt my body getting stiffer, my heart beating faster, and the familiar cramp spreading in my body. I turned around to give Stefan the sign for ascent. I still had control over my body, but as I looked around I saw only more darkness. No Stefan. Instinctively, I groped around in the dark water, seeking the cold, hard steel surface of the tank or the rough neoprene.
The realization struck me in stages: Stefan wasn’t here. I would have to get up to the surface by myself. I was alone in the darkness. The cramp in my chest was almost unbearable and I felt that I had to,
had to take off the mask because I was going to suffocate. I had to get out of this horrible darkness. I tried to think about sunlight. I closed my eyes and saw it before me, but it was too late. The damage was already done. My thoughts could no longer affect my panic-stricken, uncontrolled body.
I brought my hand toward my forehead and took hold of the upper edge of the mask and coaxed it carefully off as I spit out the regulator. The cold water that washed over my face felt liberating, and with surprise I
heard a gurgling sound coming out of my throat as I rose uncontrollably toward the surface.
I was inconsolable that evening. I had violated the most fundamental safety rules of diving. Stefan sat on the edge of the bed and stroked my hair. He was worried and confused: How could I simply lose control like that? I know he never understood how I could lose control over my body so easily.
After all, his body always obeyed.
It took several years for me to get over this incident, to get past the panic-stricken feeling of total loss of control, surrounded by all the darkness, the cold. A prisoner in my own body.
It is yet another stunningly beautiful but oppressively stifling late-summer evening. The tall pines shade the house and it is pleasantly cool inside when I come home. I open all the windows and French windows anyway, call for Ziggy, and take the cat food out of the cupboard. He ought to be hungry, because he didn’t eat anything yesterday and was out all last night and all day.
With a certain reluctance I go through the mail, but there is no gray envelope waiting for me this time. I pull on an old bleached-out bikini and take a quick swim. The sea has warmed up in the hot summer and it is a pleasure to swim, but today I keep it short. Instead, I spend the evening listening to David Bowie, drinking sour wine out of a box, skimming through research articles, and writing treatment plans. It is almost half past midnight when I set the articles aside, curl up on my side in bed, and almost immediately fall asleep.
I wake up in the middle of the night and it immediately strikes me that something is wrong. Before I’ve even opened my eyes, I know something has happened. It’s as if the air is different somehow. It feels suffocating, pressed against my face and my body—it seems far too heavy and tactile to be air.
I look up. Close my eyes. Look.
There is no difference in what I see with my eyes open and closed: compact darkness. A velvety, hollow, black hell. My heart beats faster as I lean over the side of the bed and fumble for the flashlight on the floor. It’s a solid one, made of sturdy black plastic and really big. Waterproof, it is presumably also suitable for white-water rafting, hiking, and bar fights. I always keep it by the side of the bed.
But not now.
All I can feel on the spruce floorboards are dust bunnies. The room is completely dark, which is unusual this time of year, when a little light
will find its way in from outside. I can hear rain drumming against the Eternit roof and at a distance an ominous rumble. The stifling summer evening will now have its inevitable sequel in the form of a real summer storm. This is not unusual here where I live.
There is something special about thunder by the sea—I don’t think it happens more often, but the sound seems amplified. There are no forests or buildings around it that can serve as a muffler. Instead, the rumbling of thunder rolls back and forth over the surface of the water like a bowling ball on a stone bench.
I try to turn on the bedside lamp. Nothing happens. Maybe a fuse has blown? After much hesitation, I force myself to sit up and tentatively set my feet on the worn wood floor.
I can’t help but smile a little at myself. This is absurd, the situation is pathetic. A fuse blows and I become… incapacitated, irrational. I desperately search my memory for something to hang my thoughts on, a mental line to hold on to as I slowly lift myself off the bed. But the only thing that fills my awareness is the music I was listening to before I fell asleep.
Ground control to Major Tom
I shiver. An animal cries out in the distance and I feel a cold draft along my legs. Is a window open?
Take your protein pills and put your helmet on
The house is quiet. Too quiet. Slowly, I slip across the cold floorboards out of the bedroom. The only thing I hear is the rain and the waves regularly crashing against the rocks below the house, like a gigantic animal’s heavy breathing.
A sharp pain flashes through my shinbone, spreads along my thigh all the way up to my groin. I double up. Another crash and something lands on my big toe with a dull thud. What is going on? There is a chair in the middle of the floor. Why is it here? I can’t remember pulling it out. The chairs are always around the table in the kitchen. And now—my toe—what the hell
that? I bend over and investigate the object that fell on my toe.
It’s the flashlight.
Ground control to Major Tom
I turn on the flashlight while I massage my shin, but nothing happens. Is it broken? Once again I feel the cold night air streaming toward me. Something is terribly wrong. And the whole time: the music in my head that won’t go away.
Why is the chair in the middle of the floor? Why is the flashlight on the chair and not by my bed? I remind myself to stop drinking so much. Obviously, I must have moved the chair and for some strange reason put the flashlight on it. I just don’t remember when and why. But this sort of thing happens to me sometimes. Once I fell asleep on the rocks and woke up in the middle of the night, ice-cold, covered with mosquito bites, my back unbelievably stiff.
In the dark
If I wasn’t so afraid of the dark, it could have been a funny story, or possibly embarrassing. Another time, I left the freezer wide open after a late-night ice cream raid. All the food was ruined. That wasn’t a funny story either, just expensive. No more wine this week, I tell myself, as I let go of my shin and get up unsteadily.
A slight queasiness forces me to stand still a moment. I don’t know if it’s due to the wine or the fear, but I can feel my heart pounding in my chest, inexhaustible and twitchy like a Duracell rabbit. Carefully, I start moving toward the hall, one foot tentatively in front of the other—I don’t want to risk running into something again. Where is the fuse box? Distance and proportions become distorted in the dark, and although I have been in the cramped space that is my hall innumerable times, I can’t find the familiar little metal box.
Sweat breaks out on my forehead, runs into my eyes making them burn, and I feel tears welling up. I grope with my hands along the bead board paneling that covers the walls. Why in the world did I stay in this dark house? Why didn’t I move to the city? Like a normal person. No, I simply had to stay. Alone out in Stockholm’s archipelago wasteland. I should have done as they said.
Like Aina said.
I can hear my own halting breath. Damn house. Damn dark shit hole.
How am I going to find it? Suddenly, the reassuringly cool metal of the fuse box is under my sweaty fingers. As a reminder that the only thing that is misplaced in this room is my own exaggerated reaction. I take a deep breath and concentrate on the fuses. They’re the old-fashioned kind: gray with a loop that falls off when the fuse has blown. But it’s totally dark, so it’s impossible to determine if one of them is broken.
Suddenly, a flash of lightning illuminates the house with a ghostlike, blue-white glow. For a moment I can see the fuse box as clearly as day—the heavy metal frame, the rounded porcelain fuses, and the black Bakelite main breaker: It’s switched to Off.
A thought starts to form in my mind, an insight that is growing gradually, like a diver in turbid water slowly rising toward the surface who perceives the light increasing in stages.
Has someone been here?
But before I have time to seriously think that through, I hear a creaking noise. The hall door is caught by the wind and blows wide open, filling the house with cold, damp night air just as the boom of thunder echoes over the sea.
The storm is near.
With shaking fingers, I force the small black Bakelite switch back up. The house is instantly filled with light. From the kitchen comes a sigh and a gurgling sound as the refrigerator starts up again. I sink down on the wood floor among old sneakers and rubber boots, and wipe my sweaty brow with the back of my hand. The floor feels cold and damp, and it takes a while before I realize that it is not my own sweat I am feeling on the shiny worn floorboards. That is when I see it, right inside the threshold, a wet puddle, bearing witness to someone’s presence.
It’s a footprint.
Date: August 28
“I have to ask you something that maybe doesn’t belong here,” says Sara, looking hesitant.
It is fifty minutes into our session, and I am getting ready to wrap it up. Sara is dressed in a minimal tank top that makes her skinny body look even thinner. She is leaning forward in a way that makes her look like a sad, starving dog. She is holding a pair of sunglasses in her left hand and slowly strikes them against her bony thigh, lost in thought.