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Thailand: Freeze Frame

January 10th, 2009


It was one of those freeze-frame moments, the kind when I want a camera but have none. In those moments I try to memorize every detail, freezing the image in my mind.

The sun broke around her, its rays playing across tan skin and rippling gold with the waves above. She swam beside me, the greenish yellow light cutting the water behind her. Click.

She pointed; 20 feet below blossoms of coral splayed out across the rock. Taking a deep breath I dove down, flippers kicking gently. I wanted to stay there, hovering over the aquatic landscape to watch up close and in detail. But the surface called and so, with strong kicks and burning lungs, I shot upwards. The glassy underside of the waves was further than I thought and, gasping, I exploded through the surface.

Lu pulled her her snorkel aside. “Hey,” she said, “don’t go so deep.”

This was her terrain; I know the mountains but, as a diver and marine biologist, she was at home in the water. I can swim and have spent plenty of time on fishing and research boats, but I am not a water person. I was the one following. Irrational fear grips me when I swim over the dark nothing, like when we jumped from the longtail boats tethered to the mooring buoy; its line disappeared into a deepening green of the depths below. I was uncomfortable until we neared the limestone sea tower and crossed over the edge of its subsurface pedestal. I could see the bottom. Grabbing my hand, Lu directed me towards the sea life and, as I relaxed, I realized I was enjoying it.

The wedding party had shrunk to four couples. John and Erika were on an all-day guided tour while Kasi and Andreas, Lu and I, and the newlywed Jenna and Dylan were on a sunset snorkel tour with a beach-side dinner. “Our pre-honeymoon,” Lu joked, for the warm waters of Thailand, the white-sand beaches, limestone cliffs and soft sunsets were definintly exotic, romantic, and worthy of honeymoon material. Which, for Jenna and Dylan, it kind of was.

The day was filled with these freeze-frame moments. Lu below me, waving water at the scalloped shells of giant clams, their full lips, blushed purple, retreating quickly. Click. The longtail boat bobbing at anchor, an elongate hull hovering in blue water. Click.

At dusk Dylan pointed to the sky. Swarms of cat-sized bats were pouring from a jungle enshrouded cliff on the next island. Thousands flapped skyward, all headed for the mainland to hunt. As twilight deepened they came lower; headless, sharp wings raked backwards, their bulbous bodies silhouetted against the darkening night sky. Click.

By torchlight, we dined on curried seafood and, after dinner, Lu and I walked down the beach. Throwing down her sarong, we lay upon the damp sand and watched the twinkle of the stars through broken clouds.

The evening ended with a swim in the night. Our longtail met a large dive boat that motored to deeper water. They killed the diesels and we drifted, lights off, as one by one people on the tour leapt from the upper deck. The night air was cool and I wasn’t sure about going for another swim but, without hesitation, Lu stripped down to her bikini shouting “Come on Matsui!” as she jumped over the rail. Before I could question myself, I followed.

The dark waters were full of phosphorescence and our thrashing activated their ghostly, greenish glow. It would be nearly impossible to capture the inky black of the night and those gentle flashes on camera. Click.

Treading water, I took it all in. I was with close friends in an exotic tropical destination–all couples–doing things that couples do. I usually watch. It’s my job to observe; I place myself in situations where I make notes and photographs. When I’m out with friends, I’m usually the odd one out, a self-proclaimed “Tag-Along-Tim.” But for the first time in a long, long time, I too was a couple. And not simply with someone. I was with Lu.

At the aft ladder, an uncomfortable place reminding me of the unseen depths below, Lu paused. “Look,” she said, moving her arm. Green flicks of phosphorescence shown even brighter in the darker water beneath the deck. Click. I took another mental picture, one encompassing everything and which could never be replicated on film.

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