Seven stories from my time underwater as a glorified frog-person-being.
Nobody tells you on the first day of dive-phase how much being underwater sucks. Something you've, quite literally, gone through hell to 'achieve'. Let's be real for a sec and call it for what it was. Mild torture. You're given a plastic bag to breathe in and out of for two or more hours. The oxygen gets so humid after a point. You think - "Fuck this closed apparatus bullshit. I'mma breathe an open circuit. There's no enemy waiting to grenade my frogman ass anyway" for all of 12 seconds until you realise you're gonna run out of oxygen if you keep it up. You learn to you lie to yourself, be a team player, and continue to breathing the same recycled bullshit oxygen. It's also an entire mood checking your dive watch only to see it is 2am and yet here you are underwater. It will be at least 5.30 am before you can get to bed. On land like a regular person. Also did I tell you this in pitch darkness. You're just floating, waiting for it all to end. Only to repeat all of it in 2 nights' time. Yeah, another 2 hour dive where we end just in time for breakfast is all I need at this point in my life. I'm 18, and man's gotta live damn it. The worst of it all is when you've actually done your 'mission' and you're back to the start point, underwater, waiting for the others to finish. It's the doing nothing underwater that really fucks with you. Floating in that cold, dark, sewage that is Singapore's waters. It's also this weird headspace of being glad you didn't fuck it up this time but also wondering what the fuck is going on with the other pairs. All this with that miserable air to breathe. Don't be misled: The first time completing your dive profile is exhilarating. Best challenge of your life. The 50th time or so doing the same exact thing is when you're ready to hold your breath and hope to God your lung bursts when you surface.
Diving in a shipyard. Yes, every now and then you would be given Warrant Charsiew (not a real name) be your dive supervisor and you know that you're done for. This time, you get to dive all the way beside a shipyard because the legendary Charsiew dropped you so far off your marker just because he doesn't understand how tides and winds work. Not only that, there's iron pillars and sandbags as part of an unplanned surprise obstacle package. You're left off to navigate the maze with your buddy, completely blinded by the dark, hoping no sharp edge cuts you neck and you bleed to death. Dying in an army camp. How poetic. All these thoughts while your buddy is losing his shit also. Because of obvious communication barriers, you are only able to communicate via a complex system of "toots". There were only 2 kinds of toot. The one toot to acknowledge that you are still alive when your buddy checks in on you every 5 minutes or so, and the other toot when all hell has broken loose and you're entangled or lost. Or just pissed with life. We used that second toot a lot to express our displeasure while being in that little predicament that night. Thanks Warrant Charsiew. Go fuck yourself.
Beaching those rubber IBS on the shore of the unknown Taiwanese beaches would turn out to be one of the best days of your army career. Being in a foreign land, having your balls freezing in the cold, carrying out safety drills. I know. Who knew practicing safety could be this fun? Destroying propeller guards and not thinking about having your legs being sliced into a million bits if you stood a little too close to the OBM. Just a bunch of guys pretending to rescue casualties and watching boats almost capsizing due to the ridiculous nature of the waves that morning. Watching a 50 year old man actually being capsized and doing a backflip, ceremoniously falling into the great depths. Feeling for the first time in over a year that everyone's truly having a good time. All in all a wonderful morning.
This one is particularly traumatic. Undoing the Jackstay and ruining the night dive for the batch. A jackstay is like an underwater rope u are supposed to follow when you are training for stuff. Undoing it means that you will have your skills questioned for the next year and a half, and be the butt of the jokes until you internalise the belief that you actually suck at diving. Also life. You will think each night "yeah, what were you thinking dude?" If only you can press a button and somehow everyone forgot what an incompetent diver you were. Or at the very least, probably not as incompetent as people thought you were. You'd wish you would be able to explain that you were inexperienced and panicking. You were stuck and you wanted to surface so you just, undid it. What more was there to it? It's not that bad. Come on. Let it go guys. Please. I'm hiding in the toilet, crying. God, how much I wished I didn't make that mistake.
Being fucking amazing at drown-proofing. Being able to control your breath and having a level of incredible water confidence that having your hands and legs tied means nothing to you in water. Being so good at it that you're chosen to display it to some big shots at the open house. Like you're a dolphin performing in front of an audience in an aquarium. Being paid 2.50 an hour no less, unlike those creatures. Doing synchronous front and back flips with your partner and just being totally absorbed in the performance. Almost like you're in a trance and performing a dance. And doing it at 4 fucking meters, not 3. That unbelievable flow state. Going from thinking there is no way in hell you can control your breath with that much exertion for that long to thinking you can do it far longer and wishing you could have made it even harder after 2 weeks of practice. But knowing it was hard enough. Giving you the confidence to ride out another year of army, easy.
Thinking for the very first time in your life that you've done something to be proud of. Starting off as (by far) the weakest in your batch of 110 and now standing with the other 74 graduates. But that thought being overshadowed by the fact that you are super nervous right now and didn't put nearly enough weights to hold you down. Who accounts for the nervousness when picking their weights? "Don't lose balance. Whatever you do, don't Fuck this up for everyone. Please. Hold it there. Just a little longer. Stop shaking dude. It is going so well up to this point. Everyone looks so impressive standing in formation underwater. Commander NDU and all our families are watching. This is the best moment of my life. Don't fucking mess this one up." Thankfully I managed to not lose my balance after all. Yay. I wonder what would have happened if I did? Maybe my legacy would be surpassed by the Jackstay incident. But there would have been no going out of that one.
That weird headspace of wishing you didn't get conjunctivitis during hellweek, because you're sleeping in an air-conditioned room while everyone else is currently crawling to the sound of a whistle in the grass field at 2.30am. Wishing you could do something, anything, to take away the redness in your eyes and join your boat crew. Graduating the Combat Diver Course knowing you're a half-weeker, not a hell-weeker. And living with that chip on your shoulder for the rest of your life. The only thing letting you fall asleep is knowing that it wasn't your fault, not in your control. And that sometimes, life plays a fucked up joke on you by making it easier than it should have been.