They had been diving for several years, taking as much continuing education and advanced classes as time allowed them. Jayme’s favorite had been underwater photography, graduating from still shot to video in one season.
When their 20th wedding anniversary approached, only one idea settled in Jayme’s mind: a two week dive vacation. Some of their regular dive companions were planning a week trip to the Bahama’s. It took very little arranging to extend their week to two, giving them much needed time alone. Donald was delighted at her arrangements.
“This is going to be the best vacation we’ve ever had! Two whole weeks of diving… and one of those weeks I’ll have you all to myself,” Donald smiled as he pulled her into his arms, lowering his head to nuzzle her neck.
The only arrangements Jayme could make work because of Donald’s computer business, was to add that extra week onto the beginning of their vacation with their friends. It mattered little to them so long as they were together……. And alone.
After a week in the Caribbean sun, they both glowed from the sun and from each other when they greeted their friends at the small airport on Greater Abaco Island. The group of ten divers had left Michigan on a Saturday morning, arriving on the tropical island mid-afternoon. Unpacking was saved to later so they could approve the dive tours Jayme and Donald were recommending, Elbow Key and Sunshine valley being just two of the sites. Arrangements were made, and pre-dive planning began over a luscious dinner.
The twelve friends had dived together as often as possible, new people joining the group, others leaving for various reasons. The constant ‘members’ were Jayme and Donald, Hope, Mary, Julie, Steve and the two instructors, John and Dave. The days rolled by with the pleasure of finding new and exciting things under the clear blue water. Every area sported a different species of fish, from the Blueheaded Wrasse and Fairy Basslet, to the easily recognized Queen Angelfish and Blue Parrotfish. The Bahamas also was home to numerous ship wrecks, all waiting for the soundless appreciation of scuba divers. The weather offered no surprises that year, with constant sunny skies and 85 degrees during the day, and starry nightscapes, light breezes and 80 degrees after sunset.
The group was scheduled to leave on the following Saturday, and since no diving is done on the day of departure when air flight is involved, the final dive the day before was always special. This was to be no exception. The dive master planned to take them to a little visited wall, an hour boat ride out into the vast Caribbean. The excitement was high and they prepared their gear. Jayme put a freshly charged battery pack into her video cam, and a new disk slipped into place as well. She gently wiped the edges of the housing, removing any possible moisture, and snapped the case shut, creating a water and pressure proof environment around her camera. When they slowed, telling them they were near to the site, the diver’s suited up and waited. Waiting for the dive master to return from his initial dive was always the hardest.
“Okay, listen up. We’re just south of the wall. We’ll drop down to the bottom, about sixty feet, regroup, buddy up, and I’ll take you over the edge. We’ll go to eighty feet for twenty minutes, and then a five minute safety stop at fifteen feet. There are some really nice tunnels and caves along here. I think you’ll get some really nice shots, Jayme,” Miguel smiled at her. He had been guiding this group on dives all week, Jayme and Donald for two, and he thought very highly of them as divers and as people.
That was one of the reasons he brought them here to his special wall, plus, he loved showing off his islands for the camera. “There were some reports a few weeks ago of sharks, so I want everyone to stay close, stay alert and don’t go wandering off!”
Jayme liked Miguel – as a dive master he was one of the best and he didn’t take chances with his charges.
“Let’s go!” and on Miguel’s command, they all slid into the vast coolness of the blue-green Caribbean water.
The descent was one of Jayme’s favorite times. It always gave her an adrenaline rush. To watch the waters close over her head gave her a controlled sense of vertigo, drifting down instead of falling. The sensation was addictive. Refocusing her attention downward, she could see the bottom coming up quickly, and adjusted the building pressure in her ears. Sixty feet wasn‘t really that far down. Then they went over the wall, hovering at eighty feet from the surface, over an endless, fathom-less abyss. The feeling most often experienced was one of awe, of sensual awareness in a world where all senses were stripped away save for sight.
The corals on the wall were magnificent. Ivory tube coral, green cactus and flower coral, even staghorn coral, unusual for this depth, all in muted colors from the filtered sunlight. Miguel had saved the best for last. The tunnels and caves were breathtaking and Jayme, true to form, got some wonderful footage of the Blushing Star coral and Elliptical Star corals that nestled in the caves.
Jayme was hovering, taking careful camera aim at the unusually colored Scrawled Filefish hiding in a cave in front of her. Her thoughts were random, running from excitement to perplexity. Something wasn’t right. This fish was hiding, and the other fish had disappeared. Jayme knew that should tell her something, and her mind was groping for the answer when she felt a pressure on her shoulder, shoving her sharply downward. Momentarily angered at her missed shot, she pivoted in the water, camera still running, to see who had shoved her. She was horrified when the looming mass of a large shark missed her by inches, the displaced water of its bulk pushing at her. Only then did she see its target. Donald!! The back of his thigh had been ripped open by those massive jaws. Jayme dropped her camera, unconsciously knowing it was tethered to her, and lunged the few feet where Donald was twisting helplessly in the salt water.
Dave had seen and was immediately at her side. He pulled at her arm to get her attention and held up his ever present diver’s knife. At first Jayme didn’t understand, and then reality dawned on her, the shark would more than likely be returning – and soon! She nodded and reached down to her ankle to release her own knife, preparing to defend Donald against further attack if need be. John was only a foot away now, rapidly tapping on his tank with the steel butt of his knife, quickly getting the attention of the other divers.
By silent signals, they formed a circle around Donald’s writhing figure, all facing outward, prepared to deliver a sharp kick or a blade jab on a sensitive snout. Miguel held onto Donald’s tank and started upward, closely followed by Jayme who held Donald’s regulator firmly to his mouth. Although a safety stop at fifteen feet below the surface for three to five minutes would normally be called for, these were far from normal circumstances. Miguel headed straight for the surface, knowing they had not been down long enough for anyone to be in any real danger of decompression sickness, better known as the bends, but that there was a real danger of more sharks being drawn to the area from the blood.
Breaking the surface, several of them began waving their arms back and forth. To anyone else, it would have looked like they were waving hello to the people on the nearby boat. The Trained crew on the boat, however, recognized the diver’s signal for distress. The boat master knew immediately something was very wrong, these were experienced divers Miguel had taken down. He maneuvered the back of the boat in their direction as quickly as possible. All hands began pulling divers out of the water, not waiting for the usual delivery of weight belts and fins first, when they heard that dreaded word: shark!
Jayme’s eyes kept darting around, looking for that telltale sign of a fin, fearful now that she had noticed not everyone had surfaced. What she didn’t know, was three of the more experienced divers, John, Dave and Steve, were hovering just below them, guarding their very vulnerable legs; legs that kicked and swirled in the blood darkened water.
As the last of the human cage was pulled from the ocean, the three below surfaced and quickly climbed aboard. With them barely on deck, the boat lurched forward to begin its high speed trip home.
“Help me cut his suit off! I can’t see the wound!” Jayme cried. Something came over her as she saw her husband lying motionless, and all her medical and first aide training took over her flooded senses. “Get me a rubber hose or tubing so I can make a tourniquet!” She barked commands like it was a drill and not the real thing. “This isn’t helping!” she said more to herself than to anyone around, and pushed her fingers deep into Donald’s thigh, trying to find the source of the gushing blood. “I think femoral artery’s been severed… we have to keep pressure on it!” Everyone could feel the mounting panic in her voice, could see it in her eyes when she noticed she was covered with the blood of her dying husband.
“How soon will we be docking?” Jayme cried out to the boat master.
“Very soon”, he lied. Everyone knew it took them an hour to get out, it would take them almost that long to get back even at the high speed they were traveling.
“I’ve already radioed in. They’ll be waiting for us with an ambulance at the dock. We’re going straight to Marsh Harbor, it’s closer and they have a good medical facility. We’ll make it, Jayme, he’ll be okay,” Miguel tried to comfort her, but his words were flat. He had seen shark attacks before, and this one didn’t look good.
By the time they reached the dock twenty-five minutes later, everyone but Jayme had noticed Donald wasn’t breathing anymore. The medics lifted Donald out of the boat and onto the stretcher. Heading for the waiting ambulance, with a bloody and disheveled Jayme at Donald’s side, they glanced at her and then at each other, saying nothing.
A five minute ride delivered them to the emergency clinic. Once inside, the stretcher was pushed through double doors as someone grabbed Jayme by the arm.
“The doctor will do everything possible for him. I need to know a few things,” a gentle black face pleaded with Jayme. No sooner had she given the receptionist Donald’s stats, the front door opened again. John, Dave and Julie entered. They had left the others behind to take care of the gear.
“Have you heard anything yet, Jayme?” Julie inquired, nervously glancing from Jayme to the receptionist.
“No, I…”, she started, when the stainless steel door behind her opened. The doctor paused in the doorway, mentally trying to assess the relationships of the people in his lobby. Friends, or just companions? Friends, they arrived quickly. Good, she’ll need them, he thought.
“Mrs. Haller?” the doctor hesitated, “I’m sorry. Your husband lost a great deal of blood before he got here.” She turned accusing eyes on him. “There was nothing more I could do,” he reasoned. He looked deeply into her face, watching as his words registered, calculating how much tranquilizer he’d have to prescribe for her. He was momentarily mesmerized. Her eyes distracted him, they were the greenest he’d ever seen.
The next twenty-four hours has eluded Jayme’s memory, she was so sedated. She somehow arrived home with all her luggage, (that she didn’t remember packing), her gear, (that she didn’t care about), …. And Donald.
The following week was a blur. The only thing Jayme remembered about the funeral was the first time she saw Donald lying in his coffin, all else was lost in the fog of her mourning. His blond hair was neatly combed, his face still tanned, his blue eyes forever closed. The hardest part was trying to comfort eighteen year old Alan, their only child, when she herself needed comforting.
The meowing of her cat, Muffin, brought Jayme out of her memories.
What’s the matter, girl, you getting hungry?” Jayme reached a wet hand out to scratch Muffin’s head, knowing the cat would bounce away from the water. She smiled at the cat’s antics. Some things never change. And some things do. That’s when she realized she was still dry-eyed. Reliving all the pain, all the heartache, failed for the first time, to make her cry.
“It must be time to go back,” Jayme announced to no one.