I am writing this story for posterity. In case I stop resisting the ocean’s pull and one day vanish. If my body is not recovered, or even if it is, this letter will explain my disappearance, for my family’s sake and to satisfy anyone curious to know what would drive a man to such lengths.
My name is Michael Tillson. I am a diver… or at least I was a diver. If I value and love my life — which I think I do—I can never be a diver again. Though which is stronger — life or love? And what if you can’t have one without the other? You compromise — which is why I must ignore the ocean’s siren call and remain safely on land. So now I am a diving instructor shackled away from the sea. I teach on Sombrero Beach in the Florida Keys, showing adventurous college kids the intricacies of exploring the ocean, revealing the briny secrets of the ocean from a distance. I work with my business partner and former diving partner, Ryan White, a burly guy from Michigan who had escaped the cold, drawn south by Florida’s warm waters and the chance to spend his life in their warm embrace.
I teach the kids the theoretical concepts of diving, showing them the gear and equipment, then my partner goes with them into the water. I demonstrate to them how to balance their buoyancy with a BCD, or buoyancy control device. I show them how to calculate the number of lead weights to attach to their belts. I teach them how to use their dive meter on their wrists to read the depths of their explorations. I explain to them the correct mixes of gases for the various dives; the ratios of oxygen, nitrogen, and helium. All these steps are meant to guide the landbound through the ocean’s portal, a door for me which must remain firmly closed.
This is to shelter me from a lethal diving hazard called the rapture of the deep, an eerie term coined by Jacques Cousteau that has an intimate, deathly significance to me. It is an euphoric and deadly siren’s call, the ultimate threat to divers. It’s a risk for every dive; you never build a tolerance to it.
It is also known as nitrogen narcosis. At high pressures, nitrogen contained in gas mixtures invades nerve fibers and temporarily halts their workings.