This Is Why We Fight

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 7.236% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

Snubaing underwater was the closest I have ever been to flying.  And I have always dreamed of flying.
I had snubaed only once, in the Caribbean, and it remains one of the highlights of my life; soaring underwater, tethered to a raft with an oxygen tank, sort of a SCUBA for dummies.  But I circled a shipwreck, intoxicated with the power of moving in three dimensions, pretending I was Superman as I shot upwards, downwards, freed from gravity.  It remains one of the highlights not just of the trip, but of my life.  Sometimes I dream about it.
Alas, there aren’t that many scuba opportunities in Cleveland.  And Gini, who panicks at the scuba mask, can’t do it, so I’d have to go alone.  So I left that dream behind.
They didn’t have snuba in Hawaii, on my trip; it was the first thing I checked.  So I settled for snorkeling as a sort of snuba-methadone.  And you know, it’s really a #firstworldproblem to go out to the blue waters of Hawaii and look at a reef and bitch, “Well, I can’t go down,” so I settled in for a fine afternoon.
Yet on the boat out, the owners revealed a special treat: they had just gotten a snuba package.  You could snuba, if you wanted, for an additional fee of –
I was down at the sign-up desk before they finished the announcement, filling out the form.  I was elated.  Here was a dream I’d let go dormant, yes, but it wasn’t dead – it was roaring awake now, thrumming a happy beat in my head, SNUBA SNUBA SNUBA.  I’d float weightless again, lost in superhero dreams, in one of the most beautiful reefs of the world, and oh my God my hands trembled.  This was happening.  To burn off energy I texted all my friends I could remember, posted a Twitter status, re-read the snuba instructions, vibrating with anticipation.
Snuba?  Best thing in the world.
And so when the snuba instructor came up to me and said, “You ready, buddy?” and clapped me on the shoulder, I gave him a  hearty “And how!” and he laughed at my excitement until he looked down at the consent form.
Suddenly, his whole attitude changed.  He was a hearty, healthy, Hawaiian surfer, with a six-pack and a tan, and he took an unconscious step away from me.
“You… had a heart attack?” he asked, cringing.  “When?”
“Eight months ago,” I said.  I’d put it on the form.  And when he touched me on the shoulder, this time it was gingerly, as though I might break.  As though my frailty was catching.
“Look,” he said, slowly, overly kindly, the firm concern you’d show to someone who wasn’t quite in control of their mental senses.  “You can’t go down, after a heart attack.  It’s not safe.  I could call back to the home office, and they’d tell you this isn’t safe, either.  I’m sorry.”
And… I broke.
What I should have said was, “Look, it was a small infarction, so much so that it was fourteen hours in the hospital before they were certain it was an attack.  And yes, they cracked open my chest, and recovery was painful, but now I eat better than I did before, and I do more exercise, and I’m actually in better shape now than I would have been eight months back.  I am perfectly fit for that water, probably in a way that some of the other undiagnosed people around me in this class are not, so let me in.”
But there is something about the way he treated me.  I was not a healthy person to him.  I was frail, perhaps too stupid to know what I was truly up to, and when he looked at me he was sad and a little repulsed that I might think I was worthy of this.  He was not mean in any way, but clearly I wasn’t in his league.  Or the league of the other people without thick keloid scars on their chests.  I was… inferior.  Unfit.  To be protected from myself.
It was little embarrassing I was there, to be frank.  In his eyes.
And so I slunk away, a hole kicked in my chest.  I barely avoided crying, but that’s pretty much only because it would have confirmed his suspicions.  I slunk upstairs, and posted to Twitter that there would be no Snuba, and bathed in the feeling of second-class citizen.
Look.  It’s not that I don’t fight for my own rights.  Fully two-thirds of my ex-girlfriends will tell you we broke up because I would not stop asking for what I wanted.  I’m not weak-willed.  But when you’re flying so high, so joyous, and some asshole tugs you back down to earth by telling you that you’re not really worthy of that joy, it breaks something inside of you.
And for the rest of the day, I felt my scar ache.
For the rest of the day, I covered up my chest so no one would notice.  Convinced everyone was noticing.
For the rest of the day, I felt shamed.
And I thought: this is why I fight for equality.
Because look, as a healthy middle-classed white cissexual guy, I’m the standard against which all others are discriminated against.  I happen to have a condition which, on this one occasion, completely ruined my fun.
But there are happy black people yanked down to earth after someone shouted the N-word.
There are happy gay couples yanked back down to earth after someone called them faggots.
There are happy people in wheelchairs yanked back down to earth after someone treats them like they’re china dolls.
There are happy women engineers yanked back down to earth after someone mansplains their car to them.
That moment was awful for me, that time of othering, that malicious-free sense of how could you think you could really do this? – but though I’m tearing up writing this, it’s a solitary moment, and it’ll pass.  Yet I take this moment as a time to remember that there are a lot of discriminated people out there who deal with this not once every couple of years, but once a month, once a week, once a day – that kick to the chest that says, you don’t really deserve to be here.
Fuck the people who put them there.
Fuck them hard.
And that’s why I post on discriminations of all kinds, because it doesn’t matter how strong and confident you are, one sucker punch will take the wind from you.  It erodes you.  It’s harder to remember that you’re a human being worthy of love when that shit barrages you.  And anyone throwing that punch is, whether they mean to or not, a jerk who’s doing damage.
I don’t think discrimination is as clear as black water fountains vs. white water fountains.  I think a lot of discrimination is subtly encoded, that switch from the hearty thump to the ginger squeeze on the shoulder, that switch flipped from Of course you can to you need some help.  And we’re human.  We take our cues from other people.  It’s fucking hard, fighting against a world where you think you’re great and everyone else thinks you’re not quite up to snuff.  If you’ve got a society sending out all of these secret and subtle signals, signals that someone who’s not you can completely fucking overlook because they’re not broadcast at him, then you’re struggling up a mountain with a heavy load.
It’s not a laudable trait, really.  I know how much that day hurt me, still does.  And I think that nobody deserves to go through that, and sadly it doesn’t take too much effort to look around and see that some people do go through that on a regular basis.
That shouldn’t happen.  People shouldn’t hurt.  And they shouldn’t take the hurt they do have and ignore it; I think that it’s a moral necessity, when injured, to ask, Who else is hurt by this, and are they hurt more often than I am?
That’s why we should all do what we can to stop it. And that is all.

5 Comments

  1. Terri Jones
    Aug 9, 2013

    Your compassion is why I enjoy what you write. I’m drawn in by your self-honesty, but compassion keeps me coming back. Thank you, Ferrett.

  2. Becky Zoole
    Aug 11, 2013

    So, I love the lessons you drew from your experience, and I love what you wrote here.
    I also want to share some info with you about diving after a heart attack — it may be possible for you, after all. Read the Cardiovascular section in the Divers’ Alert Network Guide to Dive Medical FAQs; discuss it with your cardiologist; and perhaps seek out a local diving instructor who can tell you what sort of doctor’s note you’d need to be cleared for SCUBA. Good luck!

  3. Debbs
    Aug 11, 2013

    I came across something like that- can’t scuba dive because of an ear problem. Ya know. I do understand the companies tho. It’s all about the litigations. The fear of being sued, even IF you sign and accept the possible threat to life and limb. The easiest thing is to get the details of an activity, clear it with your Dr. and get a “teachers note”. Some companies are still afraid from lack of knowledge and the one case in thousands where a person would be hurt. Or… just lie by not telling the whole truth. *cough* Sometimes that works too.

  4. Polly
    Aug 13, 2013

    Wow, just stumbled upon this post and am truly moved.

  5. anonymouse
    Aug 15, 2013

    Thank you. (fistfuls of kleenex for snotbubbles) Thank you.

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