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Volume I, Number 2 (Summer 2007)
ISSN 1934-4324

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NEW-CUE, Inc. is a non-profit, environmental education organization founded primarily to assist writers and educators who are dedicated to  enhancing  the public's awareness of environmental issues.




Ike Coleman

Ike Coleman teaches English at the South Carolina Governor's School for Science and Mathematics. Previously, he taught at Clemson University, and in public schools in a rural county in eastern Virginia. In addition, he spent several years traveling in the United States, Europe, Central and South America, working numerous jobs, including crew on a commercial salmon boat, park ranger in the Olympic National Park, waiter, longshoreman and construction worker. He can be e-mailed at

The Bottom

The trip down the anchor line was ghostly. At a depth of about fifty feet, a school of barracuda, some five to six feet long, came to follow us. They never left, hovering about twenty feet away, their mouths opening and closing constantly as they forced water through their gills. Near the bottom, at ninety feet, my buddy Don and I saw huge saucer-shaped depressions in the sand. I had no idea what they were until I spooked a ray with a four-foot wingspan. It lifted from its hiding place in the sand and flew away at lightning speed.

At last we saw the wreck, a racing sailboat, sunk only two weeks before (with no casualties), the varnished teak hull lying broken on the bottom, with the sails still flying, flapping slightly in the current. The boat was a salvager’s dream—the tackle brass, and new, varnished wood, the hold with extra sails in bags. We even discovered new scuba diving gear. My prize was a Greek fisherman’s hat, which I wore for the rest of the dive. As I gathered as much loot as I could carry, I grew lightheaded with greed.

I squeezed down the hatch and entered the cabin. All was in order. I opened the refrigerator door, and oranges floated out. I climbed back out to the deck and left the boat, swimming farther and farther away to watch the fish, always with an eye on the barracudas maintaining their distance. At about fifty feet from the boat and my buddy, whom I had left long ago in the excitement of the dive, my breathing suddenly became difficult. I pulled the valve for the reserve tank and swam toward my partner. I motioned to him that I was on reserve, and he, as excited as I was, let me know he wanted to look around a bit more and swam off. In what seemed like less than a minute my breathing slowed again, and I knew that the worst had happened—I had forgotten that at this depth the reserve tank empties four times faster than at the surface.

I swam toward Don, beginning to panic. I had never buddy-breathed with him in my life, hadn’t practiced buddy breathing with anybody since my scuba course three years before. After I had covered the fifty feet between us, I was out of breath and on the verge of real panic. He saw the problem and immediately gave me his regulator. It leaked a bit of water, just enough to make me cough. I struggled not to hold onto it too long and waited in fear for his two breaths. We had exchanged the regulator a couple of times when, desperate, I knew. He was two years younger than I was, much smaller and out of shape. I could fight him and keep the regulator, and he would have no chance against me.

I don’t fully remember the choice. I pushed him away and clawed for the surface, screaming bubbles all the way up. That saved me. If I had tried to hold my breath my lungs would have exploded, allowing air into blood vessels and blocking circulation to the brain. I broke the surface, still screaming, and waved my arm, the universal signal of distress. Minutes later friends pulled me aboard the diving vessel. I was safe, without even a minor case of the bends. Don surfaced minutes later, unaware of the danger he had been in.

For years afterwards, I wanted to feel the pride of heroism in making the right choice, but I can’t. On that dive I saw what lay inside me: the capacity to do great evil under pressure, and I know it wasn’t my own virtue that saved my buddy—and me. I no longer believe in chance. I saw, and have seen many times since, a Hand guiding me when I’m at the bottom.






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