I want to live in a world where pearls cannot be sold or traded, only given; cannot be formed or manufactured, only discovered. I want us to forswear jewelry stores and aquaculture, to dive for treasure without wetsuits or scuba tanks. I have been training to hold my breath.
The pearl I am saving was formed forty-one meters deep. Four years ago, I could dive close enough to see the oyster bed, but I could not reach it. So I undertook a regimen, conditioned the vessels in my lungs, kept myself in places with good air. I practiced yoga and pilates to strengthen the muscles between my ribs. In boxing class, I learned to conserve my effort by moving while relaxed. In my bathtub, I learned how to store extra air in my stomach, throat, mouth and sinuses. Over those years, I added twenty-eight seconds to my dive.
My father is unimpressed. He tells me I have wasted my time, that I could have studied mathematics, improved my Chinese, taken an internship, gotten a job, done something productive. I tell him about my twenty-eight seconds and he scoffs. What are twenty-eight seconds worth?
I don’t believe in omens, but I am not ready to discount them completely. And I do have a recurring dream. You and I are on the ocean floor, we cannot see the surface, but we have to reach it. We rise as fast as we can. It’s no use but we must try. You signal that you have run out of air. I seal my lips with yours and give you half of mine. The surface is still far, but now things have inverted—it is the bottom we cannot see. We are rising through featureless water and we have fourteen seconds left.
I want you to toss things into the sea for me to recover, precious things neither of us can really bear to lose. Toss them so they drop deeper and deeper, let them drop far too deep for comfort, dare me. I don’t want to know for sure.