Thanksgiving Barrier Reef

I have only ever spent Thanksgiving with my family.

I have these big dreams about how Thanksgiving should look, which are not unlike my big dreams about how the Fourth of July should look, which are not unlike my big dreams about how My Birthday should look, and so on and so forth. That's right: I'm a Holiday Romantisizer. I should probably come clean.

A side effect of being a Holiday Romantisizer is that holidays are always, always a disappointment. When I was sixteen and made my first Tofurkey (which was a very big deal, since before I was sixteen I was the kind of vegetarian who only ate rolls and cranberry sauce on Thanksgiving), I got strep throat. I tried to make my family all say what they were thankful for, but it just came out as this horrible, scratching, hissing noise and no one understood and my mom told me very gently that I should go to bed and I threw a fork at her. There are similar stories for all of the holidays, and all of my attempts to get them right. I could probably write a book of just Failed Holiday Attempts. No one would buy it because it would make everyone suicidal.

Anyway, this year, Carrie invited me to go to Belize with her for Thanksgiving. At first I was like, "Ummm, I don't know. Probably not." But she was persistent, and then I thought to myself, "Why not? Because you want to have Thanksgiving with your parents? Who are in GREECE, and therefore unable to have Thanksgiving with you? Because you want to make a perfect tofu turkey? Because you want everyone to say what they're thankful for? DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW RACIST A HOLIDAY THANKSGIVING TRULY IS? DO YOU!?!?" I should note now that none of this was particularly fair to my sister, who does not have Thanksgiving plans, so far as I know. And it's getting down to the wire: it's 5:38 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day as I write this. I hope she finds just the outlet.

Then I rented the movie "Yes Man," and after finishing it, decided I didn't hate Zooey Deschanel just because it's super-cliche to like her now, damn it. Also, I decided to go to Belize.

So here I am in Belize, and I am not with my family. 

But today we went SNORKELING. And this wasn't your Disney-Epcott-wading-pool snorkeling nonsense you did when you were six. This was SERIOUS snorkeling, in the SERIOUS Caribbean Sea. On a boat loaded up with rum punch and people on their honeymoons.

What snorkeling in this context meant was that we got on the boat for an hour and a half into a body of water approximately the color of Blue Raspberry Gatorade. You could sit on the bungee net in the front and feel the water right underneath you. Every once in a while a smiling mustachioed man would shout at anyone who would listen, "SEA TURTLE!" And then you'd look at a sea turtle.

We went to three different spots. The first was a part of the Sea where the ground was littered with conch shells, which made a bunch of whip-tail rays act like frat guys at a strip club during a bachelor party on the ocean floor. Let's take a moment to talk about whip-tail rays, ok?

I am not a religious person. But I need no evidence beyond whip-tail rays to show me that without a doubt I actually know NOTHING about the way the universe works. If this creature didn't already exist, I wouldn't have been able to imagine it. It's like if you ironed out a shark, gave it a rat-tail, and condemned it to a life as a carpet. I know you know this. It's just not a thing I fully understood until I was actually in the water with the whip-tail rays' tails brushing up against me. My brain just kept saying, "God MUST exist. Or something."

The second spot was this miraculous passageway in the middle of the enormous Belize Barrier Reef -- which is the second largest coral reef on earth. The corals looked like alien brains, and schools of fish hovered around them like shady undercover spies. It was the most impossibly beautiful thing I'd ever seen in my adult life. I couldn't believe it was real; I kept gasping and saying, "Oh my god." Then I'd have to spit all the salt water out of my mouth.

Finally, we hit a channel called "Ray and Shark Alley," where the guys on the boat had you go into a deep part of the water and watch 20-foot long nurse sharks eat fish stuffed into conch shells. That was probably exciting for some people, but I was bored. I wanted to go back to the alien brains, with teensy peacock flounders and fairy basslets lurking behind sheet coral. 

For the historical record, here are fish I saw that also would make great sex acts: cleaning goby, sponge basket, brown tube sponge, schoolmaster, sergeant major, white grunt, French grunt, puddingwife, bermuda chub, red hind, redlip blenny. I DIDN'T MAKE ANY OF THESE UP.

On the way back, all the couples on their honeymoon rubbed noses and flirted with each other, like they hadn't already won. At some point, alone on the bungee net in front, a squid jumped out of the water and into my lap (seriously). It inked all over the place. I made some comment about how that wasn't the only way I knew how to make a guy squirt fluid, and after that I was considered the slut of the boat. 

But as the sun set, I thought about how I wasn't eating tofurkey with my family. Neither were my parents, neither was Alexis. We are all just on our adventures, living life and bearing witness to all the beautiful ways the world works. Underwater, the fish have no idea. The sharks are spoiled; they think a boat means someone is coming to bring them the easiest meal there is. There are types of coral that are brown when they are awake and purple when they are asleep. Isn't that amazing? More amazing is how often we are asleep, as human beings, because we are so entrenched in our own traditions; in our comforts. We are so asleep that we don't even always know coral as more than a lipstick color.

I'm grateful that this year I have a chance to see it flex its great, alien-brain muscles, at the warm, wet bottom of the earth.