Cheyenne and I were happily minding our own business walking the combined pedestrian bike path in Big Pine. Suddenly a screeching sound behind us brought us to a quick stop. How's it going said the young man who stepped gracefully off his skateboard, strolled barefoot through the gravel around us elderly plodders and took off. He flew gracefully along, dressed only in shorts, Tadzio to my Von Aschenbach, and as he swept along silently I thought to myself I'll bet he's got a story to tell. And he did, what a story.
I have been a wanderer all my life, something that many people find admirable in a way thy defies explanation to me. While it is certainly true that my travels have been inspired by a healthy curiosity but also by a search for something that was missing in my life. To come across an eighteen year old completely certain of his place in the world, his future and the pursuit of his fulfillment in it, is quite remarkable. Steel Rockett is a genius in his field, the Amadeus of the Aqualung, the Shakespeare of the Slingshot and he was born and grew up on Big Pine Key. "I went to the Adirondacks once," he said pondering his desire to learn to hunt on land. "But I don't like big cities, I like being apart." His apartness takes him deep underwater into regions of narcosis and death.
He learned to dive when he was a toddler and has been hunting food, and thus money all his life. He likes to ride Hammerhead sharks as they have a large dorsal fin which makes them easy to hold on to. His largest and most fearsome kill is an eleven foot Tiger Shark though he remembers a fight with a bull shark I think it was, five spears to the forehead and still not dead yet badly pissed off. "He scraped my arm," he said with a grin, relishing life as he came close to losing it. I grinned feebly and said when I see sharks in the water I like to get out. "Sharks are like bears, show fear and they'll get you." I guess the difference between me and Steel is he's a predator and I am prey. I know my place. Sharks as endangered? Not to this young hunter.
When he talked about diving he asked me if I dived and I was glad to say I was qualified though not keen to deal with the numbers I cocked in staying safe. He noted that diving is a sport indulged in by people who want to be cool (that instantly excludes me!) and they get agitated when he breaks their rules, diving beyond supportable depths and coming back to tell the tale. What you get when you meet Steel is an opportunity to step,outside the realms of the normal. I guess that was what Diana Nyad managed by swimming from Cuba. This kid does it every day and makes a living at it and he does it with assurance. He doesn't drink alcohol, he gets high by going down deep, deep enough to make air a narcotic, such that at more than 200 feet down Steel has hallucinated the way most ordinary mortals might hope to get high in a Ricks bar.
I don't want fame he said on turning down an approach by MTV because they wanted to fake the diving drama. He has aspirations,does this well adjusted young man, to dive in places in the world he has heard of and never seen, to own his own home and a boat big enough to get far offshore. But young Steel is here and now exactly where he wants to be doing what he wants. His bus was coming, I wished him well which seemed inadequate considering how easily he peers into the abyss, and Cheyenne and I strolled away, she grateful for the rest and me wondering what good fortune is it to grow up knowing who you are. A humbling encounter indeed, and one I shall treasure as his elders and betters can do no better than fall down drunk on the sidewalk while I'm at work.