2020 was going to be the year of Blue – of sun, sky and sea. A dozen family members on my dad’s side, scattered across three continents, made plans to meet up in Greece in July, where we would all spend two weeks luxuriating on a beach near Thessaloniki. After that I would make a short hop to Croatia, where my mum lives, for a few more weeks of sun and snorkeling. In January, I bought a plane ticket to Europe and started dreaming about the Mediterranean Blue.
Things didn’t pan out that way. In April and May 2020, as countries were consumed by the Covid-19 pandemic and we frantically hoarded hand wipes and toilet paper, I kept an anguished eye on the travel restrictions. In June, the bad news arrived – my flights were cancelled. The holiday was off.
But I couldn’t get the Blue out of my head. In July, as my mum swam with dolphins in the Adriatic Sea, I picked up Subnautica. In this game, you play as the sole survivor of a spaceship crash, stranded on an alien planet covered in water. Equipped with nothing but a diving suit and a pair of goggles, you spend your days gliding beneath the surface of the endless ocean, among the vivid reds and purples of the sub-surface flora, sunbeams dancing around you as you scavenge the sea floor for pieces of wreckage.
July turned into August and I was still trapped in lockdown in the middle of a miserable Melbourne winter, when I should have been slowly basting under the European summer sun. The entire time, I continued to cruise through my very own Blue, one lone swimmer in the watery expanse of Planet 4546B. Meanwhile, my mum sends me photos from the Croatian coast: her in a sun hat ready to head out for a swim, a balcony view of the ocean under a cloudless sky, a tiny inlet filled with sparking, clear water about to receive one lone swimmer.
In September, I finally tell my mum I’ve been playing Subnautica and joke that I too am swimming in the ocean. She replies:
“The same one as me.”
Three years ago, I went snorkeling on holiday in Vanuatu. My most vivid memory is not the peculiar shapes and colors of coral, or the jaunty fish that swam just out of arm’s reach. It’s the moment I first came out into open water. Entering the water from the coral’s edge was tricky and involved several minutes of awkwardly picking my way along an incline, being slowly submerged until it was safe enough to start swimming without fear of grazing a limb. I remember at last pushing my way into open water, diving under, looking out and seeing the most astonishing Blue I’ve ever seen. Mesmerized, I swam towards it, into it, unable to believe the color that was filling my eyes, filling my soul. I’ll never forget that Blue.
One of my favorite things to do in Subnautica is swim out as far as I can before the deep sea leviathans appear and have me for lunch. What I’m searching for is that tantalizing Blue. As I swim farther and farther out, the color of the water changes. In the safer shallows it’s an inviting sky blue, then a little deeper out it becomes a greenish turquoise, then a rich dazzling sapphire and finally, in the deepest depths, an unnaturally purplish royal blue. A Blue that’s so full and big and deeply vibrant that it overflows my eyes and leaks into my brain. At night, behind my eyelids, I can still see that Blue.
Since playing Subnautica, I see blue differently. After having experienced what that one color can do to me, how it can change and beckon and surround and hypnotize and terrify, I’m not quite the same. Now when I look up at the sky, I notice it – I invite it and meet it and see it – just a little bit more than I used to. The next time I dive into the sea, I wonder if that will feel different too. For now, I content myself with being a lone swimmer in my own little world, as so many of us are. When I step out of the virtual ocean and shake off the droplets, I try and remind myself to look up, and remember that we’re all still connected under that big Blue. Whichever little piece of it you’re swimming in right now, maybe it’s not so far from mine. I might even meet you there.