Storytellers: Between You And Me
The best artists take their inspirations from the most unconventional of sources, be it a dated historical text, a relationship with a close friend, or in the case of PORTALS contributor Jonathan Abramson aka Between You And Me, a near death experience. Jonathan’s mentioned his connection with the ocean to PORTALS before, but it was in a close encounter with a 6-foot barracuda that he found his muse for what would later become Crystal Aquarium, his debut EP— released on October 22nd—which you can stream in full below his tale:
Part of what inspires me is unknowing. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m content with just ignorance as an end to the discussion, but rather I value the exploration that unknowing lends to knowledge. It guarantees mystery, bewilderment, and amazement. I believe the ultimate unknowing lies in the Earth’s oceans. I’m undoubtedly biased because I grew up in South Florida, but it’s a world we seldom visit and can be both blindingly dark and overwhelming in size. As a result, we know little about it. It’s one of the last great frontiers of our time.
I wrote ‘Crystal Aquarium’ as a reflection of my fascination. I wanted it to be my perception of different ecosystems from the shallows to the depths. “Feast”, in particular, was born of a captivating adventure.
It was a warm morning, like most Mexican days are I assume. Our tour guide, Diego, seemed completely disinterested in providing any hospitality or in depth instruction. He kept to himself, which was fine, but if I had cared I’d probably force him to communicate with me in some way… any way really. “What’s your favorite color?” I thought I’d ask. “Blue,” he’d say without making eye contact, “like the ocean.” Perhaps he and I weren’t so different after all.
Luckily, my father and I had some acquaintance with snorkeling. We were defogging our masks and adjusting straps here and there when Diego boarded the last of the group. Within seconds, he started the engines, blasted the horn, and flew out of the dock. I’m pretty sure there are speed limits and general protocol to follow when you’re relatively close to land. I guess Diego didn’t really give a shit. Good for him, except he’s in charge of about 20 tourists who would just as soon sue him and take his whole livelihood as they would help him do the most menial of tasks.
The boat ride took about a hour to get to the reef. My father and I had read about this one. It was supposed to be teeming with fish and vibrant with an inimitable variety of corals. I was excited. I looked over to my father and gave him a nice little nod and smile. He gave me both in return, but I could tell he was crazy nervous, hiding behind a half grin and violently jiggling legs. I felt bad for him. “Chill,” I said as he became self-aware. He didn’t say anything back, just started chugging his water bottle. “You know sharks can detect human urine from over 10 miles away?” I said jokingly. He didn’t find it very funny.
As we got close, I peered over the edge of the boat. I didn’t really know what to expect. My preconceived notions of Mexican waters hadn’t really been a favorable one. I guess I anticipated them to be sludge-infested, but oh my gawd was I mistaken. I felt like I could lean over the side of the boat and touch the bottom, but it was actually about 20 feet deep. My father would have watched me get sucked in thanks to the ocean’s mesmerizing grip. Both engines would have chopped me into as many pieces as there were cells in my body. I smiled a bit, and gained my composure. I couldn’t wait to get out there.
I tend to lose myself in vast stretches of reefs. The bright colors distract me. So when it was time to jump in, I made a mental note of where my father was. I didn’t want to stray too far, but at the same time I couldn’t help but wonder what I would see if I just kept swimming. The guide said we had an hour to do whatever we wanted. I was the first one in, and my feet began to kick.
It was still morning, so all the fish were frantically swimming in patterns that appeared completely illogical and aimless. I couldn’t help but laugh, but I’d do the same thing if I were hungry. That was enough for me to completely forget about staying close to the group. I just kept kicking and making up identities and storylines for each fish I saw. I didn’t look up, forward, backwards, or sideways… just down.
All of a sudden, the ocean floor disappeared. My heart froze and then started pounding, I inhaled way too much saltwater, and started to kick frantically. I definitely thought I was about to fall into the drop off abyss. I surfaced and desperately tried to find someone or something to grab onto, but the boat and everyone was way too far away. No one even heard me calling for help. I thought I was going to die.
I had no choice but to gain some composure. I knew I wasn’t going to fall unless I let myself, but the adrenaline rush hit me hard. Submerging myself, I again froze as I stared at the drop. I backed up to where I was above the cliff, and then I looked out at the open ocean. My heart calmed, my extremities loosened up, and I began to breathe normally. It was beautiful. I remember it so vividly. I felt lost and alone, but still incredibly peaceful and content.
After a few minutes of staring in disbelief, I noticed a black and shiny speck on the horizon. I couldn’t quite discern what it was until it got a little closer. I shit you not, I almost crapped my bathing suit. It was a MASSIVE barracuda probably a solid 6 feet long, and it looked poised to attack. I remember thinking this was way too much adrenaline for one human to experience in less than 10 minutes. Oh, but wait, there’s more. It was only then that I recalled one of the three things Diego said. He recommended removing any shiny jewelry because barracudas, yeah, he mentioned them specifically, will think it’s food and will attack. WHAT THE FUCK?! I didn’t think. I grabbed my chain with a hanging, shiny gold guitar, turned around, and just started kicking. My brain panicked. I completely forgot about the most amazing thing I had ever seen in my life (the drop off), and I thought at any second I would feel something with razor sharp teeth chop off my foot.
Swimming back to the boat felt like hours. It was torture, especially when the only thing I could think of was a notoriously violent fish chasing me, waiting until the perfect moment to strike. When I got on deck, I lay on my back in complete and utter relief. I took in a few deep breaths, reminded myself I was alive, and then started laughing. What would an ocean be without a monster lurking in the dark? It would be like sleep without dreams. And thus, “Feast” was born.