The FDU SCUBA Club by
(97 Stories)

Prompted By Group Photos

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FDU SCUBA Club circa 1976

I was the last President of the SCUBA Club on the Rutherford campus of Fairleigh-Dickinson University. I accepted the office because no one else wanted it. Membership had always been low; SCUBA diving is a niche activity, expensive, gear-intensive and time-consuming. For most, doing it involves travel of some sort, while with a pair of decent shoes you can go running any time, anywhere. So, we were never numerous.

This photo, snapped from atop a tripod on my old Fujica SLR, captures a pivotal time in my life.

The photo above contains, if I recall correctly, the entire membership of the SCUBA club when I took the helm. We never got another member, and when the people in the photo had all graduated, the club was gone. But for a while we had great dives and great times. With one exception, I remember these people. I remember them well.

Let’s start with the one I don’t remember well, the young man in the back on the left. I remember his face, but that is all I remember. His name is lost to me, although I do recall that it was Latino in origin. My dive logs (which I still have) make no mention of him, so we never dove as dive buddies, although we probably participated together in club dive outings. I think I only knew him through the club.

To his left is John. John, another Marine Bio major, was one year older and one year ahead of me. He is a senior here. His family were Cuban refugees. I loved having dinner at his house; the food was amazing.

Next to John is Tom. Tom was from Newburyport, MA, and was, after my roommate and BFF Alan, my closest friend in college. We had bizarre senses of humor that meshed perfectly to form one well-oiled machine of hilarity. I also had a bit of a crush on his extremely attractive girlfriend, Paula. Hell, nearly every guy she met did. As often happens, we lost touch after we graduated in 1978. Some time in the early 90s, while Gina and I were living near Boston, Tom and I reconnected. He had married Paula, they had a daughter, and Tom was working at Woods Hole, one of marine biology’s shrines. That was one of the first times I confronted the “you can’t go home again” phenomenon. We had fun, everyone was pleasant, but the magic had died. We never tried again.

In front, on the left, in the “Seafarer” dive boat T-shirt, is me. I am also wearing the expensive dive watch that was the ice-breaker for the first conversation that I ever had with Maria, and sporting one of my periodic attempts at facial hair. By this time I am already showing signs of the weight gain that began in college and has dogged me ever since.

The women is Maria, of whom I have written here before:

There is no date on the print, so I have to guess when this was taken. John graduated in May of 1977, and I have another photo of Maria wearing that same shirt whose location I am pretty sure of, a place I would not have been in before September of 1976. This was the “official” club photo, so it was most likely taken in the Fall of 1976. The light shirts we are all wearing back up that deduction.

I am subtly leaning into Maria, maintaining a bit more body contact than I would have with John, or Tom or even Alan. That means that when this was taken, Maria and I were still together, still in hiding, still keeping our relationship a secret from her extremely disapproving family. In a couple of months, we would break our silence and confront them with the reality that she had not kept up her pledge from early 1975 to never see me again. A few months after this photo was taken, she would suddenly, without explanation, drop me, leading to years of suppressed grief and corrosive cynicism, the loss of most of my will and direction, the beginning of my nearly irremediable fatalistic attitude toward pretty much everything that dogs me still.

This photo, snapped from atop a tripod with my old Fujica SLR, captures a pivotal time in my life. It’s a fading glimpse into the short period during which I had put my early academic troubles behind me and still looked forward to a life and career that I believed was mapped out and well underway. A life which, in every way imaginable, did not happen.



Profile photo of Dave Ventre Dave Ventre
A hyper-annuated wannabee scientist with a lovely wife and a mountain biking problem.

Tags: Photographs, friends, college, love
Characterizations: moving, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    This, clearly, was an important group for you and time in your life. You enjoyed their (and her) company and the sport, as you describe it. But shortly thereafter, you go into a tailspin. So this photo is embedded with lots of emotion of meaning. Thank you for letting us in.

  2. Laurie Levy says:

    Thanks for sharing such a significant photo and story with us. It is amazing how certain pictures evoke such strong feelings, even after so many years have passed.

  3. John Shutkin says:

    That photo is certainly evocative of the day (and hair styles), and I really enjoyed your backstory to it, Dave. It reminds me of the photo of my college roomies and me from a few years earlier, right down to the need for a tripod to do the “selfie.”

    But, more importantly, I appreciate you sharing the stories that this photo brings back for you — good, bad and vague. A reminder that photos are, first and foremost, memories.

    • Dave Ventre says:

      Thanks, John!

      I had another memory pop up, about John’s family. They spoke VERY broken and accented English. But, in my presence, they refused to speak Spanish. Sometimes it was painful to see how they struggled to say “please pass the salad.” John told me that to speak Spanish in front of a guest who did not would be very rude.

      The Llibres were a class act.

      And another! The Llibres were Cuban refugees who fled the Castro regime, but one of their children (John’s older sister) did not entirely share their vehement and uncompromising anti-Castro, anti-Communist views. THAT made for some dinner-table entertainment!

  4. Ah Dave, your story moves me.

    We all have our demons, and our regrets but we also have our passions and you’ve shared some of yours – scuba, biking and your lovely Gina!

  5. Marian says:

    This is a perfect example of how photos can have meanings far greater than the images they present, Dave. Despite some of the painful memories this one evokes, it was brave of you to introduce us to these people and what they meant to you, especially because of the significant vulnerability Maria caused you.

    • Dave Ventre says:

      Thank you for the kind words, Marian!

      I am currently contemplating the upcoming prompt about a song that moved me. There is no shortage of choices. The problem I am having is that a large number of them center around that time of my life and its way too extended aftermath. I feel that this is a subject that has moved into repetitious, dead-horse-beating territory. I don’t want my new Retrospect tribe to think that I am mostly sulking in a miasma of nostalgia (even if sometimes I do still backslide a bit…). It’s complicated a bit more by the fact that people’s musical tastes (and their list of desert-island tunes) is formed and mostly populated in those years.

      Hmmm…a cool thing just happened. Writing this reply gave me an idea for another, and emotionally healthier, take on the topic!

  6. Khati Hendry says:

    Nothing wrong with using the prompts to process old experiences and memories in new ways, and to continue the healing process. Great picture. Sure brought back those times. I was astonished there ever was a scuba club in New Jersey, and that you were part of it. And it became an important part of you. So much is implied by what you did not say. Thanks for the stories,

    • Dave Ventre says:

      NJ is actually one of the best places there is to go diving, if the open-water shipwrecks are your thing, as they were mine.

      Writing can definitely help heal wounds. My fear is in overindulging my tendency to live in – and dwell upon – the past to an unhealthy degree. This is a common trait among us depressos! Not sure why we take some strange comfort in the oft-illusory idea that we were happier then than we are now. That actually seems like a bad situation!

  7. This is a narrative that begins rather blandly as an effort to simply provide a brief bio about a series of people in a photo, people about whom your typical reader has little reason to care. Nonetheless you manage to state enough interesting facts to keep a reader interested enough. But then as you arrive at yourself, you excavate the photo, the timing, and the feelings behind it so much more deeply! And in the final sentences, you leave a reader full of wonder and intrigue and hoping to hear more–about the “everything that dogs me still,” and about the life which “in every way imaginable, did hot happen.” Congratulations on a great piece.

  8. Suzy says:

    Dave, don’t worry about what the Retrospecters think about your “wallowing” — as long as it is well-written (which all of yours are), we are happy to read it. That said, I am also delighted by your comment to Marian that replying to her gave you another idea for that prompt.

    • Dave Ventre says:

      Thanks, Suzy! I am not so much worried about what other people think (of me) as what I think (of my writing). I am also a fan of the idea of “do (or seem) that which you wish to be,” or in other words, “fake it ’till you make it.”

      I do think that I tend to dwell on the past to an unhealthy degree. Where do reflection and analysis become masochism?

      Of course, I am also aware that I might be totally misguided on that topic.

      I might still weave the entire unhappy episode of my ascent and fall into the abyss into one long final painful tale, dedicated to never mentioning it again! Of course, I have visions of Ted Stryker telling his troubles to various unfortunate fellow passengers in the movie “Airplane”

  9. An exotic group, for sure, Dave, Cuban refugees and all! Your caveats that prevented diving from becoming a popular sport were great as well, and finally we have a portrait of the enigmatic and impactful Maria! Love your descriptions!

  10. Susan Bennet says:

    Thank you for sharing this, Dave. It is so true that photos such as this can produce as much regret as joy.

    Now I have to tell you that your leadership in this select group may be more significant than most of us would realize. I have a SCUBA guy in my family, and so I know this is a demanding and sometimes dangerous activity. In fact, I just looked this up and learned that SCUBA people “have incredible communications and organization skills, are eco-conscious, fun-loving and are likely to start talking about their last dive in most any situation.” Not to mention (your) courage to dive in dark Atlantic waters. So please take a bow. And I’d love to hear some of your dive stories!

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