To start with, I’m offering fair warning to my mom: there may be curse words in the coming paragraphs.
Now, down to business.
I’m terrified of sharks. I don’t know what it is about them. Maybe it’s the fact that they’re heartless eating machines, or maybe it’s their cold dead eyes, or maybe it’s that creepy song that comes on every time they’re around. You know the one. John Williams wrote it.
It could also be the fact that they do things like rip people’s legs off or in some cases, SWALLOW THEM WHOLE.
Call me crazy, but sharks are friggin’ scary.
I promised my mother I’d at least cut down on the cursing in these blog posts, so I’m testing out words like effin’ and friggin’ and darn. I’ll still use the word cunt, though. I have to hold my ground on something.
Anyway, so sharks.
Bret likes to remind me that humans aren’t in the shark food chain. To that I say: Ha! Spiders aren’t in my food chain, but I’m really good at killing them. I used to be all sensitive and just try to shoo the spiders outside with a Dixie cup. But now that I have a baby, I’m like a honey badger. I get that rolled up newspaper or shoe and squish. Game over. Honey badger doesn’t give a sh*t!
So, even if I’m not considered a delicacy in the shark community, it wouldn’t take much for a 6-footer to do some serious damage to my bod. And yeah, I have a little cellulite, but I’ve grown quite accustomed to my bod. I’d like to keep it. Intact.
I’ve done some research on sharks, and the general consensus is that sharks don’t actually target humans, rather they often mistake us for an injured fish, or a seal. We’re apparently not very graceful in the water by a shark’s standards. To a shark, even Michael Phelps looks like a spastic tuna. Plus, sharks have really bad eyesight and they investigate things by biting them (kind of like toddlers).
So, if a shark wanted to confirm that the slightly-expired milk had indeed turned sour, the shark would take a huge bite out of the carton. And that poor carton would bleed to death.
So, while sharks don’t necessarily want to eat us, sometimes they just do, accidentally, while investigating. “Oopsie. My bad, Marj. Didn’t mean to bite your face off. By the way, welcome to Jordan! I recommend the dates.”
Yeah, I can’t negotiate with a fish. It’s not as if I can be like, “Hey, you dumb-ass, blind-ass shark, I’m not a fat-ass seal, so back the heck off!” And then the shark would be like, “Did you just say Heck?” What’re you 12?” And I’d say, “No, I’m 34, but my Mom asked me cut back on the cursing.” The shark would then say, “Fair enough.” And then he’d swim away.
No, that’ s not how it would go down.
More than likely, it would be a sneak attack from behind. I would get bitten in half and then bleed to death in the crystal blue water while some a-hole tourist snapped blurry pictures of the sunset behind me.
And that is NOT how I want to go down.
Why am I telling you all of this? Well, we live at the beach here in Aqaba. I’ve never lived this close to the beach before, so it’s a new thing for me. We have the option of swimming in the ocean every day, if we feel like it. All we have to do is walk outside our apartment, saunter past our mammoth swimming pool (seriously, it’s bigger than the Atlantic), walk two feet and we’ll be on the beach. That’s no exaggeration, even though it sounds like one. Kind of like a shark that’s 30 feet in length. Sounds like an exaggeration but, in fact, quite possible.
There’s this pier at the beach. It extends about 50 yards out from shore. The first time we visited our beach (you like that? Our beach) we saw a group of Israeli tourists in Speedos jumping off the pier and screaming at each other in Hebrew. I thought they were having a knife fight, but it turns out that’s just how Israelis talk.
We knew they were Israeli because we met them the day before at the Jordan/Israel border crossing and they told us they were from Haifa. One of the guys had a squiggly design shaved into the side of his hair. It looked like something Vanilla Ice sported back in the early 90’s They also wore lots of bling; oversized gold crosses around their necks to be precise. I assumed they weren’t Jewish. They were, however, super friendly. They were all over Abby at the border, pinching her cheeks and playing peek-a-boo with her. It helped make the whole border-crossing experience much more pleasant. For more on this, see my post entitled “Eilat.”
So, there they were, the Christian Israeli rappers, jumping off the pier, yelling and hollering and having a grand old time. I admit, they made hurling oneself off a rickety, barnacled pier look pretty enticing. Bret took one look at them and said, “I want to do that.” (Bret wants me to note that by “do that,” I mean, “jump off the pier,” not “wear a speedo and a hip-hop size gold cross.”)
And so Bret waited until the Israeli posse had retired to the hotel bar nearby, then he walked across the pier and without hesitation, jumped. Just like that. SPLASH!
Abby and I watched him safely from the pier above. I stared at the blue water and imagined a pair of megalodon jaws ascending from the depths, a dorsal fin breaking the surface and with one single-
“Oh, this is awesome, babe!” Bret interrupted the horror film playing out in my mind, “I think you’re really going to like it.” He splashed and kicked and I thought of the injured tuna. Bret is no Michael Phelps.
“Oh yeah?” I asked, smiling sweetly. He looked up at me from the water and said, “Yeah.”
“It looks amazing,” I said, not entirely lying. It did look amazing. In truth, I wanted more than anything to have the courage to jump off that goddam pier. The sun was golden in the background, the warm wind was whispering through my hair, the water looked so inviting. And yet, I was afraid. Afraid of getting eaten.
I’m such a chicken. And I’m even afraid of chickens! The chicken, afraid of chickens. This is no joke. For those of you who know me know that I have a debilitating fear of ground birds: chickens, turkeys, peacocks, ostriches. Emus are the worst. Now you know that I’m afraid of sharks, which are like the emus of the sea.
Bret floated in the ocean for a few more minutes, oohing and aahing the whole time and I stood there on the pier feeling like a giant weenie. Abby watched her dad luxuriate in the water below. I wondered what she was thinking. Was she worried about sharks too? Probably not. She’s too young and blissfully unaware of that goddam John Williams score.
I watched the sun sink behind the horizon and thought about jumping off the pier. I wanted to be free, to let go, and hurl my body into the water like an Israeli rapper. I was thinner in this fantasy, and tanner too. But more importantly, I was unafraid. I was happy and calm. I knew everything would be okay. I would dive in, feeling the warm saltwater envelop my cellulite-free body. I would swim in the sea without fear. And then, I would climb back onto the pier, exhilarated and unscathed, ready to jump back in.
Why couldn’t it happen like that?
Finally, Bret climbed up the ladder on the backside of the pier and pulled himself onto the platform. Abby and I walked over and greeted his dripping body with a towel. He gave me a wide grin as he dried himself off. I handed him his glasses.
“Daddy!” Abby shouted with glee. “Abby!” Bret shouted back. Abby smiled and stuck out her tongue.
Yeah, yeah adorable. But then, Bret turned to me and said:
“You should try it, babe. You’d love it.”
My heart started pounding. No I wouldn’t!!! I’d hate it. I’d hear that goddam John Williams score in my head and I’d poop in my bathing suit. Poop is not a bad word, Mom.
Anyway, I’d poop and then have a heart attack. And then I’d get ripped in half by a shark. No way am I jumping off that effing pier! Let the Israeli Christian rap group be Mr. Dumbass Blindass shark’s buffet! I’ll stay nice and alive up here on the rickety pier, thank you very much!
“I’m okay,” I shrugged, adjusting my shades. I was trying to be cool.
“C’mon, babe. It’s not that high up, actually. And the water’s perfect!”
Yeah, neither of those things would prevent me from jumping in anyway. It’s that little shark thing.
I shook my head, “Nah, I’m okay.”
Bret smiled. He knew.
“Sharks don’t come this close to shore.” That’s when I broke, like a levy.
“That’s not true!” I shouted. I paused and pulled myself together for the sake of our daughter. “Sharks can kill people in less than 4 feet of water. And bull sharks can live in rivers! Did you know that? There are even sharks in the Potomac? Isn’t that awful?”
Bret is so sweet. So patient. He smiled and touched my shoulder.
“Shark attacks are so rare, babe. They almost never happen.” I knew he was right, but what if I was the one in a million? He assured me I’d be safe. There’s that goddam word again. Safe. Who among us is truly safe?
“I won’t let it happen,” Bret said, cleaning the water from his ears.
How could you protect me from a thirty-foot Great White with a taste for human flesh?” I scoffed. He laughed. “You’ll be fine,” he assured me. “Sharks don’t want to eat you. And remember when you went scuba diving in Catalina? Or when you dove into the roiling waves at Huntington Beach?” I nodded, and wondered how I’d managed to do either of those things. Was that really me back then?
So we stood on that pier for another five minutes and Bret kept pressuring me to jump off but I refused. “I’m not ready yet,” I said. I stressed the word “yet” but I didn’t know if I’d ever be ready. I just figured if he thought I would jump at some point, he would stop badgering me. Besides, maybe if I actually took baby steps, maybe I could actually take the leap. Someday.
Instead of jumping off the pier that evening, I waded up to my thighs just offshore. It was nice. The beach here is kind of rocky and I kept losing my flip flops in the water. They just floated up to the surface and I grabbed them and slipped them back on. There are really no waves on our beach so it kind of feels like you’re swimming in a lake. But it’s really salty. So salty in fact, it’s almost impossible to sink. It’s like a salty bathtub. With sharks. And Israelis.
Abby LOVED being in the ocean. Bret held her and together they swam out in waist-deep water. She giggled and splashed and clapped her hands. I loved watching her having so much fun. Her joy made me forget my own fear. How I wish I could be so brave.
But to Abby, it wasn’t necessarily bravery. She was just enjoying the moment. And in that moment, she was in her father’s arms, playing in the water. Her mother was standing nearby cheering her on. Everything was fine. Everything was good.
Later, as we strolled back home through the sand, I promised myself I would go swimming everyday. And little by little, I’d eventually work up enough courage to jump off the pier. My hands are shaking even as I write this. I don’t want to jump off that pier. I don’t want to put myself in what I perceive to be harm’s way. What if the one time I dive into the water is the one time a shark happens to be shopping for some human? What if he bites me? What if I die?
WhatifWhatifWhatif?! What if an asteroid hits the planet tonight? What if I slip on a banana peel and break my neck? What if I slip on a banana hammock and break my neck? So many what ifs, why worry about them? They probably won’t ever come to pass.
So, my plan is to work up enough courage to jump off that pier before I leave Jordan. Even if it takes me six months, I’m going to do it. I’m also going to put on a brave face every time I set foot into the ocean.
And yes, I did just read about that poor British man who was mauled by a Great White in the Seychelles. I’m very sad for his widow and his family and friends. But there will always be some one-in-a-million story in the news just waiting to frighten me into avoiding life.
For my daughter’s sake, I want to be brave. I want to face my fear with courage and strength. I want her to see that life is full of risks but we must take them anyway (calculated ones, at least). I’ll do it for Abby because I want her to hurl herself into life with joy and abandon. And even though she will one day be aware that sharks live in the ocean, she won’t let that keep her from diving in.