I am terrified of the ocean. It’s getting worse.
It’s grown into a neurosis that can leave me completely paralyzed. I know this because my husband and I celebrated our 10-year wedding anniversary in Key West…just the two of us. Woot. Woot.
I knew my fear had reached new levels when my foot unexpectedly touched underwater grasses; you’d think I stepped on a pile of hypodermic needles my reaction was so strong. I stepped back and gasped, wringing my hands like a nervous kindergartener on the first day of school.
Then I couldn’t move.
My heart raced, and I had to talk myself out of a hyperventilating situation.
I should mention that the water was about mid-calf.
I discovered the dark water meant these underwater grasses, so I avoided them when I could. If I couldn’t swim around, I frog kicked over them even if I was barely buoyed by the shallow water. I couldn’t let anything touch the bottom. Nothing. In shallow waters I sucked my stomach in so hard my back hurt to prevent those grasses from touching my skin. Why? I have no idea.
C’mon, who wants to vacation with me by the sea?
There were opportunities on our trip to snorkel and scuba dive, something that in theory, sounds magical: colorful fish weaving and darting in and out of swaying plant-life, everything–even me–moving in a kind of ethereal underwater dream world: a Wyland painting. I get the allure. I do.
But over the years, something strange and irrational has gripped my insides. Now, my brain paints pictures of murky water, unsettling shadowy darkness, and terrifying creatures that make the water their home. Snorkeling? I see myself struggling to get the breathing part down, flailing around in the water like a wounded seal, ruining everyone’s time and enticing predators with the stink of desperation: an anti-Wyland painting…more like an underwater nightmare…or a dark comedy where someone dies: you know, the person who can’t snorkel.
While I flipped through the pamphlet of “Things to Do” in Key West, a part of me–the adventure-seeking part of me–tried to negotiate with the terrified side that convinced me a shark was waiting in the water rubbing its fins together like a creepy cartoon preparing to bite my face off. And yes. I know that doesn’t exist. And if you tell me I am more likely to die on an escalator than by a shark attack, that only makes me wary of escalators. So please. I know.
Because I knew I would hate myself if I didn’t try something new, because I envisioned my lameness inevitably leading to me donning a self-shaming sign for the internet like those terrified-looking chihuahuas,
I agreed to a jet ski tour around the island. Even while I said, “okay!”, I could feel the bile climbing up my throat. It stayed mid-throat as the tanned guide with a blonde ponytail and huge smile gave us his jet ski so we could “go faster and have more fun.” Mother of God, I thought and immediately started praying.
I’m writing this post, so you know I didn’t die out there in the open water. I didn’t die because I developed super-human strength as we skimmed the surface of the briny deep. I clung to my husband. My thighs burned from pressing against the seat. My biceps tightened from their 90 degree angle around my husband’s life vest. My knuckles were white. My jaw was so tense, I probably developed a lifetime case of TMJ. My core…like granite. I won’t even tell you the part of my body that gripped that seat like mollusk feet,
doing their part to keep my body attached to the jet ski.
It was a thing of beauty–not my water-logged form to be sure–but my whole body working together in unison to save me from myself.
Someone or something has to…