Trust Your Instincts: My Life as Shark Bait

I was born in sunny San Diego, had a brief stay in Newport, Rhode Island during the very formative year of age three, quickly retreated back to heaven on earth San Diego with my family until I was seven, then journeyed across the country in our trusty silver suburban to settle in Virginia Beach, VA. During our seven day cross-country voyage with no entertainment beyond a Game Boy (Donkey Kong champ right here) and the thriving imaginations of my brother and I paired with a foot long pencil, one deer hide drawstring sack, and some glitter, I stared out the window at the great expanse of passing land. Green land. Dusty land. Mountainy land. Candy land. So much land.

When my parents could no longer take my incessant singing of The 50 States Song (leading to my now-adult party trick of saying all of the states in alphabetical order in one breath), we got out of the car to ride mules down the Grand Canyon (which was terrifying fun!), eat dinner at a restaurant I can only believe was located deep in the heart of Texas (based on the photo evidence below), and crawl through Mammoth Cave. These adventures were neat and the land was pretty, but my little seven-year-old brain thought it was basically an expansive theme park. Anything between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans was just a verse out of Old McDonald Had a Farm or a real-life version of pictures in my second grade geography book. People don’t live here, obviously. How would they go to the beach?

Indians

Since I was essentially birthed straight into the ocean and only lived in beach towns until college, one would imagine that I am like a fish. You probably think I use Cover Girl foundation to hide my neck gills, that I grow retractable flippers, and I sport a coconut bra beneath all of my clothing in case of a quick-change…and you are correct. In all seriousness (the coconut bra part is real, though), I did learn to swim at the ripe old age of three because my older brother didn’t need floaties anymore so WHY IN THE WORLD DO I NEED TO WEAR THEM MOM, and in adulthood I cannot function in a city without sand, hence my recent move back to Virginia Beach. Being a beach girl is cute and fun and like, totally chill brah, but there is one more glaring similarity to a fish that we need to talk about.

I am literal shark bait.

My fear of sharks started at a young age, most likely because my brother wanted the deep end of my grandmother’s pool to himself, so he told me that when the sun casts a shadow over the drain, sharks start trying to break through the little holes. This made perfect sense to me. At 3:30pm, when the angle of the sun started bringing that shadow closer and closer to the drain, I hung out on the steps in the shallow end and prayed that today would not be the day that the sharks succeed.

On day trips to the beach, I’d bound into the ocean– the place where sharks live before they migrate to my grandmother’s drain each afternoon. Usually the waves and my boogie board were enough to distract me from what lurked beneath. I trained myself to be a good little beach kid, laughing instead of crying when a wave tumbled me ashore to the point of near death by drowning and/or a broken neck, and swimming further out than anyone else just to prove a point. By the way, swimming is literally the only time in my life I’ve ever felt a competitive edge flair from within. Not the kind of swimming with a cap and good form, but the kind that says If you need a human tugboat from Cuba to Florida, I’m your girl. 

Over time, my fear of sharks has unfortunately expanded beyond the deep end of the pool. [For the record, I still have to actively steady my breath in swimming pools with a shadow over the drain. I wish I was kidding.] Boogie boards and proof of buoyancy are no longer enough to distract my mind at the beach. Death-by-shark has almost become an obsession. I’ve YouTubed every available video of shark attacks online and even expanded my search to killer whales because, I mean, they’re also a threat. Morbidity knows no bounds. With my ample knowledge of how vulnerable humans are in the water, wading past knee-deep is a real mental struggle. And did you know that a considerable amount of shark attacks happen in knee-deep water? Help.

My last venture into deep water was in Puerto Rico in 2012. Five friends and I swam 30 minutes away from shore around a bank-cave-thing that jutted out of the coastline in order to explore a little opening in the cave with a natural skylight in the rocks. What possessed me to go into a dark cave in the ocean, I do not know, but there is a 100% chance that Jaws was taking a nap 30 feet beneath me. I lived to tell the tale, though, and planned on ending my open water swimming on that high note. I knew it was a simple game of statistics, and I only had so many chances left before I was dunzo.

Let this next part be a lesson for all that it is important to trust your instincts (and statistics):

I’ve always sensed that aqua-luck is not on my side, from that first life-altering day I found out about sharks headbutting their way through the drain in my grandmother’s pool. I should have stopped while I was ahead, as was the plan following my cave swim. A few months after Puerto Rico, however, my family went on a Christmas Caribbean cruise that included an excursion to swim with dolphins. As Brittany S. Pierce wisely explained on Glee, dolphins are just gay sharks, but I decided to ignore that fact and take the plunge. My little brother, 8 years old at the time, and I debarked on the island of Cozumel and made our way to the area of the beach with netted off sections for dolphin swimmers. It was “open water,” but the nets made me feel a little bit better. These dolphins swim with humans every day. What could possibly go wrong?

LOL.

I’m just going to cut to the chase here. The dolphin bit me. I made it through two impressive tricks as though I was a trainer at Sea World pre-Blackfish, but then, during the grand finale of the excursion, I was targeted. I was targeted like the lone cherry Jolly Rancher. Like the open bar at a wedding. Like the cookie with the most perfect golden-brown color. That gay shark saw my little foot and said to himself, This foot is more special than the thousands of feet I’ve seen on a daily basis in the last five years. This foot is a real prize. And he took it.

In case you’re wondering if my right foot is now made of Barbie-inspired plastic due to the attack– No. It’s not. I managed to escape with nothing but pretty epic teeth marks in a perfect circle around the center of my foot and a damaged psyche.

I should have seen the dolphin thing coming. My instincts told me that large sea creatures and I are not meant to be friends. I knew in my heart that I was born into the life of a human shark magnet, but I chose to test the waters…quite literally. The proof is in the pudding: If a domesticated dolphin will bite me, my luck in open water has clearly run out. Mosasaurus will probably make a surprise return from extinction and swallow me whole should I ever again venture past a shoreline drop off. Which might actually be a better way to go than being torn into pieces by a bull shark, come to think of it. But my point of all this is simply to say that if you visit me in Virginia Beach this summer, I won’t be going in the water unless surrounded by a shield of sacrificial humans on every side of my body. And please, everybody, trust your instincts.

shark in virginia beach

NOPE. Nope. Nope. Nope.

P.S.- If you happen to see the picture of the dolphin kissing my cheek as the banner across the top of this blog (it’s a rotating picture…sorry if you got a boring one of champagne glasses or something), you should know that that photo was taken AFTER the a-hole bit me. I am brave. I am an amazing actress. And I am dedicated to a good photo op.

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