Afraid to Go Into the Water
August 7, 2007
I definitely overdosed on Shark Week this year. How do I know? Because when I finished my run on Ocean Beach, I stopped for 45 minutes to watch the beach patrol working on what appeared to be a wounded surfer. He was lifting his head and waving his arms around, so he wasn't getting mouth-to-mouth. Was he a victim of a shark attack? Finally, the emergency squad screamed up and a park ranger met them saying, "We got a foot injury." Now, is that "foot injury" as in "I stepped wrong and my ankle collapsed" or as in "my foot got stuck in the jaws of a Great White and now it is injured"?

I waited until they brought the kid up to the boardwalk, his foot and lower leg were well-wrapped and braced. I searched for signs of blood, but there weren't any. The kid told the medical team, "Yeah, it just popped and now it's swelling hella fast." Well, that's that.

Truthfully, my obsession with sharks really has nothing to do with Shark Week. In fact, if anything, it just exacerbates my problem. At some point in my young life, I became not just obsessed with sharks, but also with the idea that they could live in fresh water. Every summer, the fam rented a cabin on Long Lake, not too far from Traverse City, Michigan. Long Lake is one of those freakishly clear lakes where even when we're talking about twenty feet of depth, you could still see straight down to the bottom. It was both fascinating and frightening.

I'd go waterskiing and after I fell, I couldn't stop myself from thinking how I looked from under the water -- shark's eye view, if you will -- and I'd start bellowing for my dad to hurry up and bring the boat around. As I hauled myself up the ladder, I was gripped with that same heart-sickening panic that I'd always get running up the stairs of my basement. Only this time, I was convinced that a shark was about to grab my leg rather than the belief that tyrannosaurus Rex was snapping at my heels.

So, in the summers, I was scared to waterski, and the rest of the year, I was feverishly ordering up all the "true shark attack" tales the Troll Book Club had to offer and committing every gory detail to memory. Of course, instead of convincing me that sharks couldn't live in a small freshwater lake like Long Lake (even if there was a secret access point to Lake Michigan that only sharks knew about) the books did manage to confirm some of my worst fears. Some shark attacks had occurred in the murkier waters of the Mississippi. That proved it. Sharks could live in fresh water and if they could live in fresh water they could live in Lake Michigan and if they could live in Lake Michigan they could get into Long Lake by a secret access tunnel that only sharks knew about.

The day a lone scuba fin washed up on the sandy spit of land that formed a point near our cabin was the day my imagination went ballistic. Where was the other fin? Where was the SWIMMER? WHY did he lose a fin? I examined the fin from all angles and damn near brought out my mother's summer microscope, but there were no bite marks to be found. At least not on the fin, still can't prove the same for the swimmer.

My sympathetic and understanding parents with their God-given parental instincts had a sure-fire way to cure me of my fears. Or something. One summer they bought a tiny plastic packet of shark teeth, which they planned to spread out on the shoreline near the cabin. Somehow or another, they would make sure I would find them. The only thing I can say about that is that they never actually went through with it, not because they decided that it was a cruel and unusual way to get their kid to wet her swimsuit, but mostly because they forgot about it. Later, my mother gave me the shark teeth for my curio cabinet.

Meanwhile, twenty-ish years later, I sit on my couch in San Francisco and throw myself bodily into Shark Week. Every so often, I rattle off some shark facts to supplement what they're saying on TV, and my husband just shakes his head and puts away the Hawaii brochures.

Hungry? Get a menu pushed
under your door when I update:
Powered by
Copyright © 2002-2007 Stephanie Vander Weide