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Shark Week

It’s Shark Week (July 11-18).

Gulp.

This is the time when all the nature channels air documentaries, movies, and specials about how beautiful and misunderstood sharks are.

I just don’t get it.

I’ve always loved animals, as in cuddly cute, furry ones. I even like spiders, bees, and wasps. But there are two animals that I am more than just wimpy about. Snakes and sharks terrify me. There is absolutely nothing cuddly or cute about a snake or a shark, even when they are babies. Both can kill me, and even though I’m not really afraid to die, I’m over-the-top horrified of death by shark, or snake.

So Capt’n Clean and I have now started our stay on Vieques Island, which is part of Puerto Rico. I love this place. It’s the best place on the planet to run, walk or hike because there are no snakes. Zero. Nada. Nil. Nary a one. Okay, maybe one. There are supposed to be boas in the rainforest part of the island, but because of the large wild horse population (about 2500) and a wonderful little creature called the mongoose, the rest of the isle is snakeless and thus, safe. Whew!

But, there are sharks that live in the waters around Puerto Rico. It’s been over 10 years since one has attacked someone, and sightings are rare. But I know they are there, and because of this, I swim only where I can see my feet and I don’t go too far out.

There is a very good reason for this. Hear me out.

My fear of sharks started way before Spielberg ever thought of Jaws. When I was about 8 years old, my grandparents, Mimi and Peepa took me and my younger brother, Dub, to Freeport, Texas. We stayed at a real beach house that had a long public pier right in front of it.

Mimi, Peepa, Dub and me

Dub and Mimi were fishing fools and got up early each morning to see what they could catch. I liked fishing as much as any wimpy 8-year-old, but even looking at the ocean made me seasick (yep, wimpy even then). My sweet Peepa would hang behind with me each morning until finally, one day, he coaxed me into taking a walk down the pier to find Mimi and Dub. I guess he figured that walking over the water would help my oceanic nausea condition.

It was a beautiful day and there were people fishing all along the pier. We had gotten about halfway down to the end and I started feeling queasy as I watched the waves steadily lap up against the posts that anchored the walkway. Back and forth. Swish and swosh, sloshing up and down. Peepa made me sit down next to a nice man and his wife who were fishing. They agreed to watch me as he continued down the pier searching for the more nautical members of my family. Back then adults could leave kids with strangers to keep an eye on them. There were nice people everywhere back then.

I sat between the couple as they told me all their seasick remedies, which included focusing on the horizon and eating dill pickles. I was trying my best to be a “big girl” when the nice man stood up and shouted, “I’ve got a bite!”

He reeled in and let out his line a few times, but even the excitement of catching a real ocean fish didn’t quell my churning stomach.

Finally, the man jerked his rod up in the air and pulled out a flopping creature that was about 18 inches long. It was a baby sand shark and it landed right at my feet. And then, horror of horrors, the creepy thing made eye contact with me, and so, to welcome the creature to the pier I immediately barfed all over it.

The nice lady put her arm around my shoulders and said something nice like, “There, there,” as the shark continued to give me the evil eye which to me meant, “I want to eat you so bad. If you were in the water, and I wasn’t on this stupid pier, you would be mine, all mine. Mwa-ha-ha!”

And, since that day, I’ve been deathly afraid of sharks.

I know that most sharks are supposedly nice and won’t hurt people, but I’m still scared. I know that there are only three types of sharks (the bull, great white, and tiger) that are aggressive, but that doesn’t help. Capt’n Clean, who is a diver, has swam with nurse sharks, and claims I would love it, but no siree, there’s no way I would get close to one. Besides, how can you tell if a shark is nice? Do nurse sharks wear little white nurse caps or something?

I won’t be watching any of the Shark Week specials this week, because despite the years, global warming, and other nasty things that have affected our beautiful oceans, somewhere out there in the briny main lives the brother-sister-niece-nephew, or close pal of that Freeport, Texas sand shark that I puked on, and, believe me, it’s gunning for me.

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This work by Anel “Pookie” Ryan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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