That moment when you are floating dreamily in the turquoise waters of Miami, soaking in the sun rays with a soft smile, staring out beyond the gentle waves to the deeper waters and pondering the dilemmas in your head… and then you turn around gently to look at the shore… and you see half a dozen people waving their arms high in the air. And your heart stops with the realization that there is only one reason people on shore do that kind of thing to a person in the ocean…
For an unexplainable minute, I stared at them, not registering that it could possibly be what I most feared. I looked around me, wanting to see a boat, or a jetski, or a couple heads nearby, something to explain why they were waving in my direction. There was nothing, I was completely alone. My eyes quickly scanned the clear blue waters around me for any sort of shadowy figures. They saw none. But the arms kept waving, and there were no boats, no other people anywhere near me, no other reason for their actions. And now I knew there was no other thing to do than to swim. Fast. Outrun whatever was coming towards me. It wasn’t until I was in full sprint that my mind transposed itself into that scene in Jaws, and suddenly, I was that girl in the bikini, swimming unknowingly, about to get eaten by something underneath her. But, I did know. I was undeniably aware that something was in the water with me, near me, and of how far the shore was from me. How did I get this far out? I screamed inside… ‘Maybe they were waving their arms because there is a rip tide, there’s no shark at all’, I tried to tell myself. ‘But then, if there’s a rip tide’, my mind continued as my body was in auto mode, ‘I will be pulled out to the sharks anyways, so I am no better off!’ Then, oddly enough, in those same moments of my life or death sprint, a scene from my years on the John Muir High School swim team came rushing back to me, and I was actually thinking about my form, and that it was a good form, nice, strong strokes, Shelly, and I envisioned the timer at the end of the lane telling me I beat my best time. ‘Uh, YEAH! Of course I did, I was outrunning a freaking shark, thank you very much!’ As I approached the kelp belt near the shore, I shot up and scanned around me, ready to see it there by my side, my arms continuing to pull the water so I moved forward. I knew sharks can come in knee deep water if they feel like it, so I started to swim once more, not feeling completely safe until I was on the other side of the kelp. Then, I stood there on the shore, dripping, staring out from where I just came, and I saw fins, they were swimming past where I had just exited the water, I thought it must be 6 feet long. Standing in horror with my hands to my chest, terrified, staring out at this enormous creature who just seconds before shared the waters with me, I was in a dreamscape, a tunnel vision, an altered state, unable to take my eyes from the fins swimming further down the shore.
Two of the people who were waving at me walked up to me just then. Seeing my panic still, they told me in their south american accents, “We ask the life guard and he says to us it is a carp…” “A shark?” I repeated. “He say no worry, that he don’t hurt, is a carp, but be careful anyway!!” they said, walking away hand in hand. My blood rushed back to my body and I let out a exhaling laugh. ‘Biggest fucking carp I’ve ever seen’, still not believing it’s a carp, ‘I know what carps look like!!’ I came home to Google ‘enormous carps’ and couldn’t find anything that looked similar. But I have to trust that the lifeguard knew what he was talking about.
Most of the time in life, you feel invincible, you are unaware mostly that you feel this way, but it’s just a natural thing I suppose. You go on with your routine, your life, your fill-in-the-blank, and you don’t think of the next step to be the one that could end your time on Earth. You have escaped death a million times, especially if you have siblings and survived childhood, it’s just what you do. But today, I actually felt for a few long, salty moments in time, that I am indeed flesh and blood. I felt what it’s like to say in my mind, “Awww, shit! Is this how it feels to have death take you by surprise?” I was angry at myself for wading out so far without concern, this oversight being the likely cause for my expiration. Life now slowed down to mere arm strokes. Nothing else existed, I was exposed, vulnerable, human.
It could be life imitating art in a way for me right now. All of these things, I have been contemplating these past few months… What it means to be vulnerable, can I expose my fears and get over them, how do I live fully present during the hard questions life brings me? And, maybe the answer to these was given to me as well by this gigantic, fearful carp creature. My fears and insecurities are the shark, but really, they are just carps out for a Thursday afternoon swim.