The dark, lurking shadow quietly stalks me. I sprint as fast as my asthmatic lungs will allow, trying not to look down as it gains ground. The glass floor covering the ocean is starting to show wear from my body weight and then quickly spider-cracks. I close my eyes as soon as I hit the salty water. I’ll be taken ever so violently and fast as I’ve envisioned many times, right before I wake up.
What’s the statute of limitations for emotional distress? I wonder, Because Steven Spielberg, I may come for you.
I don’t want to write this. I can hardly look at a photo of one without automatically looking away. My Fitbit alerts me that my heart is racing as I begin research for this essay. Galeophobia or Selachophobia is the fear of sharks. For me, it is mainly the Great White that can and often does makes my pulse quicken and brings me to tears. It’s normal to wear shark repellent when you venture into the ocean, right? And only going in up to your waist of course, so you can run back to shore when someone inevitably yells, “SHARK!” No? Just me?
I’ve always loved the beach, the sound of the waves kissing the shore, the sun providing warmth as I hide my toes in the sand. It’s a shame a movie led to such anxiety when visiting any ocean, aquarium, or even a freaking swimming pool. Yes, I know there are no sharks in the pool, but that doesn’t mean my brain won’t imagine one. I’ve taken only one cruise to date and yes, I looked up “migration pattern of the Great White shark” prior to my departure. For me, even a cruise ship isn’t a big enough boat…
Shark Week on TV, not a fan, but I have uncomfortably sat through a few shark documentaries, be it with my face half covered and my feet certainly not touching the ground. Know your enemy. Don’t swim if bleeding. Check. Don’t wear shiny objects like jewelry in the water. Gotcha! Don’t look like a seal. I’ll try. If attacked, go for the eyes. Will do, if I don’t die of heart failure first.
Let me take you back to 1975. The year I was born, and Jaws was released, directed by the otherwise brilliant Mr. Spielberg. That shark, those lifeless eyes, rolling back as it attacks, the row upon row of dagger-like teeth, designed to rip into flesh. Know I was left unsupervised often as a child. Having access to entertainment I shouldn’t have had was easy. And please don’t come at me with the statistics regarding the slim chances of being eaten or bit by a shark. I’m 100% certain I will die this way, as I almost did before.
I was very young, too young to recall much else about that family vacation to Universal Studios in Hollywood, California. Our studio tour tram approached the mock-up of the Amity Harbor shoreline. Suddenly our tram started to sink and leaned to one side, and now there was “blood” in the water. Then, the music started. Duunnn dunnn…duuuunnn duun…duunnnnnnnn..dun..I have a feeling, in part, you might know what’s coming next.
My stepdad unexpectedly swooped me up from under my arms and leaned me over the side of the tram just as that infamous mechanical shark emerged out of the dark water. I was nose-to-nose with my greatest fear: those dark eyes, that huge mouth, wide open and waiting for me. I screamed, I cried, I squirmed. And then, my stepdad almost dropped me into the water! I’m later told some of the other tourist laughed and that my mom had to spend the rest of the tram tour trying to calm me down. Hollywood make believe wasn’t a concept that I could grasp at that young age. I thought it was a real shark and my stepdad was offering me up as lunch.
Fun fact. Did you know that the left-handed people are right-brain dominant? And that the right brain seems to be involved in fear? There was a study done in 2011 which showed that lefties are more easily scared. When a clip from the film Silence of the Lambs was shown to both left-handed and right-handed people, and the left-handed people displayed more classic signs of traumatic stress disorder. And here I thought the best “perk” of being left-handed was having the perfect conversation starter if I ever meet Brad Pitt, my left-handed celebrity crush.
Although I can’t recall which heart-stopping event I lived through first, the movie or that frightful experience at Universal, it doesn’t really matter. Go ahead and call it an irrational fear, I’m still checking migration patterns and will forever be afraid to go back into the water. Thanks, Mr. Spielberg!
Cher Finver is the author of But You Look So Good and Other Lies. She lives in Las Vegas, Nevada with her husband, daughter, and three dogs. She has no plans to face her fears and swim with sharks anytime soon.
Work Cited: Gray, Richard. “Left Handed People Are More Affected by Fear.” The Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, 1 May 2011, www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/8485239/Left-handed-people-are-more-affected-by-fear.html.