With summer upon us, and all of us keeping our eyes peeled on the waves at the shore for that blade of darkness rising up from the deep, it’s hard not to recall an almost.
An almost swept away by an undertow, an almost collision with something -- what was that? -- an ass over elbows tumble that almost left you in pieces. We’re not talking about the things that do happen. Hallelujah. We’re talking about the things that almost happen. So many they hardly count.
Except when it comes to sharks.
Mine was July, 1999. It wasn’t yesterday and it wasn’t at the Jersey shore, so don’t go searching.
I was lounging on the island of St. Martin while my husband was back at the hotel sick as a flopping fish. I wasn’t nursing him back to health. With all the money we spent on the trip why should both of us suffer. Maybe that’s where I went wrong; the sharks were coming to make me pay.
The sun glinted off the water, the waves lapped soft on the shore, the palm trees rustled. Big teeth, somewhere, chomped.
I put on my mask and fins and headed out for a long swim, tracing the shore so I wouldn’t lose my way. A small group drowsed, children skipped, sand squished.
One arm over the other -- reaching, pulling, gliding -- the sea stroking my dorsal spine like the mermaid I was meant to be.
Then ALL HELL BROKE LOOSE.
Hmmm, I thought, as I inhaled and gazed landward, the beach group is going NUTS. Something is happening but what does it have to do with me.
Did I say NUTS? On my next couple of breaths, I saw from my watery distance, the group had risen from its towels, had made its way to the shoreline, and was waving, frantically.
Hopping, yelling, pointing -- at what, to whom?
Now I’m used to open water. I’ve seen scary stuff. I’ve swam with sharks in groups of people -- reef sharks, nurse sharks. I’ve seen big barracuda, giant eels. I’m watching these screamers, and I’m thinking stone cold sissies.
Then I hear it, faint as a purr: Get in! Get in! Get in!
Then I stop thinking.
In the speed with which a doomed flying fish vaults out of its watery grave, I swam -- thrusting, hurling, gasping -- until my heaving body slapped the shore and rolled ass over elbows like cheese filling inside a tortilla made of sand, and flopped on the beach.
Whaaat is happening?
With a collapse of relief, their convulsions stopped. A shark, they said -- way bigger than me, two times bigger, three times bigger -- was my companion the whole time, its dorsal fin gliding next to my dorsal, it’s sleek back shining in the sun, its dark silhouette solid in the sea.
I never saw it. I was looking the other way. There is a God.
No, it probably wouldn’t have hurt me if I survived the heart attack from seeing it. Despite terrible tragedies, we know shark attacks are rare. This big lonely fish would have likely gone its slippery way and I wouldn’t have known a thing had my rescuers not freaked out on the shore.
No, nothing bad happened. It was an almost -- another almost in the banks of memory that download ever so faintly with each dive into the surf.
Did I say 5 times bigger?
July 14, 2019