Archive for February, 2013

Not A Sad Post.

Note: I just wanted to write that so you’d actually read it and not be like, “Oh here Kate goes again with her boo-hoo’ing.”

Note 2: But it really is NOT a sad post.

When I was very young, I desperately wanted to be a marine biologist. I also wanted to be a veterinarian. In fact, I really wanted to be both; my plan was that I’d spend my summers doing whatever it is a marine biologist does, then I’d treat dogs and cats and hamsters during the winter months. Sort of like how birds fly south for winter, except I’d stay in Philly, because I love the snow. (Birds don’t know what they’re missing. Snowmen, snow angels, hot chocolate that stings your thawing hands… and instead they head on tired wings to warmer skies.)

My family would go to aquariums, and I’d want books about all different types of fish. I wanted to save whales and train dolphins. I had this one book that had a paper wheel on the cover. You could spin various layers of the wheel that had fish characteristics, and then an opening on the bottom would tell you what sea creature had all of those characteristics. I loved that book.

At this point in my life, my brother and I spent a lot of time at my grandparents house. They lived nearby, and had a pool, and my grandmother made the best freaking french toast you’ve ever had in your life. (Except, if you’re reading this, you most like never had it, and that makes me sad for you.) My grandfather is a very imposing fellow; he’s like 9’2,” skinny as a rail, and has this deep baritone voice that would scare Mikey out of liking Life cereal. (Ok, no, he isn’t really 9’2″ but it seems like he is.) He also loves movies… any type of movies really. He would tape movies off the TV, put them in plain black VHS cases with labels on both the front and side to tell you what’s on them, and then he would catalogue them into these little black books he kept. He has hundreds and hundreds of movies. His favorites are action and horror movies though. The best part is that he normally had no qualms about watching these movies in front of children.

When I was about 7 years old, I was at my grandparents’ house, and my grandfather was watching a documentary on sharks. It was fascinating, and the budding marine biologist in me was riveted. It was about this beach town called Amity, New Jersey (not too far from Philly!!!) and this very kind-looking sheriff and his family, and OHMYGOD THERE’S A SHARK EATING CHILDREN WHAT KIND OF DOCUMENTARY IS THIS? It turns out it wasn’t a documentary after all, it was a horror movie. (Jaws.)

For about the next decade, I had a hard time going into their (8 foot deep, chlorinated) swimming pool because of sharks. That’s completely true. If I tried to jump off the diving board, I would see Jaws jumping out of the water and swallowing me whole. I sometimes had nightmares getting into a bathtub, that a miniature shark would swim up the drain. And the ocean?? Not a chance. I was deathly afraid of both sharks and drowning (mostly sharks dragging me down to the ocean floor and drowning me).

This fear never abated. Even today, I am just as afraid of sharks as I was the day that I saw Jaws for the first time. I’ve seen all the Jaws movies now, multiple times, but I consider that research just in case I ever come face-to-face with a vengeful, gigantic, woman-eating great white.

When I started dating Andrew, he told me he was scuba certified, which to me is like THE BRAVEST THING IN THE WORLD. (Him going to Iraq for 18 months? Second bravest. I’m kidding, I’m kidding.) But then I got nervous… at some point he’s going to want to scuba. So I decide I’m going to gently explain my deathly fear of sharks with all the ins and outs. It went sort of like,

Andrew: I’m scuba certified.
Kate: I’m kind of afraid of sharks. So how about those Phillies huh?

I really don’t think that struck home exactly how numbingly afraid I am.

Andrew has this fascination with zoos and aquariums. He LOVES them, and will find any excuse to go to them. One time, VERY early into us dating, he mentioned that Atlanta (Georgia) supposedly has the biggest sharks on the planet at their aquarium. Somehow, we decided that we wanted to go to Atlanta to see them.

While planning the trip, I found out that you can actually SCUBA with these gigantic devils. I thought to myself, “This is a perfect gift for Andrew, to celebrate his birthday and his deployment.” However, in fishing for (discreet) information, I found out that he didn’t know where his certification paperwork is.

BUT! The Atlanta Aquarium ALSO allows snorkeling with the sharks, which of course doesn’t require certification. Perfect! Except then I thought… would he really want to snorkel by himself? That seems sort of stupid.

So… I don’t know what happened, but I decided, “Oh screw it” and decided I would swim with them too. Because I lost my mind.

I told Andrew about our snorkeling adventure the day before, while we were in the hotel room planning the aquarium visit. He was excited; I was petrified and wished I was on the plane back to Philly.

We spent almost the entire next day at the aquarium. It’s an amazing place, so if you’re ever in Atlanta, I highly recommend a visit. Our appointment was right at closing time. (Being in an aquarium is CREEPY when there are no schools of children around the schools of fish.) They gave us a tour and showed us a video and went over safety instructions. Then they marched us to locker rooms where we donned our wetsuits. They fitted us with flippers, gloves, and masks. Then they asked if I wanted to try to “snorkel” with the scuba equipment, rather than a snorkel. I shyly said okay, and while standing safely on land I breathed into the regulator and everything seemed grand.

Then we got into the water. The equipment buoyed us up so we weren’t physically able to scuba, and I put in the regulator and mask and put my head under the water… and panicked. I was unable to breathe out of my mouth; my lungs burning, I tried breathing out of my nose (which had a mask of course). I flailed and jerked my head out of the water, ripped off the mask, and said to the people on the dock, “I CAN’T DO THIS.” I knew I was going to die. If the (non-man-eating) sharks in the tank didn’t eat me, then the non-functioning (it really WAS functioning) regulator would. I looked over at Andrew, who still had his head blissfully under the water. I was shaking so badly. I was going to either (1) die at the hands of shark or scuba gear or (2) disappoint Andrew, which I didn’t want to do. I tried again. Same result. I wanted to cry. I WANTED to do this for Andrew, but I was petrified. At this point, he was lazily bobbing in the water, waiting for me to… I don’t know what… He didn’t say anything. He didn’t say “there there, it’s ok” and he also didn’t say “you’re an asshole, suck it up.”

You may think this is an uncaring thing for him to do, but I look at it differently. He was treating me as an adult. It was my decision, and I don’t think he would have been disappointed either way. He knew I could figure it out, and he let me try.

The divemaster finally gave me a snorkel and asked me to try that (I’ve never snorkeled before either, for obvious reasons), but I was shaking and dejected and I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it. And I looked over at Andrew before I said no, and suddenly decided I just wanted to try. I wanted to do it for him. Just try one more time.

So I did. And it worked!!! We spent the next 30 minutes or so swimming along the top of the gigantic tank in an empty aquarium. These (completely gentle) sharks are absolutely the biggest things I could have ever imagined. One ran into Andrew and knocked him a bit, which was possibly my favorite part.

I’m still afraid of sharks. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to scuba. I think I will ALWAYS think twice before jumping into any body of water. But I did it.

So Happy Valentine’s Day to Andrew, the only person on the planet I would have tried one more time for.


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