Charleston · Exodus Series: Arizona

Exodus, Part III: My Jaws Phobia

The ocean is evil. Or so I thought. For twenty-five years.

Having been raised in Ohio, all I knew about the ocean was based specifically on Jaws and Discovery Channel’s Shark Week. Roy Scheider’s “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” was enough to make me say uh-uh—that body of water is baaaad news—and I existed happily in my land-locked existence for a quarter of a century. I realize the ocean is pretty. It makes nice noises. And yes, even I wanted to run naked down the beach after watching the music video for Chris Issak’s “Wicked Game.” But there was no way I was getting in the water.

Then, I moved to Charleston, SC, and when I was first offered the job down here, I had no idea Charleston was on the ocean. It is. I mean, it’s ON the ocean. It could very well be the next sinking city, like Venice. We’re built below the flood plain, and when it rains, the tide breaks on the stoop of the Griffon Pub on Vendue Street. So there I was, a chick with a phobia of dark water, and I was moving to a place filled with the stuff. I did seek out the ocean on my first day here. I met my prospective coworkers. I ate a burger at Poe’s Tavern. Then, I said, “Point me to the water!” As if I couldn’t smell it. When you’re near the beach in Charleston, salt crystals practically plug your nose. That first day, I walked beside the sea. I touched my toe in the white foam, and I enjoyed the breeze and the mansions on Sullivan’s Island. But I didn’t go swimming.

I did go swimming at an employee party. We were out in Charleston harbor on a speed boat, and everyone just kind of jumped in the water. Seriously, they just jumped in, as if a huge great white shark wasn’t about to bite off their toes. They waved up at me, saying things like “Come in”… “The water’s fine.” I thought about it. I looked at my coworkers, and I decided I could out-swim at least a couple of them. Sharks go after the slowest and weakest, right? So I jumped in, and I rolled into a little ball. I’ve seen the movies, okay? I didn’t want to lose one of my legs. I got out about two minutes later, and I called my dad when I got home. I told my father what I’d done, and he said, “What’s WRONG with you? Are you INSANE?” This coming from a man who would later…well, I’m getting to that.

Since that first salty tumble, I’ve become a water baby. If the waves are rockin,’ I’m the first one in. In the old days, I used to wade in up to my knees, and that was only if there were other people swimming farther out. (Again, Jaws would get them first, right?) Now, I’m addicted to body-surfing. I know exactly when to jump to get the best ride in, and I know how to avoid being smashed into the beach at the end. I’ve gone sailing, and yes, I’ve done graceful swan dives into choppy surf from the bow of a boat. I have even gone swimming at night. After seeing a show at the Windjammer on Isle of Palms, my gal pals and me stripped down to nothing—at 2 o’clock in the morning—and wallowed in the pitch-blackness of the sea. Yes, father, your daughter is insane.

That being said, I haven’t told you the worst part. I told you I was getting to it; here it is. When my parents were visiting last summer, Dad and me were walking down the beach. Something moved to our left, and we both paused long enough to see a baby SHARK struggling in the tide. The baby SHARK got loose and shot off down the beach. We looked at each other. This was an important moment. Would we run away back to Ohio, screaming and waving our hands in the air, or would we…go swimming? My father and I went swimming. When we got out, he turned to me. “Well, at least we didn’t lose a leg,” he said, and I realized, screw the sharks. Screw Jaws, and screw Shark Week. The ocean was no longer evil. The ocean was, in fact, one of my favorite places to be.

Now, I’m leaving it. I’m leaving the ocean for desert, and it’s funny because this is what my friends seem most concerned about. Not about me moving to a new place where I don’t know anyone. Not about me finding work or a LIFE PURPOSE. No, they just ask, “What about the ocean?” I tell them it’s not going anywhere. Oh, and did I mention San Diego is a seventy-buck plane ride from Phoenix?

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