The beginning: The King of Risk

Sharks are the worst. I’ve watched enough episodes of Shark Week and reruns of Jaws to know the precise motion of a shark attack. I’ve often been told that the best way to fend off a shark is to punch its nose.  This advice bothers me for two reasons. One: so many people have given me this advice, I must have a sign taped to my back stating “Bekah will be attacked by a shark during her life, do what you can.” And, two: a shark’s ‘nose’ is only inches away from a shark’s mouth and the shark’s mouth is the very thing I wish to avoid.

I’ve heard that when a shark attacks not only is your body being shredded by steel jaws but you are also drowning: water invading lungs, seeping into all vitals and suffocating your brain until it’s a floating raisin bumping against the inner curves of your skull. I knew this when my dad and brother Jonathan conned me into going on a shark dive with them. My dad is always eager for new dives and Jonathan—unlike me—will never turn down risk and danger. I’m sitting on the boat retracing every shark fact that has ever entered my brain: sharks can weigh over three thousand pounds, sharks have several rows of teeth, sharks can smell blood over a mile away, the bull, tiger and Great White are the most hungry for human flesh. Sharks-- huge muscular killing machines--have existed for thousands of years, plenty of time to perfect their attack strategy, whereas I’d only existed fifteen years and had no strategy whatsoever. Any possible strategy I may have had was dead in the water seeing as I was strapped to a forty pound metal oxygen tank with another twelve pounds strapped to my waist and was about to jump into shark infested waters. 

My rental wetsuit is well past its prime. Originally purple, it has now faded to a splotchy pink vomitesque color and chunks of it are missing, no doubt old shark puncture wounds. Yesterday, in preparation for the dive Jonathan researched sharks. He eagerly conveyed each new fact to the family while I hid in the bathroom trying to drown out his voice with the faucet. As I sat shaking on the granite counter, he disclosed that the scene in Jaws in which the shark rams through the boat—a scene I had conveniently chalked up to the dramatic antics of Hollywood—was actually possible. He had also found that punching a shark in the nose or gills will only probably stop it from attacking: “Guess you’re out of luck Bex!”

I finger the holes in my wetsuit and considered the strength of my right hook.

Brock, the lead instructor--tall, tan and twenty-something—is making an announcement to the boat: “The most important thing to remember is position. Once you reach the bottom rest on your knees, keep your arms crossed. NEVER allow them to hang loose. When a shark knocks into you, which trust me they WILL DO, and you begin to fall, do NOT put your arms out to catch yourself. Allow yourself to fall, one of the instructors will come by and help you up. If you put your arm out the sharks will assume you are feeding them. People, these are hungry sharks, they will bite.” He made an obscene snap with his jaw while one of his fellow instructors pretended to be shrieking in agony, clutching at the fake stump of an arm. They obviously find the entire scenario comic and laughable. I want to punch them both. I look at Jonathan; casually reclining, soaking in the sun (and a few girls’ admiring gazes) without a care in the world while I feel like pumping my inhaler in case of hyperventilation. Brock sees that I’m not laughing so he winks, trying to get some humor out of me. I consider fake laughing for the benefit of his ego-- he is, after all, tall, tan and twenty-something--but am too afraid that the vomit, which has been creeping up my throat for the past half hour, might escape, so I settle on a quick nod and smile. 

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