So after my post last week about St. Kitts, I got to thinking about some other experiences that might explain my fear of the ocean. (like I need more, right?) One experience sticks out in my mind...
Picture it, Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana, 1984. I was born in Louisiana and I was about 6 years old in 1984. My parents had a sailboat and we would go out in the lake as much as possible when I was growing up. I loved being on the water. I would often fall asleep to the rocking of the waves and it was so relaxing to be out there with no motor, just the wind in the sails and the sun on your face. Speaking of sun, you can imagine Louisiana in the summer gets pretty hot and muggy and my older brother and I would get cranky if we didn't have a way to cool off. So, to combat our overheated crank, my parents would put life jackets on us, tie ropes to our waist and let us swim in the lake behind the drifting boat. The jib was probably left up so the boat would move a bit, but we were tied on, so no worries right??
Well, for those who don't know, there are sharks in Lake Pontchartrain. I shit you not. Sharks. And don't go telling me that it's fresh water, because it's not pure freshwater, it's brackish water, meaning kinda salty...enough salt that a giant bull shark to live in. And it's not actually a lake, it's an estuary, meaning directly connects to the ocean...so a giant shark can get to it.
My dad told us that there might be sharks in the water and that if we saw one we should swim calmly back to the boat. Since we were like 6 and 9 years old, we blindly trusted our parents and knew that they would never put us in harms way. Unfortunately, my Aunt Carol who was 16 in 1984 was visiting us from Ohio and she didn't have the same blind trust we did.
One day, we all went out sailing and of course, it got hot. I didn't swim for long, I just got in, cooled off and got out. My brother and Aunt Carol swam for awhile longer than me and Carol was clearly having an internal struggle. She was trying to decide between death by shark and death by heatstroke. She must have decided that shark would be quicker and maybe less likely so she stayed out with my brother in the water for awhile.
Suddenly, Carol turns white as a ghost and starts screaming Shark!! SHARK SHARK SHARK!!!!!! My dad looks scared and pulls on the ropes holding Carol and my brother, because really, when you think about it, two kids tied to the back of a boat in shark infested waters isn't really swimming, IT'S TROLLING!
Carol is flailing wildly in the water while my parents look around for the shark. While Carol loses her shit, my brother begins to very slowly and cautiously swim back to the boat. Not a moment of panic on his face, just concentration on being inconspicuous and likely hoping that the shark will be more attracted to the helpless flailing of my aunt.
After reeling Carol in, it became apparent that there was no shark. The string from her life jacket brushed against her leg and she perceived this as a shark swim-by.
After that, I was reluctant to get back in Lake Pontchartrain. That fear even carried over to Lake Erie when we moved to Ohio. I mean really, I was 8 at that point and no one was going to tell me that the lake in Louisiana had sharks but somehow the lake in Ohio didn't. Who would believe that? I really thought my dad was lying to keep me from being scared.