If I had a prior life, I definitely died at the hands (fins?) of a shark. This wasn’t a calm nip and slow exsanguination in warm, tropical waters. This was hard-core, shark-leaping-out-of-the-water, National Geographic-type attack. Epic. There’s no other explanation for my deeply subconscious deeply irrational fear of sharks.
When I was nine, my swim team occasionally practiced at the local high school. I was convinced this pool was home to a shark.
“But Helena,” you say, smugly, from your perch in the future wherein you know for certain that I did not die in a freak shark-related incident in a west Texan pool, “wouldn’t the pool water be clear? Wouldn’t you be able to see a shark?”
Yes, the pool water was clear. No matter. This shark was a ghost. An invisible ghost. I swam my face off to avoid him, all the while knowing that it was futile. Sharks had millennia of evolution on their side – they were designed to cut through the water and kill me. When it was time, it was time.
By eleven, I’d developed a reverse-psychology-esque defense mechanism. I started telling everyone that I was planning on becoming a marine biologist and sprouting pro-shark propaganda.
Did you know that more people are killed annual by bumblebees than sharks?
I wouldn’t get much closer to studying marine biology than a trip to the San Antonio Sea World.
I’m not sure where this fear devolved into a full blown phobia. I don’t swim anymore. I can’t submerge my head in water without my heart rate increasing notably. Yep, I’m kind of a nutcase.
Fear of ocean water doesn’t much impact my life in Chicago, so I’ve made no real effort to overcome it. It’s become another of my charming personal quirks. I’m not much of a beach person anyway.