Previously published in “Vodka Yonic,” an alternative women’s column in the Nashville Scene, and Charlotte, NC Creative Loafing.
I have an ongoing love/terror relationship with the ocean.
As much as I love, and need, semi-regular visits to the sea, due to my debilitating fear of sharks (and for that I would like to thank my parents for taking me to see Jaws in 1975 when I was 10 years old), until a couple of years ago, I thought they were the only fish I had to worry about.
I was swimming in the gulf one beautiful day — more floating than swimming, really — bobbing gently on the waves… in no more than four feet of water of course, not deep enough for anything too big to silently swim beneath me, all while scanning the horizon for dorsal fins…
Staying in shallow water is one of my personal safety rules to avoid sharks that are large enough to eat me. Another rule is to never be the farthest one out; I am always aware when people are farther out to sea than me, and the minute they come in, I back up, until someone is again farther out. My theory is that if a shark comes in for lunch, he’ll be loudly snacking on the people who did not follow my safety rules, all while I quietly back out of the ocean.
After my float, I was relaxing back on land when nature called. Normally, I would just pee in the ocean (don’t judge me — millions of animals pee in it every day), but since I’d been out of the water for a while and had dried off, I didn’t want to go back in right that minute for a potty break, so I went to the real bathrooms out in the parking lot.
As I pulled down the bottom of my bathing suit, a dead fish roughly 3 inches long fell out and plopped onto the nasty concrete floor at my feet. I stared in horror. He was tiny as far as, say, bait goes, but not so tiny that I shouldn’t have felt him swimming around in my bathing suit bottoms in the first place.
At what point did he swim into what he likely thought was a particularly enticing cave, happily splish-splashing straight into his own jaws of death?
And then — after I had inadvertently pulled him out of the water to his imminent demise — I never felt him flopping around, gasping for air in his death throes, either. Surely there must have been some movement, some struggle that I would have recognized as an animal dying in my pants? I can think of few more undignified ways of dying than in someone’s pants, especially when they don’t even have the decency to notice.
Which leads me to the glaringly obvious and most disturbing question of all: Just how big is my ass? So big, apparently, that I cannot feel a living creature dying in my pants.
I felt terrible, not only that he had died in such an ignoble way, and that my rear end was apparently the size of a small pond, but that he died at all. If only I had known he was there, I would have rescued him from my valley of death and set him free. The guilt, as I stood there, staring at his lifeless, scaly little body, was overwhelming.
As I paced in the stall, trying to wrap my mind around all of the tragic things that had been happening without my knowledge — things that had obviously caused this poor creature’s death — I was suddenly filled with gratitude, because nobody had seen it fall out of my pants.
Can you imagine a graceful way to play off a dead fish falling out of the bottom of your swimsuit?
No, you probably can’t.
I couldn’t just leave him there on the floor, so I gently picked him up with a piece of toilet paper and gave him the most dignified toilet funeral I could. I placed him in the bowl and said a few words, mostly apologizing profusely that my butt was so huge. I then told him goodbye and sent him down that swirling whirlpool to the afterlife. A wild and free creature of the sea just got the standard funeral service given to a beloved family goldfish, so perhaps something was made right in the world.
Now, not only do I still retain a gnawing fear of sharks, I now have a perpetual suspicion of every little thing that might be lurking in the water. And while I can’t predict if I’ll meet my end at the mouth of Jaws, I can assure you that no other sea creature will die in my pants.