Fear and Fascination


August meant the loss of summertime’s ethereal haze. The barren landscape of RVs on the crest of Silver Strand State Beach was laid on a backdrop of breathtaking blue. In defiance of fleeting summer days, my brothers and I spent those days with salt water hitting our mouths and waves crashing on our heads, tugging our hair with the tide toward shore. The ocean remained unchanging, though the tide ever rolled in and retreated, in the early, squinty mornings of that endless summer to the cloudless nights where the star-dusted sky flowed through the horizon and into moonlit waves.

My idealism reached an all time high during that euphoric season. I was bound only by the limit of my imagination and as a result, I was limitless. One such limit to test, as it turned out, was the boating buoy a mile offshore. If I conquered that estranged red sphere, I theorized, I could conquer the looming months of high school ahead.

My brother and I ate lunch on the scorching white sand before kayaking out to the buoy. I was filled with a well-prepared turkey sandwich and confident exhilaration. My revel in the endlessness of that saltwater afternoon was merely a brief love affair I knew would come to an end all too soon. I could paddle out to that buoy, I thought. I could paddle out and around and away, off into open sea, to romantically perish at the hands (or teeth) of a shark.

God has a sense of humor. I am sure of it.

We were a mile offshore, just having circled the altogether unimpressive boating buoy. The up-and-down rhythm of the tide was lulling, and if our parched throats hadn’t driven us to paddle back, we might have been allured to explore further. The buoy certainly didn’t mind the company – he rarely had visitors. The beach stretched out far into the distance in front of us. We began to travel back.

When I saw the fin, I thought it was a dolphin. I saw and I thought and I idealized, as only I can do. My lens of crystalline serenity was shattered by my brother informing me that this was, in fact, a brown fin, not grey. Slightly miffed at the skewed reality that intruded on my romanticism, it took a moment to register that this fin was zigzagging directly toward the bow of our sturdy sea vessel, which was beginning to look a lot more like an endangered inflatable kayak. We froze. The fin slipped underwater right before reaching the front of the kayak. My arm muscles strained to keep the oar perfectly still across my lap and for an agonizing moment, all I could hear was the labored breathing of my brother and the gentle lapping of the water against the boat.

And then she was right there.

She passed under the kayak, and it was just my luck that she reappeared not two feet from my trembling hands. Just barely below me, and as large, if not larger than our ten-foot kayak, she was close enough to touch. I watched in breathless awe as she passed. Her monstrous back was speckled with a vividly unique design, and her jagged tail lazily propelled her out into the open sea behind us. While I was terrified out of my mind, I also envied her. In the midst of my fear, I felt fascination and a desire to share in her freedom, to glide through the vast ocean, unhindered by worries and cares.

That August and every August since, I envy the shark.