My relationship with fish has always been a confusing one.
I grew up in a house with a big pond full of goldfish. I loved them. They were my friends (and my cat’s enemies). I fed them every day in summer and worried about them every day when our pond was frozen over in the winter. I loved them endlessly.
But, for the vast majority of my childhood I had one recurring, anti-fish dream that was really terrifying. It happened in two very consistent forms over the years and the premise for both was the same: I had to complete a task that involved going through water to get from A to B.
At the beginning of the task, the water was like unto a swimming pool. Clean. Clear. Chlorinated. As I progress, it got more natural – muddier, smellier and with more floaties. Panic started to set in as the seaweed appeared, tickling my toes and wrapping around my legs. I ran or swam on (depending on which version of the dream I was having) into the deeper water; the murkier water; the fishier water.
Things carried on getting more and more hairy until I was nearly at the end, almost free of this horrible experience. That’s when the piranhas came, snapping at my ankles – the sparkle of their teeth the only light coming from the now nearly opaque water. I always managed to get out just in the nick of time (with only a few nicks on my toes as evidence of the encounter).
Needless to say, it was terrifying.
Looking back, I think there were a few things that led to this fear of the water. A) Jaws. Just like the rest of the world. 2) A particularly awful experience on a canoe in Montana. C) my very active imagination. 4) That time my mom told me the log bobbing up and down in the water (water we were sitting on top of in a tiny boat) was a monster. I crawled up to the top of my dad’s head to try and hide under his hat.
While most of those are typical childhood fears, it’s C that really kept the panic afloat well into my adult life. I am now 32 and I am happy to say that things have changed. Slightly. Ponds can still fuck off. But there’s this new and wonderful thing I have discovered about swimming in what used to be my nemesis: the big, endless, deep, unfathomable ocean.
I have finally discovered my super power.
I can see under water.
You may know this by it’s more common term: goggles.
You know those stories you hear as a kid where someone is afraid of something so they are given a magical item (maybe special shoes or a magical hat or fairy gloves or something) and then they go along doing things they could never do before, not realising that the magic wasn’t coming from the thing but from inside of them without them knowing it? It’s was all so terribly heartwarming.
Well, that story happened to me. In fact, it is still happening to me. I haven’t quite gotten to the part where I can get along without goggles, but I am getting better. You see, before I had goggles, I imagined that when I was swimming, all the fish just below the surface were eyeing me up and planning their imminent attack, and that all the seaweed was wrapping itself in to tight curls around my ankles so in one swift move it could drag me down to the mer-world, never to set foot on land again.
When I wear goggles, though, I can see what’s actually down there. And what’s actually down there is a whole lot of fish who are either completely uninterested in me or very interested in not being anywhere near me. Then my biggest frustration is trying to get close to the damn things so I can see them and all their colorful glory without them running away from me in fear of their lives. Oh the irony. Now I am the scary thing stalking poor innocent creatures under the water.
After I started diving (that’s where this whole goggle thing came into the picture), I noticed something weird happening with my dreams. Instead of having scary dreams about water and the fish it contains, I started having dreams where I got into the water and actually went down to see what was going on down there. It was still a little scary (and, in typical my-dream fashion it was dark and mysterious and more than bizarrely surreal – think underwater gorillas), but I started to dream about being under the water, purposefully going check stuff out and to follow the fish and observe them going about their business.
It was a weird and wonderful thing.
Like I said, not all water is my friend now, but the ocean is a big enough place to keep me entertained for quite a while to come. Thanks to my new superpower, that is finally a fact that excites me much more than it terrifies me.