When I wake up in the morning, my eyesight is equivalent to that of a right hook recipient when they blearily come to in an animated TV show. In other words, I haven’t yet reached blindness on a bat’s scale, but I’m getting there. This myopia results in lots of hilarious mishaps like putting tights on backwards, scrunching my face in a not-so-cute Renée Zellweger impression, and witnessing blurry somethings out of the corner of my eye that should not be there.
This morning, for instance, I ventured into the bathroom and immediately saw a big, dark shape moving like discolored lightning on the far side of the room. Being ballsy (or stupid, as many a horror film casualty has proven), I edged slowly up to my mystery beast to avoid instigating a predatory attack akin to the physics-defying dorm room spider that once leapt three feet from a wall to my face. Still unable to see the perp, I leaned down to the floor as close as I dared and adopted my habitual squint, prompting the question: What the hell is that thing?
Quick as a spooked whippet, I turned and darted for glasses to figure out whether my David would be up against a Goliath of a roach (I know I’m technically the Goliath in this situation but we’re going by phobic proportions here), or if I’d merely trespassed on a butterfly mating ritual. While Hollywood proper is renowned for its household roaches, I’d had yet to encounter one in our current apartment, and my familiarity with the gargantuan palmetto bugs of Savannah and the millions of tiny brown roaches that hosted raves in the cupboards of my former downtown LA apartment still hasn’t honed my mom’s warrior woman ability to slap cockroaches to smithereens with her bare hands. Plus, I’ve always had a faux Buddhist sympathy for creepy crawlies that prevents me from crushing them unless they’re presently engaged in sapping my veins dry or look like they’re thinking about it (my hand is poised and ready for you, mosquitoes). So as I fled the bathroom in search of vision, my rationale was, “Let’s take a real look at what I’m about to try and catch.”
When I returned to the bathroom, four-eyed and ready to behold miniaturized Satan himself, horror ensued. The thing was now racing up the door that adjoined our roommate’s bedroom to our shared bathroom, and damn was this bugger mobile. Long, jointed legs seemingly sprouting from every millimeter of its wriggling body, it looked like a spider that had been stretched by some sociopathic scientist bent on terrorizing domestic comfort. It was nothing like I’d ever seen before, and as such I had no name or knowledge of its toxicity. I’d need a good trap and possibly a shot of adrenaline to the heart to brave the act of catching this sucker.
So I hurried back to the bedroom knowing that my time was limited to the speed of Dash Incredible plus 30 legs, and proceeded to hunt for trapping tools. Because the law of situational necessity requires that the tools you need in a desperate moment must go into hiding, no handy cans or boxes made themselves apparent to me, and I was forced to sacrifice an Urban Outfitters candle that happened to have a lid. As I grabbed my cucumber-melon scented snare and swiveled back toward my hunting ground, I heard the unmistakable click of the door locking: someone was in there, unknowingly holed up with a monster.
I waited until a second click affirmed my reentry, and lo and behold, the fiend was nowhere to be seen…
Terrified that my latency might have unleashed a deadly pathogen-wielding demon into the house, I pulled on sneakers and practically flew over the gap between the bathroom and our bed, tucking my limbs up as far away from the floor as possible and wrenching open my laptop to devote myself to an hour of Google research. With no certain place to start, I used child logic to guess at the insect’s species and plugged “Types of Centipedes” into the search engine. With a little digging through images of thick red, multi-legged, pincered behemoths, I came across my culprit, and thanks to the blog of biological science writer Madeline McCurry-Schmidt, I learned that my centipede went by the forename House.
According to McCurry-Schmidt and Kate Conway’s similar xoJane article, the house centipede is actually a helpful arthropod in the business of eating other household pests, like cockroaches, silverfish, and poor, poor spiders (don’t you know you could team up and hunt vermin together!?). House centipedes bleed purple (a good incentive not to squash them on that prized Van Gogh print), meticulously groom themselves (that there’s a clean varmint), can reach speeds up to 16 inches per second, live from three to seven years, and lay up to 150 eggs at a time. 150 x 7 (assuming they’re weird enough to reach reproductive maturity upon birth) equals 1050, so within the time it takes a puppy to turn 49, you could have a whole colony of house centipedes patrolling your hallways at night.
Fortunately, you won’t have to worry about disgusting infections the likes of which nobody wants to see while scrolling through Google Images, because your new cohabitational battalion is harmless to humans. With fangs tailor made to gobble up the tiny insects their hind legs have lassoed into submission (because yes, that’s how these bizarre creatures wrangle up their cockroach supper), their jaws are simply too small to penetrate human skin and the most damage they could inflict on our tough epidermises is a slight bee sting sensation or a brief allergic reaction. In fact, house centipedes are so nonthreatening when you inhabit our realm of giants that some Japanese people have taken to domesticating them for pest control purposes. Regionally known as “geji,” house centipedes are even available for purchase beside your hackneyed song birds and passé kittens in Japanese pet stores. That means, if I ever catch my newest roommate, big bucks may ensue.
Armed with all my new knowledge, I felt a little better about returning to the bathroom once the heebie-jeebies started to dissipate–that is until I stepped into the shower and noticed the drain was completely uncovered, indicating the intruder’s entryway. So we may have an infestation on our hands if 150 eggs just happened to be unloaded beneath our bathroom sink, but at least our new friends will continue to prevent our nonexistent cockroach problem. I’ll just have to endure these phantom crawling sensations while little Mr. HC browses for comfortable real estate somewhere in the dark corners of my house.
As a species, humans have a baffling obduracy to live wherever we darn well please on God’s green earth as long as Antarctic estates aren’t included in the realtor’s docket. From nomadic tribes to big business promulgators, we seem determined to plant our roots in every plot that fills both this planet and extraterrestrial acreage beyond–just as soon as lunar engineering is up to mass-developmental snuff. To top off our hunger for property, we play this game of land seizure with little regard for the progenitors of mythology: natural cataclysms that the cosmos allotted to each region of this planet long before we staked our mortgage claims.
In this country alone, the North bears the brunt of inhuming ice storms, the East is pummeled by hurricanes, tornadoes ramshackle the Midwest as they bypass the amicable route to Oz, the Northwest lives in the shadow of eight active volcanoes, tsunami-watch spans each coast, and here in California earthquakes reign supreme. Quite frankly, the United States is a veritable smörgåsbord of Mama Nature’s paroxysms.
In a country so tempestuous–even when we eschew the hailstorm that is bipartisan politics–finding invulnerable settlement means betting on a game of renter’s roulette. If someone ends up sowing their seeds in Tornado Alley, I understand that uprooting their entire life and relocating to milder climes when the cyclones amass is no cheap feat, but I can’t help wondering what convinced our nation’s migratory predecessors to hunker down in different disaster zones in the first place. I suppose when you contend with 23-foot long Ripper Lizards and giant sloths scrambling all over Pangea, the occasional lava flow is a small price to pay for a plot of arable land.
Personally, I took up residence in Los Angeles knowing that its toothy, clawed remnants of the Holocene epoch reside in the Page Museum and the only risky natural business I’d be facing was the fact that this be earthquake country. Besides the slight desk tremors that occasionally pique the excitement of Oregon school children, the first bona fide earthquake I ever experienced occurred at 6:30a.m. Hollywood time when our bed staged its own Evening with Fred Astaire and my boyfriend awoke with an inhuman, deep-sleep yell that aided the tectonic plates in rattling me to the core. This wake up call only reached a magnitude of 4.7 on the Richter Scale, but watching my Las Vegas memorabilia topple from the shelves and feeling the wall sway behind me was enough to instill an utter terror of bigger things to come.
And rumor has it in the scientific community that we SoCal residents ain’t seen nothing yet. Based on the geophysical research of Stanford seismologists, apocalyptic tidings of a massive earthquake hitting Los Angeles sometime in the next 30 years have swept across the internet via scientific forums and volatile comment sections alike. Expected to exceed 8.0 on the Richter Scale, this prophetically minacious tremor is fanning the already voracious flames of Godzilla-esque destruction hypotheses–that is, if his latest film depiction hadn’t been more aptly titled Hundreds of Humans and Their Tribulations, Two M.U.T.O.s, and Fleeting, Incessantly Interrupted Glimpses of Godzilla.
Some of the more imaginative voices of the online peanut gallery have taken these whisperings of catastrophic tectonics and ran with them until they’ve woven cautionary tales befitting Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Commenting on Tech Times’ review of Ker Than’s (associate director of communications for Stanford’s School of Earth Sciences) take on the impending LA quake, one such doomsayer predicted that, “[a]fter only a few days the Los Angeles area will be like a war zone. Eventually it will become uninhabitable. Thousands will die not from the quake but from the aftermath… I have had a dream over and over of a very long mass of weary looking people walking east on the interstate up the grade toward Barstow and the refugee camps set up there by the government. When you look back to the west all one can see to the horizon is smoke rising up from what was once a modern civilization now destroyed by mother nature. It will happen. My dreams always come true.”
Whether or not this commenter was film director Roland Emmerich posting under an alias is yet to be verified.
Unfortunately for us Angelinos, the aptly denoted “Big One” bodes more substantiated probability than the portentous theories that mankind will perish at the hands of bath salt zombies. According to Ker Than’s article for Stanford News, scientists have found a way to predict a future quake’s ground movement and shaking hazards by examining the ambient seismic field, or pressure pulses generated and projected through the earth’s crust by colliding ocean waves. While these ambient waves are notably “billions of times weaker than the seismic waves generated by earthquakes,” scientists like Marine Denolle have now learned how to mathematically compare these surface measurements to the temblor waves that occur deep within the earth.
By examining these “virtual earthquakes,” scientists verified a supercomputer’s prediction from 2006 concerning the San Andreas Fault in the Carrizo Plain, northwest of Los Angeles. This prediction suggested that if said fault should rupture, the seismic waves produced by an earthquake would be “funneled toward Los Angeles along a 60-mile [sedimentary] conduit that connects the city with the San Bernardino Valley.” To make matters worse, Los Angeles is a sitting duck atop a large sedimentary basin that study coauthor Eric Dunham compared to a jiggly dollop of gelatin in the midst of a plastic foam bowl. This means that if you’re lucky enough to have set up shop in the plastic foam terrain that circumvents Los Angeles, you might not have to hold on as tight as we Gelatinites strike vogue poses in our doorways to fend off falling furniture. Other cities unfortunate enough to have been founded upon these suicidal basins of sediment include Tokyo, Seattle, and parts of the Bay area, all of which simultaneously stand on the tectonically fruitful circum-Pacific seismic belt. Home to 75% of the world’s active and dormant volcanoes and 81% of the world’s largest earthquakes, this horseshoe-shaped calamity hotbed is a natural exemplar for a sequel to Pacific Rim: Pacific Ring of Fire.
I guess the moral to this disastrously consequential story is hire some scientists to dig in your dirt before inspiring 10 million people to come inhabit your city, you technologically ill-adept Chumash, Tataviam, and Tongva tribes, Spanish explorers, and gold prospectors of yesteryear. That, or just relax all you internet harbingers of doom. For no matter how many Essential Survival Kits-in-a-Can we accrue from California Surplus Mart, Mother Nature is going to do her thing, and because we’ll be a part of that natural ebb and flow no matter where we reside, there’s little point in toiling our lives away in premature fear. After all, a major quake hasn’t occurred along the San Andreas Fault in more than 150 years, and if that’s not enough to smooth out your apprehensive gooseflesh, we still have a supposed grace period of three decades to decide whether volcano, blizzard, tornado, or hurricane territory would be a more suitable habitat for relocation.
- Doomsayer. “Dystopian Dream.” Tech Times, Comment Section, 28 Jan. 2014. Web. 24 May 2014. <http://techtimes.com/articles/2967/20140128/los-angeles-brace-yourself-for-a-bigger-earthquake-scientists-predict.html>.
- Than, Ker. “Stanford scientists use ‘virtual earthquakes’ to forecast Los Angeles quake risk.” Stanford News, 23 Jan. 2014. Web. 24 May 2014. <http://news.stanford.edu/news/2014/january/la-quake-risk-012314.html>.
- “Is it true that scientists are predicting a really big earthquake will sink western California?” How Stuff Works, 7 Feb. 2001. Web. 24 May 2014. <http://science.howstuffworks.com/nature/natural-disasters/question567.htm>.
Dreams have a funny way of capitalizing on reality.
Last night I dreamt that myself, my sister, and my former roommate Greta had gathered at my mom’s old condo for a home alone slumber party for adults. While my compadres prepared a wholesome movie night, I crept away to my bedroom to concoct what my dream-self must have considered a pretty slick prank, and doused myself in the menthol-flavored fake blood left over from PROD 150 Makeup Design. When I entered my sister’s room smelling like candy canes and looking like Sissy Spacek in Carrie, all I received were pity chuckles, and I quickly discovered the brunt of my failed trickery when it occurred to me that cleaning this gunk was going to put movie night on hiatus.
Fortunately, the time frame of a dream is malleable and the next thing I knew I was standing in the bathroom, immaculately bloodless save for my hair. Moving to the shower to finish the job, I was met by a strange scene: the bathtub was filled to the brim, and standing in the midst of the water was an ironing board. But as usual, the surrealism of the dreamscape was lost on its participant, and instead of pondering the ironing board’s strange location, I was distracted by one of our cats as she attempted to leap from one side of the bathtub to the opposite, undershot it, and landed in the mysteriously drawn water, instantly clawing her way back to arid freedom. Laughing at the sodden cat’s expense, I left to rejoin my friends, and was stopped in the hallway by what my dream-self could have sworn was a figure framed within my bedroom doorway. I brushed this off as myopic deception, however, and reentered my sister’s room where faulty electricity was further hampering their movie plans. All around us, the lights were dimming, and to investigate we walked out into the hallway, where the lights rapidly dwindled out.
At this point, the mood of the dream changed dramatically.
“Is that a bird?” my sister asked, staring up at the dark ceiling. With no inkling of what she was observing, I stared around wildly and noticed another one of the cats and our dog had convened beside us, their eyes fixated upward as well. Suddenly I could hear it, something beating against the ceiling, as if moving erratically, but my eyes couldn’t seek the source in this dark room–perhaps it was coming from the room down the narrow hallway, shut behind a closed door: my mom’s room.
Anxiety beginning to heighten, I ushered everyone back into the bedroom where I suppose my bravado meant to shield them from harm. Moments later, perhaps via a noise forgotten since waking, I was drawn into the hallway again, this time attracted to my bedroom. Framed by the doorway and backlit by a blue glow from my window was a silhouette of what I thought was a little girl, a girl that clearly lacked the cheery disposition of most children. I opened my mouth and tried to scream as that silhouette seemed to draw closer to me, but the inhibitory nature of dreams caught my scream in my throat, allowing me to emit only an alto note that sounded as if I was screaming under water. My sister and Greta would never hear that yell, but my boyfriend certainly did and prodded me awake as I made that same drowning moan in reality.
If this were the concept for a horror film, it would receive scathing reviews, tank at the box office, and join the same cinematic leper list as Mama and White Noise. However, because it was a dream that fused elements of reality with the surrealism of my imagination, it was terrifying. While my boyfriend returned to sleep immediately after prodding me (evidence that his dream-self must have been KO-ing a moaning adversary), I stayed up with post-nightmare jitters, reliving not only the sense of panic that pervaded my dream but the honest memories that undeniably inspired it.
In reality, my mom’s old condo resided in a complex that would have been beautiful if all the edifices weren’t inspired by oversized gray boxes. Fortunately, the surrounding manicured landscape suggested a tranquil park, cut off from the bustling thoroughfares of Tanasbourne by an enclave of trees, and partitioned into rolling slopes that convened at a large, nutria-filled lake. With winding pathways, a recreation center, tennis courts, and a large pool, it was the perfect place to walk your dog, raise your children, and establish a relaxing homestead. But like any seemingly impeccable suburban neighborhood, cracks began to mar the wholesome visage and reveal a seedier interior than one would expect from a neighborhood filled with old people and children. On the block over, neighbors were evicted for erecting a meth lab in their condo and smashing out their windows, robbers hit numerous houses, including our own, and on one very frightening occasion my sister was followed by an eerie man who stood at the head of our street and stared at our unit for an unnervingly long time after she’d arrived safely behind our locked door.
But beyond the unseen thing encountered on an evening walk that made my dog bolt in the opposite direction, dragging my mom to safety with the power of a much younger pup, and the strange noises that once emanated through our floor from the crawlspace under the house, one of the most unnerving incidents we experienced on Midlake Lane occurred halfway through our nine-year occupancy.
It began one night while I was sitting against my wall-length closet, reading a book for freshman Lit while my mom and sister watched NBC primetime downstairs. Despite all the bizarre occurrences that plagued my otherwise peaceful neighborhood, my room was a place I always felt safe. It was my pristine refuge from the pet hair that had infiltrated the rest of the house, and better yet, it was far from the downstairs windows that burglars might peek through and the crawlspace that something had once inhabited. My room was a peaceful sanctuary, a place where I conducted photo shoots by the natural light of my enormous window, designed the interior décor to differentiate from the chili pepper color palette downstairs, and entertained guests on a futon that folded into a couch. So while sitting on the floor beside my closet in the midst of cleanliness and soft, ambient lighting, I felt totally at ease.
Until someone started breathing in my ear.
Prone to methodical conduct, I’m an individual who seeks reason and verification for the unexplainable, and as an older sister, machismo instinctively kicks in when faced with fear. So instead of reacting to the hairs that prickled on the back of my neck and running for the hills, I continued to sit there, listening intently to make certain I wasn’t hearing things. When the labored breathing didn’t desist, I pulled the dumb stunt that always offs the investigative characters in horror films and opened the closet doors, throwing caution to the wind despite the fact that I was inspecting a space that comfortably fits six grown men in a neighborhood prone to break-ins.
But there was nothing there.
With no sister to act courageous in front of, I let perturbation prevail and quickly made to join my family downstairs, allowing sitcom hilarity to pacify the situation.
I’m not quite positive of the order in which the rest of the events occurred, or even how spread out in time they were, but unfold they did and at an exponential rate. One day I was sitting downstairs, home alone, engaging in some leisurely couch-potatoing when suddenly the stereo in my upstairs bedroom blasted at full volume. After what might have been the closest I’ve ever come to a heart attack, I hurried upstairs to quell the noise, and found the stereo behind my closed door, playing on its own volition at a volume that I’d never amped it up to. The first time my sister was inducted into the unusual happenings, we were again seated on the downstairs couch, all four pets accounted for around us and my mom in transit from work, when something began to run back and forth across the upstairs hallway. The footfalls were so audible that there was no mistaking the sound, and I finally had someone to verify that what I was experiencing couldn’t be chalked up to schizophrenia.
Say what you will about veracity or fiction, but these experiences, whether paranormal or strangely logical, were very real, and ever since witnessing an old woman through a lighthouse keeper’s window and successively taking a tour that asserted the keeper’s wife had died years ago but was occasionally witnessed flitting through the house, I’ve erred more on the side of belief. So when all these occurrences began amassing in the Midlake condo, I decided the best and only course of action was to relax and embrace it. I took to personifying whatever was causing all the upstairs ruckus, calling it Joseph of all things and acting as if it was a devious but lovable uncle keen on spooking the family. Thus, whenever I was downstairs and all the pets eerily convened at the bottom of the stairwell, standing rigidly and staring up at the top landing, I would venture over to the staircase, look up at the hallway that was vacant to my human eyes, and say in joking patronization, “Oh Joseph, you mesmerizing the pets with that juggling act of yours again?”
If I were a ghost attempting to reek havoc in a household of women, I’m sure being ascribed a random name and being brushed off by the increasing use of, “Ohhh Joseph,” would irk me to the point of amplifying my scare tactics well beyond those of that pesky Paranormal Activity demon. But the newly christened Joseph just continued his old rambling shackles routine as if that was all he was capable of or as if the attention I was doting upon him was actually appeasing.
For some reason, my mom never experienced the pattering feet, slamming doors, and animal beguilement, but she was the only person who received outside verification that strange things were afoot. Apparently, our very grounded, businessman neighbor came to her with the question, “Have you been experiencing… things, in your house lately?” only to elaborate that alongside unexplainable noises, belongings were actually being thrown off his shelves. Apparently he wasn’t employing the “befriend your ghost” tactic. Soon it came out that the neighbor on the other side of our house was also enduring the occasional slammed door and petrified pet, and if it hadn’t been for the clarifying news that followed, I would have ventured to guess that we lived in a new physics-defying Mystery Spot. Thankfully, revelatory news traveled down the gray condo grapevine from the house on the end of the block, two doors down from ours. Apparently, a great uncle had come to visit the residents and actually died in the night during his stay. His unfortunate death in the midst of vacation occurred shortly before unexplainable phenomena began plaguing four houses on our block, and I suddenly felt lucky to have chosen “Joseph” instead of “Josefina.”
Eventually, the experiences dissipated entirely. I lost my newfound, clamorous friend, the pets went back to lazily idling about instead of standing on tenterhooks half the time, and my room was returned to a labored-respiration-free sanctuary. Years went by without incident, and all was blissfully quiet. After an nine-year relationship with old Midlake, we began making arrangements to fly our condominium coop as my mom prepared to move in with her new husband and my sister and I prepared for a monotonous summer of grocery store customer service. It was around this time that a second wave of uncanniness struck.
My mom’s room–the only room through which you could see the dark underbelly of her bed from the stairwell–seemed to emanate an increasing sense of wariness, and despite my lifelong tough guy act, I started feeling noticeably uncomfortable whenever my eyes were drawn to that bed on my way up the stairs. Around this same time, my mom started coming home to a situation that her daughters initially found hilarious: every day after work, my mom would enter her bathroom and find the toilet seat up, as if a man had used it. In a house full of women and two other bathrooms that my sister and I would choose over my mom’s in a heartbeat, this phenomenon was ridiculously strange, and unless my sister was the culprit, I honestly have no explanation.
With each plea of, “Girls, stop leaving the toilet seat open, it’s not funny anymore!” my mom became more nervous, and when she voiced her fear that maybe some stranger was holing up in our house while we were gone each day, we realized that we shouldn’t be laughing so heartily at her expense. The evening we made a breakthrough in the mystery of the upturned toilet seat, was when my sister was reading on my mom’s bed and heard the same audible breathing that first introduced me to Joseph, alluding to the hopeful idea that there was no living man squatting in our home when we were at work, but rather another attention-seeking presence that I felt certain wouldn’t harm us.
Although this one didn’t feel as innocent as Joseph.
Our final Midlake experience occurred very shortly before moving out. We were all bonding in my sister’s doorway, enjoying each other’s company amidst laughter and good conversation, when my sister’s pleasant demeanor dropped and she stared wide-eyed at my mom’s bedroom, illuminated down the hall. In her shock, she explained that she’d just witnessed a shadow move human-like across the drawn curtains, and for this shadowy, toilet-using fiend, we had no cheerful juggling banter.
Besides the occasional unpleasant vibe I got from my mom’s room, I serve only as a secondary narrator to these later incidents, and have no way of claiming their actuality. I’m only relieved that we didn’t endure whatever else this mouth-breathing, ill-mannered toilet user had in store for us, and beyond a couple questionable experiences in Savannah, Georgia–haunted capital of the US–my paranormal experiences have been reserved for occasional dreams that take actual memories and twist them until I’m left trying to scream through nonexistent water.
When I was still a tiny little thing small enough to lift my weight doing every last pull-up you’d dared me to, I lived in the mountain town of Oakridge, Oregon, an equally tiny city where the only activities beyond whittling bear statues and getting pregnant included mountain recreations and mingling at the local Dairy Queen. Coming from a family that spent most of their time alfresco, secretly avoiding people, outdoor recreation proved to be the obvious choice, and merrymaking ensued around winding dirt trails, up the sides of snow-peaked mountains, to the tops of waterfalls, and down the medium-level ski slopes where six-year-old girl pile ups only got in the way of real skiers. One of our favorite hobbies was venturing to bodies of water, as if the Moon in us was trying to get back to overseeing the tide. We spent the majority of our recreational time vacationing on the Pacific, donning on water socks to trapeze our way across the crystal clear Willamette (before it cascaded down the mountains into the city sludge that comprises the Portland waterfront), doubling up on jet skis at my uncle’s houseboat to ride the wake of speed boats and inevitably flip over three times, distracting ourselves from the nude old fogies at the hot springs by squishing sulphuric mud between our toes, and spending the day paddling around Oakridge’s many reservoirs, our skin getting browner and our locks bleaching in the sun.
One of our favorite spots on the reservoir, just a few winding, cliff-side miles from town, was CT Beach, a little inlet that looked upon an enormous picturesque lake where fishermen could deposit their boats and outdoorsy families like mine could lay out a picnic and then dive in. On one such outing, my family towed in a big inflatable raft and oars from my dad’s rowing days, and we set sail against the slight chop the wind picked up across the water. A beautiful day beamed down on the Moon-Wood family as the two little daughters paddled themselves in circles, when all of a sudden my dad–like all young dads before their children hit puberty and refuse to be amused–decided to shake things up and flip the boat.
Everybody flew from the raft shrieking through mouthfuls of water, angrily splashing my dad, and groaning, “Daaaaaaaddy!!!,” but I was far from able to unleash my juvenile wrath on anyone because I was accidentally tied to the boat. Upside down, fully submerged, and struggling against the little bounds I’d gotten myself caught in, I stared down into depths I would later discover looked like a cavernous mud vortex winding down to the center of the earth (that you could hike!) when they drained the reservoir. I couldn’t see far at the time because the water here was always thick with green silt, but I could imagine the life flourishing just out of view. Looking up was no better, as I beheld summer sunlight pirouetting across the undulating surface, reminding me that I was down below, in this dark, oppressively silent world.
This story clearly has a happy ending, as young athletic dads with a penchant for peevishness also tend to be very good at saving kids from overdramatized accidents, but a life experience like that changes a girl, and soon, little water baby Emily Moon was terrified of the element that had previously brought her so much joy. But that didn’t mean I immediately holed myself away in a desert trailer, turning on faucets with my eyes closed. When you’re an older sister, your entire life revolves around maintaining a facade of bravery for the little one’s sake, even when “the little one” is twenty years old and your “bravery” is put to the test simply catching the spider she’s screaming about.
With this sense of faux strength inflating my sails, I spent the next sixteen years approaching large bodies of water with a weird amalgamation of terror and domination, eager to beat back the aquatic threat that had done me no greater harm than instilling my irrational phobia. There were times when I almost lost the battle against the big blue drink–like the numerous times the stormy Pacific waves tried to beat me into a pulp against the sand below; the time a deceptively beautiful river in Westfir began to drag my wild-eyed, fervently paddling Shoobie away in its current and my dad–ever the aquacade hero–had to dive in and rescue her; and the time my cousin Mahina tried to leap from the houseboat deck to to my uncle’s boat, undershot it, and I experienced the cinematic cliché of gripping her hands while she begged me not to let her fall into the black, nighttime river below (fortunately, everyone’s parents came running before my clammy little hands resulted in Willamette folly). But in my relentless crusade to save face, I usually win, engaging in daring stunts just to thumb my nose at fear. Included in these reckless behaviors are swimming far out from shore by myself in Kauai, to the depths reserved for surfing the combers that break over the encompassing reef; swimming for hours on end at night, off of Tybee Island, when the world is black and the fish are feeding one state up from shark-beset Floridian waters; and pausing on the shore to listen to the sound of something big and lumbering, splashing through the water only feet away on a strange southern night when the beach fog was so thick you couldn’t see six inches in front of your face. While I’m none too eager to repeat the idiotic behaviors of my past, at least I can rack up the points against my phobia, limbs still wholly intact.
I don’t make the fight against fear easy for myself though. While harboring nightmares of the deep, I’ve always been incredibly fascinated by bodies of water: researching aquatic creatures–pelagic or otherwise, exploring multicultural mythologies bent on explaining away the sea, writing numerous stories that enveloped seafaring in some way, and squirming through every episode of River Monsters I could get my hands on, too distracted by the idea that freshwater’s teeming with terrifying things like pallid, Spanish river dolphins to admire my oldest man-crush to date: extreme wrangler Jeremy Wade.
Thus, it’s a strange, masochistic love affair I’ve got going on with water. On the one hand, water has chaperoned most of my life and provided me with some of the fondest memories I can summon to this day. Sure sharks feed at night, but lying there in a black bed of oscillating seawater while staring up at an enormous white moon was one of the most serene moments of my life. And declaring Monkey Head Rock officially seized while the tide swiftly began to close in was exhilarating. On the other hand, all this risky business I conduct to prove my “might” may very well lead to me straight down to Davy Jones’ locker on the Flying Dutchman Express.
Perhaps if I can surmount this fear of mine though, that wouldn’t be such a bad thing… At least there’s always the Bill Dance bloopers my dear Greta James introduced me to to get ya rootin’ for water!