The Great Unknown and Me
Thalassophobia first came to me at 6 years old, when the Atlantic Ocean was swallowing me whole.
My hibiscus print swimsuit and L.L. Bean rash guard couldn’t protect me against the wicked currents that thrashed me around in Ocean City. My mother stood on the beach, hands on her hips, squinting under her visor to see me. Initially, she was livid. I had been told time and time again not to drift past the lifeguard chair. I don’t remember much. I can summarize my near-death experience into three life-altering events: inhaling sea water (sans gills made this incredibly unpleasant), flapping my arms wildly towards the sky, and the rubbery screech my small body made against the rescue can. My mother filled me in on the specifics years later, notably, that she had attempted to stage her own sea rescue. A bystander on the beach remarked that he had never seen a woman run so fast in all of his natural born life. My father, involved as ever, had missed the entire event. It was only when he plucked a wax-covered headphone from his ear did he discover that his daughter had nearly drowned. With a defeated sigh, I dried my tears with my monogrammed beach towel and asked,
“Can we go home now?”
This, of course, was only the beginning. Bi-weekly, I wake up in cold sweats from nightmares in which a non-specific boat I’m aboard capsizes, sending me into violent tides. Every so often, these dreams include: accidentally driving off of bridges, getting pulled underwater, Jaws style by vicious sea creatures, one time, my house was washed away completely by a freak tsunami.
When I tell people that I am petrified of open water, most assume that the sight of a Maldives desktop background sends me into complete and total panic.
“So you hate the beach?”
Of course I don’t hate the beach. I’m not a monster. I hate the near-black abyss that retains dead bodies, sunken ships, and the other 95 percent we don’t know about. There’s something sinister about the Bermuda Triangle, the Mary Celeste, the ability to submerge into oblivion. Is that not horrific to anyone else besides my fellow thalassophobes? As long as my feet feel sand, I’m placid. Keep me in control and I’m on top of the world.
But is it really the deep & daunting ocean we thalassophobes are so afraid of? Or is it the daunting concept we are not as in charge of our surroundings as we would like to imagine ourselves to be. The king’s blue is nothing like the world around us, in fact, I consider it to be something else entirely. Scientists have only scratched the surface of the ocean. What is it down there that makes it so unpredictable? So alluring? Uncontrollable? On land, there are very few things left to the imagination. Soil is tangible, the weather can be explained, land animals have been discovered, bred, and gone extinct. In the sea, anything and everything is possible; from sirens that lure gullible sailors, to Kraken that snap skips in half, we can accept these fantastical possibilities as truth because we have no reason to believe otherwise. The tides can change in an instant, regardless of how close you are to your safety net. Sometimes, it’s not up to you when you get swept away.
I am afraid of the off chance. I cower at the idea of things going wrong. I am in a constant state of duck and cover in my everyday life, from the age of six, now sixteen. I plan for everything, twice, even if it means I have to stay on shore.
Audrey Bartholomew ’19 || Online Content Editor