Thursday, January 8, 2015

Fight or Flight

We’ve all read uplifting news stories about acts of heroism: The woman who runs back into a burning building for the family pet, or the guy who rescues an old lady from a flood during a hurricane and hoists her into a National Guard helicopter basket while dozens look on in awe, capturing it all with their cell phones. 

It’s the kind of story you read on Yahoo News right between a description of Beyonce and Jay Z’s kid’s birthday party and a testimonial from a Japanese guy who found a human tooth in an order of McDonald’s fries in Tokyo. (Both of these stories were actually on Yahoo News yesterday. Go see for yourself). 

I don't think I'll ever be the subject of one of the aforementioned tales of heroism, and here's why:

One of my best friends from childhood used to accompany my family on lots of our vacations. Some of these trips were to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where we frolicked in the warm waters of the Southern Atlantic. It was on one such frolick that I happened to spot several dorsal fins also frolicking in the water, about 100 yards from shore.

Not being a marine biologist, but being 14 years old and a big fan of “Jaws," I knew this was a pod of Great White sharks (which I am now made to understand from the internet do not actually live in pods). So I screamed, “SHARKS!” to my friend, and knocked her over onto her ass while zooming toward the beach at warp speed. 

Did I take five seconds to try to save her too? Hells to the no, my friends! It was fight or flight, and I was going to save my own damn self.

I left Jaws and his posse to do to my friend what a stoned college freshman does to a hot meatball calzone delivered to his dorm room at 2:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning. I didn’t even care that my panicked splashing was sure to mimic a wounded seal, thereby drawing the pod of Great Whites ever faster to our precise location. I didn’t care, because I would presumably be watching from a towel and umbrella by the time Jaws et al. zeroed in on their prey.

From the safety of the beach, I turned around to face the ocean just in time to see six or eight beautiful dolphins breaching in the sun, like the cover of a Lisa Frank Trapper Keeper brought to life. 

I also saw the scowl on my friend’s face as my true colors had been revealed. “Oh I see how it is,” she muttered disappointedly to me as she dusted sand off her legs. 

The fact that she has remained my friend for the 23 years since I literally threw her to the sharks is a testament to her capacity for forgiveness. But I can’t say for sure that she ever went swimming with me in the ocean again.

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