Summertime equals funnertime as so many southerners head to the beaches along the Gulf Coast during the summer months. I’m not much of a beach person (redheads tend to avoid the sun as much as possible) but the rest of my family, my son included, absolutely love it.
This year was no exception as we all caravanned toward the white sands of Destin. Most of my time was spent huddling beneath a large blue umbrella shoved firmly into the sand, avoiding the burning rays of the oppressive sun. Every few minutes I would pull out my heavy black binoculars to make sure my child was still romping in the waves with his cousins and not heading out too deep into the ocean.
Near the end of our trip I began to grow exceedingly exhausted by the heat and sand (how can the sand get into so many places so quickly?) and wanted to find something out of the sun to entertain Raff. However, his cousins were all headed for one final day at the beach. When I checked the forecast for the day, I was relieved to see that the skies were fully overcast, yet there were no warnings for storms. So I relented and agreed we could go to the beach again.
Raff was delighted to realize I was going to get into the ocean because I wasn’t having to cloister away again under my umbrella. I love the sounds, smells, and feeling of the ocean water, but I don’t like the feelings of knowing there are all sorts of sea creatures lurking here and there hidden in the sand or amongst the waves.
I waded out into the cool salty water, enjoying the squishy wet sand beneath my feet. Raff kept beckoning me to wade out deeper with him. While he’s a good swimmer he’s not used to the waves, currents or undertows, so I usually wouldn’t let him go further than waist deep. But since I was with him he knew he could venture out further. We had a great time swimming around, ducking under big waves, and being gently buoyed up by the smaller ones.
“Hey! There’s a big wave coming,” my niece Jocelyn shouted, pointing out into the ocean.
I looked out into the deeper part of the ocean and, sure enough, there was a large wave, cresting with white bubbles headed straight at us.
“Raff, hang on to me and hold your breath when the wave comes,” I said calmly. I wasn’t worried about the wave itself, but I knew I didn’t have time to swim to shallower waters before it swept over us. I was only concerned that Raff would take in a large gulp of saltwater and get choked, which often lead to him getting frantic.
We were first buoyed up by the water, and then slammed by the large wave. Raff held tight to me and took a big breath to hold right before we were hit by the deluge.
“You ok?” I asked Raff as he peered at me with big eyes.
“Yeah! That was awesome!” He said.
Suddenly, I felt movement in my one piece mom-suit. I looked down abruptly but realized I couldn’t see anything because of the water. Another wiggle on my abdomen sent me sprinting to the shore. And, of course, by sprinting, I mean that it took forever. Have you ever tried to get out of chest deep water very quickly? It just doesn’t happen.
While attempting to bolt like Usain to the shore and simultaneously hauling my 9-year-old by the arm along with me while screeching like a banshee, I’m sure I looked like I was having a seizure in slow motion.
The harder I ran the more the sand shifted under my feet preventing me from gaining any ground. The more I flailed around while trying to make it out of the water the more movement I felt in my bathing suit. By the time I had reached waist deep water other beach goers were looking concerned. I was making such a commotion that I saw the lifeguards running over to inspect the situation.
Raff kept asking me what was wrong, but I was so panicked that I couldn’t even form words. I just kept dragging him along out of the water with me.
After what seemed like an eternity I made it to thigh-deep water and suddenly felt sharp twinges of pain on my abdomen. I could effectively run, albeit slowly, onto the sand bank. At some point I had let go of my son’s hand, and he ran out of the water ahead of me.
“Yes!” I thought to myself. “Save yourself, son!” I just knew that whatever was biting my body was to have surely gobbled me up by the time I made it out of the water.
As soon as I reached dry sand my mother, sister, and two lifeguards came running.
“Something is in my bathing suit! And it’s biting me!” I wailed. I bent over to keep myself covered as I peeled down the top of my suit to rid myself of the sea creature.
And out flopped the gnarliest fish.
The lifeguards’ faces instantly fell.
“Oh,” one said to the other, “it’s just a sheep fish.” And they ambled away, no longer concerned with my traumatizing ordeal.
A man stepped forward to observe the flopping fish more closely. “I’ve heard of these things but never saw one in person. I bet you’ll have bite marks all over you with this fish. Their face looks like the face of a sheep, but their teeth are remarkably just like a human’s.”
He bent down and picked up the fish with ease, grasped it with both hands firmly, and showed me, and the crowd that had gathered around me, the inside of the fish’s mouth.
Everyone gasped as they took turns peering into the fish’s mouth. Sure enough, there was a set of teeth that looked as if someone had placed a small set of dentures into the fish’s mouth. Straight and white, that fish could put most Arkansans to shame!
I had seen enough. I was ready to leave the beach and head back to the condo. Raff and I made it back to our room where I immediately started the shower. There is nothing like having a slimy, bitey, sea creature in your bathing suit to make you feel like you need a good scrubbing. Once in the bathroom, I pulled off my cold suit, and sure enough, little teeth prints marked my abdomen. I knew I didn’t like all the things swimming in the ocean.
Once I got out of the shower and into clean clothes Raff came and found me.
“Mom, you know that they say if you get bit by something from the ocean it’s good to have someone pee on you.”
“Um, that’s only for jellyfish stings Raff.”
“Oops… good to know…” he said mischievously.