“Get out of the water! It’s coming quick. We don’t know if it’s a dolphin or a shark!”
My pilot girlfriend and I were lounging in my multi-colored beach chairs on a section of the beach that offers no lifeguard protection. We were close enough to the Atlantic’s edge that tiny wavelets caressed our toes and dampened the edge of our towels on a day when the ocean resembled a lake, it was so calm.
“I mean it, get out now!” shouted the small but husky man wearing the blue Speedo. He was frantic.
Slowly and awkwardly the beachgoers made their way out of the ocean—-the tiny children whose parents hauled a multitude of neon-colored floats, the old people swimming alone who were the last to hear the warning and the first to heed it, and a number of young couples who could barely disengage from a kiss or embrace.
My girlfriend and I looked at each other, then at the man who continued to jog down the beach, still waving his arms and repeating his warning. A wave slapped my feet and I jumped, startled. I tucked my feet under me.
“You think there really is something out there?” I asked, scanning the ocean northward from where the man had run.
“I’m not finding out,” laughed my girlfriend, “But I’m guessing something’s out there.”
Just then, a petite woman wearing a tank suit and holding three purple “noodles” walked up to us. “If you look there,” she said pointing off to the left, “You’ll see the shadow. That’s it.”
And there it was, gliding through the clear shallow water, an ominous black shape. Every few seconds we glimpsed a black tip break the surface. This was definitely not a dolphin.
“Yeah, my husband was really worried, you know, so that’s why he is warning everyone,” she continued. I’m glad they are listening, because you don’t know, you know?”
She was right that you don’t know, but incorrect that everyone had heeded her husband’s warning. Just as she had pointed out the creature’s black shape, two men roughly in their 50s or early 60s jogged across the sand and into the ocean, swimming brisk, careful strokes as they made their way toward what everyone else was carefully avoiding.
“Oh you have got to be kidding me,” groaned my girlfriend. “Those two guys are swimming toward it? Please, lose the testosterone, boys.”
I marveled at the two men, for these were the two who are found in every group of humans—-the ones who stay in their offices because they know the fire alarm is false, the ones who never evacuate because they are certain the hurricane won’t damage their homes, the ones who deliberately take the risk in the face of any danger because, well, probably because they’ve been damn lucky when they have.
“It is so weird looking,” said my girlfriend about the dark shadow.
It was. This bizarre, no-name creature was swimming south at a good clip, right toward the men who’d chosen to meet it fin-on. But now, only one of the men was still willing to swim so close as to be able to touch it. I wanted to close my eyes tight, as I do during scary or tense scenes in a movie, but I couldn’t. Instead, I simply watched.
“Well at least one of them has a brain,” remarked my girlfriend about the second of the two men who’d decided to swim back to shore.
The brave one, or the idiot, depending on how you viewed the man approaching the unknown creature that was approaching monster status in everyone’s eyes, swam right up to it. I swear he reached out and touched the thing. Good Lord.
Seconds passed and he waved back at the crowd that had gathered on shore. “Just a ray, not even a sting ray,” he shouted in the sure confident way that men do when they’ve been sure all along. “Just a baby. He’ll grow big enough that you could ride him.” Right.
He swam back to shore as those waiting on shore waded out to meet him. As if he had single-handedly made the waters safe again. I looked around. The Speedo-clad man who had sounded the alarm was nowhere. Neither was his petite wife. But the man who had touched the ray was our hero. For now.
I struggle every day to know who to trust and who is worthy of my trust here in South Florida. Some days I feel totally secure at work; other days I am sure I am despised for something groundless or at least viewed as deserving of contempt for a transgression I never knew I committed. Some days my so-called friends like me, but next thing I know I am no one to them, until I am again.
Some days, I’d love to give myself over to the so-sure guy, the over-confident anyone. Lead me to wherever, I would invite them. Reassure me I am safe, I would suggest to them. Allow me to let my guard down, I would beg of them. Just be damn sure you are right.