On the last day of our Florida vacation, I decided to take the kids snorkeling on a coral reef in the keys. I spent my childhood hovering over sea life with a plastic tube shoved in my mouth while my back bubbled in the sun and I wanted to give my kids that same experience. Buck and Emerson snorkeled once in Hawaii, but August has never snorkeled and he wasn’t exactly thrilled to try it. So all the way down to the keys I gave it a hard sell. It’s so fun… You’re surrounded by fish… Coral reefs are amazing… We might even see a shark… you know, a nice one that won’t tear us unto crepe paper…
But still, August was wary…
The boat was captained by two salty old men, the kind you expect to find leaning over a pier with a fishing rod in one hand and a cigarette in the other. They were obviously good friends and I imagined they did things like clean the hull of a boat together while listening to George Jones or heading down to Guatemala to watch women have sex with donkeys. Next to the boat was a truck parked loaded with bumper stickers that said things like, “Bomb them all” and “Not a liberal” and I suspected it was driven by one of them — either Billy Bob or Bobby Bill — my nicknames for them.
They were friendly though and didn’t make a pretense of trying to get to know us. They called me “Mom” and the kids “little boy” or “little girl” the whole time. When I said, “Buck’s actually a boy. He just has long hair”, they looked at me confused, the gears of their brains grinding to a halt, and then continued to call him little girl.
When we got to the dive site, I peered over the side of the boat and was shocked to see hundreds and hundreds of jelly fish floating by.
Bobby Bill told me they were Moon Jellyfish and this was the time of year they saw a lot of them. “They don’t sting like man-a-war. They just send out a cloud of poison that makes ya itch. If one gets ya, we have stuff onboard we can put on it.” Billy Bob said while Bobby Bill smiled and flicked a booger into the water. I looked at my kids who stared terrified at the ocean churning with jellyfish and tried to lighten the situation by saying, “Hey, we can pretend we’re Spongebob going to Jellyfish Fields!” Buck looked at me and said flatly, “I’m not getting in.” The others agreed and sat defiantly on the boat.
So I got in, all calm like, to show them it was safe. I stuck my mask in the water and let out a silent scream. It was like “Night of the Living Dead” but with jellyfish. There were jellyfish everywhere, pulsing slowly towards me. I fought my urge to walk on water back to the boat and just stuck my head up and said, “It’s great in here! The jellyfish are no problem!” Ever so slowly, one by one, my very brave children got in the water.
And then everything was great. Snorkeling was just as amazing as I always remembered. We swam in schools of fish. We saw a barracuda. A eel poked it’s head out from the coral. Towards the end of our dive, I saw something giant out of the corner of my mask and headed over to check it out. It was an enormous loggerhead turtle swimming around the bottom of the reef. I called the kids over and August arrived first. I kept my face in the water so I could keep my eye on the turtle and I reached out blindly to pull August towards me. But instead of grabbing August, I accidentally grabbed an enormous jellyfish and pulled it right in front of my face.
I quickly let go of the jellyfish, but it was too late. It had released it’s cloud of poison and in an instant I felt like I was covered in fire ants. August started screaming, “I’ve got the itchy’s! I’ve got the itchy’s!” I could hear real panic in his voice and I threw him on my back and swam like Michael Phelps back to the boat, knocking into several more jellyfish on their way so they could release their clouds of poison on the few remaining parts of our bodies that weren’t on fire. Once on the boat, Bobby Bill got out the remedy that supposedly got rid of the flaming itching feeling that covered the entire surface of my skin. It turned out to be just a large jug of vinegar which he poured all over us and into my eyes. Fortunately, the vinegar did the trick and now sightless and smelling like a fermented vegetable, we headed back to shore.
By the time we drove home to Miami, August was the hero of the day, fighting off hordes of jellyfish with the battle cry of “I’ve got the itchy’s!” I’ve heard Buck and Emerson already tell the story a million times of the jellyfish and how their mom was screaming and flailing in the water. That’s the part they laugh at the most — me screaming and flailing.
Every vacation needs a story to tell and we found ours in the warm waters of the keys with it’s thousands of zombie jellyfish.
And as for Billy Bob and Bobby Bill, I put twenty dollars in the plastic tip jar that was duct taped next to their cooler and I can’t help but wonder, What unspeakable things have they done with that money? Another bumper sticker maybe? Some more tubing for their moonshine still?
Or perhaps a down payment from a mail order bride catalog…
I hope I never know.