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  • Alexandra Hillenbrand


When I was about 12 years old, I stumbled into my living room where Jaws was passively playing on the television. A person of a curious nature, my attention was glued to the screen immediately. I sat down on my worn leather couch - eyes wide open in terror - as I watched the massive Great White shark (named Bruce of all things) maul innocent diver after innocent boater. The catch, I was going to Florida the following week.

At this point in my life, the priorities of my anxiety were as follows: ghosts living in my attic and the horror of wearing a skirt to school when everyone else wore jeans. Conveniently added to my list, right before I was to be surrounded by several large bodies of potentially shark-infested waters, was a menacing creature named Bruce. For my practical jokester family, this was thrilling news.

Due to my over-the-top and utterly vulnerable reactions to everything, I was often an easy target for whatever shenanigans they might drum up. Unfortunately for me, they are creative. There was a lot of well-thought-out scheming and plotting meant to torture me. Since I was constantly unaware and gullible, I shared with them my newfound fear. Huge mistake.

I stayed as close to the pool as possible. However, even that didn't feel safe for someone as paranoid as myself. (The theory was a shark might swim in through the drains). My dad would swim towards me, humming the Jaws theme song with his hand sticking out above the water like a shark. I've never burned as many calories or swam as fast in my life. Just as scared as when my mom pretended that the car was possessed by the ghost of Bloody Mary, rumored to haunt the bathrooms of Ridgewood Elementary.

I don't know what one might constitute as exposure therapy, but my family decided to take this to the next level. We were staying at the Hard Rock Hotel, which granted us free fast passes to Universal Studios. A dream come true for a book nerd with a sincere belief that she might yet prove to be a wizard. I galavanted around Harry Potter World, drinking butterbeers by the dozen and going on the "broom" ride through Hogwarts. I could have lived in peaceful bliss in that part of the park for the rest of my life. My family, however, had different plans.

We walked around the park and approached a sign for Amity Harbor. Ambling passed it, I thought nothing significant of the name of the place that we were entering. (My memory isn't exactly detail-oriented.) That is, until I saw a statue of a giant shark tied up in ropes displayed in the middle of the movie 'town'. I've never backtracked from a place so quickly, held back by the tall figures of my father and mother. This was their sadistic plan, they would force me to go on the ride in order to "face my fears".

One meltdown later, I realized that they were not going to compromise on this idea of theirs. Even if they were sincere in the idea that this was helping me, it was also guaranteed to be mega entertaining for them. I got on the ride, clutching my mother like I had all of those butterbeers. I prayed that I wouldn't die - whether from a shark attack or early-age cardiac arrest.

My fear was not that the animatronic shark would come to life. No, I'm not that much of an idiot. It was that, somehow, a neighboring shark would catch a whiff of the fact that this ride was meant to villainize one of its own kind. Logically, it would swim to the studio to terrorize the passengers and enact revenge. I just hoped I would be able to tell the difference.

I was dressed in hot pink cargo shorts, a white floral printed v-neck, and a full-body red layer of sunpoisoning. My hair was in a low ponytail - a la colonial man style - and my face had just acquired strawberry daiquiri-induced swelling and puffing. Curled in a ball, we met our tour guide. He let us know that he was taking us on a tour of Amity Harbor, the scene of the original shark attacks. His name was probably Mike. I could see right through his bullshit, I didn't even believe him when he said this was his hometown.

Mid-ride, we felt a huge bump on the side of our boat. I froze up, knowing what it meant. Mike was in denial, he told us it was just the tide. Then, I saw it, Bruce's successor. Big and meaty. I clutched my mother's knee with my pudgy little hands and started praying to Holy Mary. In hot pursuit, the shark chased our boat as Mike bumbled around the front, playing out the scene with his grating voice.

Get this, there were actual pyrotechnics on this ride. As in, Mike threw a flamethrower at Brucey and because there was "gasoline" spilled all over the harbor, the entire body of water lit up around up. I truly think my arm hairs singed off of my body. I think that's what killed the shark, and subsequently almost killed me. However. I honestly don't remember - I blacked out from going into a catatonic state. All I know is that I survived.

Did the exposure therapy work? I was finally able to go into the ocean (albeit at the shoreline) the following day. I gained a lot of empathy for the shark. I think if I heard Mike, Marty or what's his name doing a tour that sensationalized the death of my species, I might be pretty mad too. Then, he has the nerve to blow me up. He is capitalism personified.

Sorry, Steven Spielberg, but I still can't watch Jaws. The poster alone makes me want to throw up. It's okay though. I'm surprisingly pretty okay with Jurassic Park.

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