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The Weak Jew and the Sea

With the sole exception of Olympic swimmer Mark Spitz, Jews aren’t so good in the water. I personally feel my most Jewy surrounded by H2O. I feel like a victim. I feel vulnerable and inadequate. I still feel like I did when, at age twelve, I had to pass my swimming test during summer break. Already filled with dread at having to swim on command, I also happened to have my period and was too naïve to know that a tampon is meant to be inserted without the applicator. Each punishing stroke teleported my vagina to the last leg of a cross-English Chanel journey. The athletic record books don’t include me as a champion but they should.

Despite my uneasy history with water and despite hearing that inner voice Oprah is always blabbing about, I sometimes give the ocean one more chance. I give it one more chance like Angela Basset gives Larry Fishburne in What’s Love Got To Do With It. My story is just as abusive but perhaps more entertaining.

The year was 2008. I was visiting siblings Abbie and Jess close family friends in Isla Mujeres, a beautiful island near Cancun, Mexcio. These friends have been vacationing in Isla for over 10 years – they’re practically locals. They’re also Jews but nobody can tell because they’re athletic, speak fluent Spanish and run around in their bathing suits without a care in the world. They go food shopping in their bathing suits. Even the mom! I have not seen my mother in a bathing suit since I was six years old. The shame runs deep.

But this year I wanted to fight my thigh-hating lineage and embrace this unbelievable life my friends must have ordered from a J. Crew catalog. When Abbie suggested we go snorkeling off a boat on New Years Eve day I naturally needed more information. What kind of a boat? How long is the trip? Will there be snacks? I sucked it up, vowing to turn a page in the New Year ahead. We signed up at the snorkeling shop and climbed into the van that took us to the beach. I was feeling particularly cute since Weight Watchers was working for me that year. I was sporting sassy white boy shorts from H&M ($16) and a green and white Old Navy bikini top ($9). Slopped over the cuteness was a stinky neon orange life vest that rode up on me and irritated my sensitive jawline. No matter – this was a New Year adventure and I was so easy going about all of it! You could practically describe me as “laid back”!

About ten minutes into the ride it got very cloudy. The sky turned a charcoal gray (not unlike the gray duvet cover I’ve been eyeing at West Elm). I played it cool – no big deal, this is already awesome! We’re going to have a blast with or without sunshine! Totally! Then the boat started rocking violently back and forth. I nervously laughed it off as if I was a female Hemmingway roaming the sea for pure pleasure. In reality I was a nauseous land mammal.

30 minutes later, the captain, a young local Mexican speaking almost zero English, stopped the boat and pointed to the water. Everyone started fitting themselves with masks and flippers. At this point, I was trying to contain my ill will towards Abbie for getting me involved in this jock horse crap. I put on my flippers. No prob. I put on my mask and immediately went into a neon orange life vest-level terror alert. After two rickety nose jobs breathing without a mask is a bit of a chore for me but now with a claustrophobic bacteria-filled plastic face covering, I breathed about as easily as an obese man with sleep apnea. Nevertheless, the good sport that I am, I jumped off the swaying boat into the water. Abbie eagerly swam away from the boat and I disguised my dread by lamely swimming after her.

I put my face down to see what was below. The combination of barely being able to breathe, the choppy water and my overall disdain for creepy sea beings sent me over the edge when I saw just how far we were from the ocean floor. I yanked my head up, ripped off my snorkel mask and very appropriately yelled, “Panicking! Panicking!” Abbie paddled back, grabbed my arm and swam me back to the boat. Hanging off the side of the vessel, clinging to the metal, barnacle-covered ladder, I proceeded to vomit directly into the ocean. As I did, entire schools of fish came up from the water and devoured my vomit. It was actually kind of cool. Then I vomited fourteen more times. The captain of the boat, who could clearly hear me losing my grip on life, paid me no mind. “Do you have any crackers?” I yelled at him. Nada. With the little strength I had left, I climbed back into the boat (which was still swaying angrily). I lay motionless on the Astro-Turf material floor. Thousands of dollars spent at the dermatologist on 85th and Park did not deter me from planting my entire green face right on that fish-stained floor. I would deal with the wrath of Dr. Howard Sobel another time. This Astro-Turf was as comforting as a mother’s whisper to a baby.

That comfort only lasted so long because soon enough the nausea returned. I peeled myself off the floor and slowly shimmied off the side of the boat to visit my best friend, the barnacle ladder. This time, my body decided that vomiting was passé. And anyway, those fish that dined on my vomit probably craved a new dish. Why not poop? Okay! As a boat of school children – I am not joshing you – passed by, I pulled my adorable white boy shorts to the side and proceeded to crap into the ocean. My poop immediately floated away, embarrassed to be seen with me.

I was done. Depleted, humiliated and exhausted. I don’t know if the children in that boat are scarred for life, it’s not my responsibility and I didn’t make eye contact with any of them. I think I’m clear of any wrong-doing since it was in Mexico which is basically a lawless state. With every bit of energy wretched out of me, I climbed back onto the boat once again. The captain yelled something indecipherable to the snorkelers and they swam back to the boat. They were all yelling and smiling and cheerfully ripping off their soaking wet gear. I was forced to move from my restful splayed out position on the floor to an actual seat. Sitting upright was torture and listening to all the joys and wonders everyone experienced had me seething with anger. I continued to dry heave off the side of the boat while hearing about sea turtles, sting rays and many other facacta animals. Abbie stroked my back while I dramatically cried from exhaustion attempting to glean one ounce of pity from these people. A blond and buff couple that I had disliked from minute one loudly asked if anyone had ever eaten turtle soup. I fantasized about them plummeting to their deaths during a parasailing vacation adventure.

We finally hit the shore, climbed off the boat and Abbie practically carried me out of the water as if I was Tom Hanks from Castaway. Young families on the beach shook their heads at the loco gringo groaning her way back into town. As I crawled into my budget hotel bed, I was thrilled to be exactly where I should have been all along…on solid ground.

You can read more from Jeni Aron on her blog.

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