The first thing Randy and I generally do when we get to Mexico is take our giant hairy dog down to the ocean so he can throw his fat ass around in the water for ten minutes to get the smell of rest stop off him. The Jake takes off down the shoreline like a racehorse but he can realistically only swim for maybe forty, forty-five seconds at a stretch before he starts whining the Lord's Prayer and trying to drown himself. Ten minutes of this, of hauling himself in and out of the water like a crippled walrus, and Jake will lie motionless on the cold tile floor of the condo for thirty-six consecutive hours. It's exactly what I'm trying to get out of the pet/owner relationship; a dog that doesn't flinch when I use his furry comatose flank to brush the sand off my feet. For three straight days.
So when we were in Mexico a few weeks ago the first thing we did was change into our bathing suits and follow our dog down to the water. No time like the present, right, my filthy feet aren't going to brush themselves off. On the way we noticed a couple of tiny jellyfish sprawled out on the shore. Unlike the larger pale pink jellies I grew up avoiding in Florida, these guys are hard to miss because they're bright, bright blue. It's not uncommon to see them periodically in Rocky Point-- they'll move in with one tide and move out with the next-- but I've never had any trouble with them. In the first place, they're really small. Quarter-sized harmless blobs, really. Secondly, they absolutely suck at camouflage. I don't know, it's just hard to be intimidated by a button-sized glob floating at me that I can point out and laugh at from five feet away. Pshaw, nature. Pshaw, I say.
And this swimming excursion wasn't any different than it usually is; Randy repeatedly coaxed Jake out of his comfort depth to force him into churning his fat legs off the ocean floor, I repeatedly convinced Jake not to give up and sink lethargically under the surface like that quitter in Open Water, and none of us saw any jellyfish. We got out once we reached Jake's exercise threshold and noticed a whole family standing on the shore, all of them staring worriedly at us and at the water.
"Jellyfish!" Someone yelled, pointing. "There are jellyfish out there!" We walked over to explain that yes, we'd seen a couple of jellyfish on the shore but no, we hadn't had any trouble with them in the water.
"And anyway," I pshawed, "they're not a big deal." I told one concerned mother about the time I was stung by a jellyfish in the Gulf of Mexico when I was a kid. "Now that was a jellyfish," I said. "It wrapped itself around my stomach. I had scars for years."
It was July 4th and I was eight or nine. We'd been at the beach and I was wearing one of those one piece bathing suits with a hole cut in the middle that was popular for seventeen seconds, and a jellyfish wrapped its tentacles around my exposed middle.
"But these guys, nothing to worry about."
"Really?" someone else asked.
"Absolutely. I'm a jellyfish scientist. I have a degree in Advanced Jellyfish Studies from The University of Invertebrates."
I didn't say that.
What I said was: "Oh yeah. I mean, if you get stung by one you'll probably notice. But the bigger jellyfish, they're awful. I had to go to the hospital. The tentacles were wrapped around me like three times and they had to tear them off. So these?" I laughed with the carefree mirth of one happy to be alive. "No big deal."
And with that, solidly assured, the family made its way into the waves. All except for one little girl and Grandma. Two people apparently unimpressed by rock hard science. The girl looked up at me.
"You've been stung by a jellyfish before?"
"I have!" I told her. "When I lived in Florida. I was playing in the ocean and this giant jellyfish," I made a circle with my hands the size of a basketball, "came out of nowhere and LATCHED on to me. It wrapped its tentacles around my stomach and wouldn't let go. I tried to scream but a tentacle wrapped around my mouth and I couldn't. I went into shock. My dad had to drag me out of the ocean. He tried to rip the tentacles loose with his hands but the jellyfish wouldn't let go, it just laughed at him, this crazy jelly laugh. He ended up calling an ambulance and when I got to the hospital the doctors had to use a chainsaw to get it off me. I had these horrible, horrible scars around my waist for years, people assumed I'd been cut in half and then reattached. But these jellyfish," I laughed, "they don't even sting, they just tickle."
And then that sweet little girl did the dumbest thing she could have done: she gave me her hand so I could lead her into the surf.
"What's your name?" I asked, calf-deep, flush with the lofty confidence that only a true scientist can know.
"Nicole. But you can call me Danika."
And it was right then, right at that moment of trust meets adorable, that I felt it. A fucking jellyfish-- a fucking fluorescent blue jellyfish the size of a walnut-- somehow wrapped around my right leg with a wrath and a fury I can't explain. The shock of the impact caused me to hesitate for a split-second. My entire right leg from above my knee to mid-calf was now either completely entwined in electric barbed wire or those bastard jellyfish had transparent tentacles FOR DAYS. Nature: 117,000, Erin: -4. Well played, Earth.
Nicole/Danika, blissfully unaware that anything was wrong, kept pace into the surf, pulling on my hand. I reached down and dug underneath the tendrils with my free right hand, ripping them clear of my leg and rinsing the carnage in the surf.
The rest of the excursion sort of happened in a blur; my leg was being gnawed on by bees and fireants, Nicolika swam off to her family unharmed, I validated my reasoning for not having children by neglecting to disclose that the water was rife with poison, and I staggered back to shore.
Randy refused to carry me back to the condo. Jake also refused, but in his defense he was mostly unconscious.
"Wait here," Randy said as we hobbled closer to the complex, "I'll run in the bar and get a lime to squeeze on you."
A lime? That doesn't sound right. But maybe I'd been ditching the day they covered "The Panacea of Citrus Marination" at jellyfish college.
I was coming to terms with the idea of being ceviched when Randy emerged from the store with an aerosol can of industrial strength cleanser.
"They told me this was better," he explained, aiming the nozzle at my swollen leg.
"They told you what was better?"
"Windex." And suddenly my entire knee was covered in bleach scented foam.
"This isn't Windex! Windex is blue! And a liquid-- it doesn't foam!" I tried to read the label but it was in Spanish. Hazard symbols must be universal, though, because there were about eight of those on the back of the can.
"Is it helping?"
I was honestly waiting for my leg to crack off at the knee. "No. It's not helping. It's altering my DNA sequence, but it's not helping."
"This can't be that bad, "Randy said, blinking through the fumes. "Weren't you stung really badly as a kid? Weren't you in the ICU for like a week while they did skin grafts and transplants and exploratory surgery?"
"I don't really remember. I think I might have been grazed by something minor and parlayed it into a reason to leave the beach and go to the neighborhood pool where my friends were."
"So the scarring... "
"I tanned around some heart stickers."
I only tell you this because we're leaving for Yellowstone National Park tomorrow and there's a reasonable chance I will have the opportunity to chat with innocent fellow tourists about bears. I just want to put this out there right now: despite the fact that I was once licked by a gerbil, my imperious advice concerning wildlife attacks should under no circumstances be heeded.