The Tiger Shark &The Dog Bone

Chapter 1- Moon Time

It was my fault for going surfing during my moon time. Some say it matters, others say there is no evidence that it does. What is for certain is that my bioelectrical charges were amplified by my blood in the seawater like a whisper into a megaphone. 

Thump-thump, thump-thump, thump-thump 

On that day, the water was turbid, the sun was undressing, and the reef was shaking it’s rocky fists above the surface. 

Still I went out.

Thump-thump, thump-thump, thump-thump 

I could see turtles, pufferfish, and surfers gliding this way and that. 

I swam out alone. My body just a piece of bait dangling in a playground filled with boneless beasts. Beasts with senses superb enough to detect any living, bleeding, beating thing at even the hours of dusk, night, and dawn. 

Thump-thump, thump-thump, thump-thump 

I was only 30 yards from shore, diving beneath the crests to paddle beyond the break. The wind was blowing offshore and spraying the tops of the waves into a wall of drops that flew backwards towards the sea. 

I dove down and up and down and up and down and up and down. And on my final up, a giant with a grey body of stripes and jaws of jagged teeth, rose with me out of the ivory.

He was ten feet away— a carnivore, a cannibal, an eater of man, a killer of song— a Tiger Shark 13 feet long. 

My day faded fast, from bright into a murky shade of dread. 

Thump-thump, thump-thump, thump-thump 

His eyes looked into mine and I felt the almighty powers of his visual perception. I could see his hunger. His hatred. His careless concern for the living. 

Sweet, almighty God of heavens what is this evil before me that you have created! 

Thump-thump, thump-thump, thump-thump 

To the ancients his tiger spirit is a guardian, to the moderns it’s an undertaker of the cruelest kind. 

 Pua ka wiliwili nanahu ka mano. “When the wiliwili tree flowers, the shark bites.”

Thump-thump, thump-thump, thump-thump 

His fin was down, back arched, head shaking, torso shivering.  His jaws grew wider and his teeth were sparkling in the light of the fading sun.

His stomach already a deep cavern filled with; sea snakes, birds, stingrays, crustaceans, squid, seals, sea turtles, lobsters, license plates, old tires, a basketball, plastic bottles, rubber boots, bags of charcoal, boat cushions, hubcaps, pets, raincoats, handbags, cow hooves, deer antlers, a suit of armor, and sneakers with legs still attached. 

Thump-thump, thump-thump, thump-thump 

My body penetrated with terror. I wished there was some string I could pull to deflate me. Or some button I could press to eject into space. Or some word I could shout to part the seas and split the wings of time. 

If only I where a killer whale or a great white and he the hors d’oeuvre before my next feast. 

Thump-thump, thump-thump, thump-thump 

I opened my mouth but nothing screamed out. In my head I yelled “help” and the world came running. To my rescue there were lifeguards, children, men with tattoos on their muscles,  women with spear guns, the fists of creator,  paramedics, boats with long nets, surfers in hot pink speedos and thonged bikinis, and a helicopter of four men armed with rifles. 

But that was just a fantasy. Nothing came out of my mouth, nobody saw, and nobody came. 

Thump-thump, thump-thump, thump-thump 

I ripped the surfboard strap off of my leg and pushed it towered the tiger shark. I swam. I kicked. I torpedoed towards the shore. 

But the tiger was faster and better, for he had the motions of a true predator. He was a high speed train and I his tunnel of fleshy light. 

Thump-thump, thump-thump, thump-thump 

He was charging, corkscrewing, ramming with jaw snapping. 

Snap! Thump. Snap! Thump. Snap! Thump-thump.

He had my left foot in the cage of his teeth. 

I opened my mouth again. I wanted to say to the tiger, “I’m no good, I’m only a vegetarian. Find a body full of beef and eggs. A lover of bacon. You will prefer the taste of a hunter, please let this gatherer go!”

Water poured into my mouth. I was coughing and crying and on the verge of drowning.

With my right leg I kicked. I tried to kick towards him, but found an empty water of nothing. 

His teeth ripped through my skin and straight to the bones of my toes. Pain vibrating through everything; ligaments, tendons, muscles, blood. My heart pounding, my foot aflame, my blood shimmering all around me.

 I knew he would sink if I could just get him to stop swimming. 

Thump-thump, thump-thump, thump-thump 

My mind was plagued by memories of the insignificant. Of the spectacular. Of the mistakes. Of the laughter, the tears, the longing. Of all that is truly important and all that I once thought was. 

Thump-thump, thump-thump, thump-thump 

This can’t be it. The end of my everything. The beginning of my nothing. The story of me that will spread across lips, but fall quickly into the future where it will eventually be forgotten. 

I twisted my body around. I punched his nose, I growled, I stuck my thumbs deep into the black of his eyes until they popped and he let go. He swam away with only the trophy of my big toe.  

Thump-thump, thump-thump, thump-thump 

Chapter 2- Dog Bone

Sugar plums, the above story is made of snake oil. I wish the truth behind my trip to the ER had been due to something extraordinary like that. The accident actually went down on land at the “Smiley Pirate Yacht Club.” 

There is nothing official about the place. In fact, that’s not even it’s name, it has none. It’s a salty bunch of cruisers, pro surfers, and water beings, rafted up in a part of the marina that was a fuel dock once upon a time. 

It reminds me of summer camp with its communal kitchen, outdoor shower, picnic tables, and a view of the sun setting over the Kaiwi channel. 

A few of us were having a glass of something effervescent and telling stories about the sea. I was the only woman at the table. 

Someone said something about a message in a bottle. I mentioned that I sent a bottle of words into the blue. They turned off the music and asked me to read it. I was nervous because I thought my message was too floral for them and I had never read it out loud before. 

As I read it, an energy rose like bubbles between my words. 

When I finished the hands of one of the men thumped the table, “Can you sing? I want to turn it into a song. I can already hear the guitar and drums behind you. I can hear it all.”

“I can only sing in French,” I said. 

“Language doesn’t matter. It’s that emotion that I want to capture. Make me feel that same emotion when you sing it, whatever language you sing it in.”

“Ok I’ll practice in the shower and sing it for you tomorrow,” I said. 

In hindsight I should have said, “ I can only sprinkle spoken poetry on top of your jazz, man.” Because the truth is, if I open my mouth to sing, people aren’t gonna feel anything but nauseous. 

You know how I know I can’t sing? When I sang at sea, everything swam and flew away from me. Even the microorganisms, I couldn’t see them, but I could feel their absence. 
I looked across the table and another  gentleman, who spent years sailing solo, had tears falling down his cheeks. He said that he felt like I wrote the message for him. 

He pulled down the neck of his shirt and there were bandages in many places. He confided in us that earlier that day he went to get treatments for his melanoma. It wasn’t his first time having parts of his skin carved out, but this time, the doctors said there is so much of it that they weren’t certain there was much they could do for him. 

He sat across from me giving into the belief that the end was near. Giving in and giving up and defeated by the terror of what could be his last tomorrow. 

I caught his tears with my finger tips and said, “You can’t give up right now. You must be really strong in your mind because your thoughts will turn into bullets if you let them.” 

I reminded him of his strength- of what he had already faced and overcome at sea. I reminded him of his relatives- of the fact that he was the only parent his children had. I reminded him of this moment- of how he was here and living right now among the heartbeat of the world. 

The emotions subsided and we decided to leave the Smiley Pirates soon after. It was around 9 pm. 

We walked along the dirt and gravel towards the gate, when I stepped on something uneven. It pushed my sandal out from beneath me and I slid down it on the edge of my bare left foot. I looked on the ground to find that I had been bit by a rawhide bone. Some dog had chewed it good, chewed it real good, chewed it into a weapon with the sharp shape of a new moon.

The bone once belonged to the body of a horse or a cow or who knows, but it stung and it throbbed and it felt like glass. 

Within seconds my sandal was filled with a blood so thick that my toes stuck together.   Everyone determined that I needed to go to the ER. 

I said, “Just give me some water and some super glue!” But before I blinked, I was being carried towards a car. 

In the ER bright fluorescent lights were flickering above patients who laid like fallen dead leaves in every nook and cranny of its corridors.  Medicine dripping, machines recording the beats of bodies, mouths moaning, the smell stale but sterile. 

Things moved fast. 

Many people dressed in scrubs came to look at my foot, “A dog bone did that? Damn girl!” 

I was wheeled from a room where they took my vitals, to an x-ray machine, to a bed where a man gave me a tetanus shot. Afterwards he went to put a band aid on it and said “I can’t find the puka.” That means hole. PUKA!  I’m gonna call every hole a puka from now on. 

It took a nurse 30 minutes to irrigate the wound. She poured saline until the blood ran clear and cold and smiled big when I flinched. I asked if she enjoyed dissecting things in her spare time. She laughed. 

I pleaded for the doctor to super glue the skin shut. She yelled at me that it was an inappropriate solution, then gave me butterfly stitches and crutches. 

And so I hobbled back to the boat on three legs- one of flesh and two of aluminum.

Chapter 3 – Undie-bundies

Anytime I was getting in a car as a kid my mom would ask, “Do you have on clean underwear?”

Me with eyes rolling, “Yes!” 

Mom, “Make sure they’re clean, if you get into a car accident you don’t want the paramedics cuttin’ off your dirty undie-bundies, now do ya?” 

I have been to the ER / Hospital in Cuba, Ethiopia, Haiti, Thailand, and Nepal. In most instances I was there because I couldn’t keep my undie-bundies clean. 

In Haiti I had two parasites battling over the contents of my stomach. I could feel the war as it raged. Each side adding more and more troops every minute of the day. They fired canons and dropped nuclear bombs inside of me- my civilian cells running towards shelter with gas masks. I’m not sure which parasite was wining, only that the battlefield of my body was loosing.

At the time, I was at a pilgrimage for the warrior spirit Ogun. All around me people were sacrificing goats and chickens and bulls in his honor. Women were dancing with billowing dresses that flew high as they twirled. People were rolling around in mud, smashing machetes against their heads, and swallowing glass under Ogun’s possession.

Meanwhile, I was using a nearby Haitian police station bathroom. I ran to it eight times over the course of an hour. The last time I went over to it a cop drew his finger across the length of his neck, stuck out his tongue, pointed at me, and said “cholera.”  

The police then threatened to arrest my translator/ fixer if he did not take me to a hospital immediately. So he did. 

In Ethiopia I really did have cholera. I was hitchhiking my way out of the Omo Valley on an 18 wheeler piled with chickens in cages and humans high on chat. The illness hit me hard on those muddy dirt roads. I made my way from the land of villages into the nearest town with a hotel. There I lost 20 pounds in two days. Food found its way out of every orifice (aka puka) simultaneously. Not even orange juice would stay inside of me. I was weak, so weak and frail and pale. 

The nearest doctor resided in a windowless concrete shed. There I received shots in each cheek and pills. And I was truly blessed to have found that doctor. People were dying  from cholera everyday in the Omo Valley. Dying because their only source of water was tainted. Because there was no doctor, no hut, no shed, no shot one could afford. 

 In Nepal I had some other parasite or perhaps it was one of the same as before— I try to forget the names of the aliens that attempt to take over my body. I crawled down a massive hill on hands and knees to get to that hospital. I was placed in a room with beds lining the walls. The room was grey and the stench and sounds further aggravated everything.

Was this hell? I was in a soup of sick with flames surrounding me. Men with horns and tails and pig faces were prodding me and the other ghosts with hot sticks.

I asked the Nepalese nurse for some water.  She went and took a half-drunk glass from the lips of another patient. That patient had all but one finger in the dormitory of death. The patient wheezed as the nurse carried her cup of water away and brought it to me. I said, “Thank you,” and forced a smile.

No thirst was great enough for me to drink it. I was willing to sink further into dehydration to avoid that glass of water. 

In Cuba, I was crossing the street when I got hit by a 1960 baby blue Chevy. I was slammed into the concrete and the contents of my backpack, which only contained crayons, where sprawled all around me. No I was not in kindergarten, I was 26 at the time. 

My right knee and elbow were swollen and oozing. The police came and instead of taking pictures they drew the scene of the accident. I was reduced to a stick figure with long hair by the artist. From the drawing no pain was obvious.

They threw me in the back of the cop car. Thick glass separated me from the cops in the front and the back windows wouldn’t roll down. There was blood and sweat and fear. I was suffocating. Was I a victim or a criminal? I didn’t know. Nobody would say. My Spanish stuck at the age of an underdeveloped pre-schooler and their English non-existent. 

They took me from hospital to hospital to hospital. The fourth one had room for me. In the waiting room a man had half of his face missing and his clothes were splattered in the red that poured from his body. 

I pleaded for them to take him in first but they took me instead. I found out he had been mauled by a dog. Nobody could explain why I was seen ahead of him. It didn’t make sense.  Why would a tourist come first inside their Socialist health care system? The people born of that country should have priority. 

I think about the man whose face was eaten by dog a lot. I can still see his skin hanging. I hope he is ok. That he didn’t wait too long. That he is happy wherever he is now. 

The Chevy didn’t break anything on my body. The doctor let me keep a copy of the x-ray and the police let me keep the stick figure drawing. These I kept for years in a folder along with love poems that a Cuban man had written for me. He wrote each word and letter backwards. “You have to look in the mirror to read them,” he said. 

The poems always felt like such a grand gesture. They were so long, and the time it took for him to write the letters the wrong direction. I had never even kissed him or held his hand, perhaps somewhere in his fantasy we had done much more. 

I lost that folder along with other chunks of my life to Hurricane Sandy. 

Chapter 4 – Say Yes 

The day after the dog bone bit me, my neighbor let me borrow her car to get groceries and pick up some supplies for the boat. I got to ride around the store and do my shopping on one of those motorized carts. It was a real thrill! If I could take that thing onto the streets I would ride around popping wheelies and build a floating platform for it so I could ride it straight into the sea. I wouldn’t be going anywhere fast, but those crutches slowed me down so much that the cart felt like a rocket.

The motorized grocery cart was certainly the most fun I had that day, until Roger and Frank came knocking on my boat. Roger is a retired marine biology professor in his mid-eighties. He is not sure how many kids he has, but is certain he has one younger than me. Frank, studied philosophy and ended up working as a mechanic for the military. He figured out the nuclear critical mass, wrote the equation on a chalk board, and ended up becoming a nuclear engineer. He said that he thinks he was on mushrooms at the time. Franks has two kids and a third he never knew he had until the kid was 30.

Frank and Roger met while surfing. They have been diving and skiing together since. Frank said, “Roger’s getting old. He doesn’t ski at this age and he’s diving, but he ain’t shooting fish anymore.”

Anyway, when a retired marine biology professor and former nuclear engineer invite you to go scuba diving, you say yes. You say yes, even though their scuba tanks look like they were made during WWII and you were in the Emergency Room until midnight the evening before. You say yes because they make you laugh with their banter and you’ve never had that type of adventure before. You say yes because the sea and the sky are still blue and the sun hasn’t set yet and lord knows you can’t sit still.

Say yes to everything, even if you are hobbling through life on crutches. Just say yes.

*I went back and added more detail to Land Ho! I realized I had skimmed over the parts where I was truly loosing my mind, in case you feel like stepping back in time.

*My message in a bottle can be found @ Spirit in the Sky .

7 Replies to “The Tiger Shark &The Dog Bone”

  1. You are a crazy girl, Olivia. Does your mom really call them “undie bundies?” She and I had home economics together. We struggled over cheese biscuits, wearing aprons, in 7th grade. (see why commas are important?) Then, 45 years later, she popped her head into a room where I was sitting alone in a gray gown waiting for my turn in the radiation room, and asked if I were me and did I remember her? That face from the past was so reassuring in that moment. I was Newton and she was Nesbit, so I sat behind her a lot. Facebook has made us friends again.
    Life is strange. We just never know. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and fantastical ideas with so many. You’re a rare mix – funny and whimsical, yet strong, serious and capable. I look forward to seeing the world through your eyes for a long time. I want to say be careful, but……I know.

  2. Why are the most interesting people the last to get a GoPro or a selfie stick? Lol. For the love of God, please start filming yourself at least for posterity! Please and thank you!? Seriously though, great stories, Olivia. I love this blog. Hope to maybe see you on Sam’s YT channel . . .

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