It’s tagline was, “If you forgot what terror was like…it’s back,” except I wasn’t terrified until I went to sleep.
Maybe I was already desensitized to horror movies from watching Creature Features and Chiller Theatre, but many of the scary parts of Jaws didn’t scare me. I often found myself rooting for Jaws, which has generally not changed over the course of my horror movie-watching life.
I’m sure at age nine I did not catch a lot of nuance and subtext, but I enjoyed the movie and was happy my mom let me stay up to see the movie on television.
I crawled into bed and snuggled under the pink and blue comforter my paternal grandmother had made for me shortly after I was born. My sister was snoring. She always snored. I learned to go to bed before her or to make up stories in my head and concentrate on those in order to fall asleep.
Our bedroom used to be the living room. Everyone who visited my mom just hung out in the kitchen. My bed was in the corner against the wall and next to a bookcase, which was home to the World Book Encyclopedia. It was the perfect spot for a twitchy kid like me to see the three windows and two doorways in the room.
I often used one of the two windows, which led to the front porch, each day as I picked the lock on the window to get into the house after school and other times I wasn’t supposed to be in the house.
I scanned the room to make sure I was safe before I covered my head and went to sleep. The shark came soon after.
I was sitting under a tree reading an Encyclopedia Brown book when it arrived. Everyone I knew was in the lake having fun. I rarely went into the water. I could swim, a little, but a diagnosis of Herpes in my right eye meant I could no longer go into pools with chlorine. Shortly after the diagnosis and almost losing my vision, I lost interest in learning to be a better swimmer or being in water.
A shadow blocked the sun. I heard a voice ask if I wanted some candy. I looked up and saw the land shark hovering over me.
“Seriously,” the land shark said. “Do you want some candy? It’s free.”
I watched Saturday Night Live when I could convince my mother or grandmother to stay up that late. Now the skit and the movie were mixing in my little brain.
I shook my head no. Everyone who saw the land shark had scurried into the water. In order to avoid being eaten, you had to swim out to the middle of the lake where the land shark couldn’t reach you. The land shark couldn’t swim.
I threw my book at the land shark and stumbled to my feet. Running as fast as I could, I ran until I felt water between my toes. I turned to look behind me. The land shark was about 20 feet away and still chasing me.
I turned to keep running. I panicked, I knew I couldn’t get to the middle of the lake. I fell to the ground. Only about half my body was covered. The land shark was standing over me and leaning in to take a bite.
I screamed, “No,” and woke up. In the darkness, I could make out the familiar shapes in my bedroom. I sat up and told myself to calm down. I threw my stuffed rabbit on the floor to make sure nothing under the bed was going to grab my leg when I got up. Rabbit remained motionless.
I slowly leaned my head over the edge of the bed and lowered myself just enough to see under my bed. It was all clear. I stood up and walked out of my room, shuffling the feet of my dark blue, footed pajamas across the floor.
The kitchen was brightly lit. My mom and her boyfriend were awake. They both worked 3:30 p.m., to midnight, and kept those hours even on their days off. I often heard them speaking softly in the kitchen from my bedroom. Mom was baking pumpkin bread and cookies.
I don’t know how long I stood in the doorway. It felt like a long time to me. Half my face was in the kitchen. The other half was hidden in the darkness of the room with the telephone. I had been taught to not interrupt people, so I just stood there. Eventually, my mom saw me.
“What’s the matter?” she said.
I opened my mouth. I didn’t say anything. Mom turned back to toward the stove and put her spatula and mixer inside her mixing bowl.
When she turned around, I said, “There was a shark in my dream, but it only attacked you on the land and you had to go into the water to be safe and I can’t swim.”
She tried not to laugh, but I remember her raising her eyebrow. She used to do that to my sister, Lori, when Lori used to lie to her.
“But you’re awake now, right?” she said.
I nodded my head up and down and then looked at the floor.
“Then you are safe,” she said.
I shrugged my shoulders. I really didn’t know. Maybe there really was a land shark. Saturday Night Live made fun of Gerald Ford and he was real. Maybe the land shark was real, too.
“Come on,” Mom said. She put her arm around me and led me back to bed. She tucked me in tightly, the way I hated, too snug to move.
“There you go,” she said. “There’s nothing here to worry about.”
She leaned in and gave me a kiss on the cheek. Before she left my bedroom, she stopped and turned around. “You want me to leave the door ajar?”
I nodded “yes.” She closed the door partway and went back to her baking. I conducted my nightly struggle to loosen the bedding wrapped around me like a cocoon, then snuggled under the blankets. I covered my head except for my eyes, which used the faint kitchen light to continually scan the room for danger until my body was exhausted and I fell asleep.