Close Encounters of the Jellied Kind

Last weekend, I went to Ft. Fisher for a day with The Man and some friends for a little surf and fun in the sun. There was fun, lots of sun, and surf, but those three things really didn't go together or happen at the same time.

I spent about 20 minutes playing in the water until I got tired of the weird itchy/stingy feeling I kept having on my arms and legs. The best way I can describe the feeling is that it was like the whole ocean was mildly electrified. I came out of the water with tiny little pinprick marks on one leg, along with a couple of very small, flatish, yellow globules with a little barb-like thing sticking out of one end.

Sea-lice? Baby jellyfish? Ocean boogers? I had no idea.

A friend spoke with the lifeguard and learned that 26 people had been stung by jellyfish the day before. So far, no one had been stung today.

Oh, but I was there now!

While sunbathing, the wind picked up and it wasn't the nice sea breeze one would normally associate with the beach. No, it was a harsh, land-hugging gale that ran along the shoreline, parallel to the crashing waves. The wind picked up sand and shoved it in the face of everyone facing south, or it scoured the flesh from those of us facing any other direction.

I know women in Europe pay hundreds of dollars at fancy spas to have some sort of sandblasting microdermabrasion, but this was more like a macrodermabrasion involving layers of the epidermis slowly being stripped away.

So of course my solution to that was another dip in salt water. It was nice and cooling, and it was fun to float along over the waves just as they started to crest. Until Gavin went underwater and snuck up on me "accidentally on purpose." I mistook the gentle nudging of a smooth-skinned being for a small shark, and when it kept bumping me, I kicked it violently and screamed "Oh shit!" and a few other choice words once he finally surfaced.

I felt bad about kicking him in the head and calling him bad names, but shark attacks are not uncommon off the coast in N.C. in recent years. There haven't been any this summer, but I have this sort of strange luck where if something frakkin' weird can happen, it's gonna happen to me.

10 minutes later, we're all cresting over little waves, laughing and talking about... well, I don't really remember what we were talking about at that point because that was when the ocean threw a jellyfish at me.

If jellyfish had heads, I ended up with this one in the equivalent of a headlock. It and most of its tentacles got sandwiched between my right arm and my ribcage. It felt like someone had given me 1,000 paper cuts, poured lemon juice and tabasco sauce all over them, then set the entire area on fire.

One tentacle wrapped around my arm, a couple splayed across my stomach, and one got under my bathing suit top.

I shot up four feet out of the water and screamed like a little girl, then started swearing like a sailor. Now I know why sailors swear -- jellyfish stings. I was wearing a bandeau top, so as I was coming out of the water, I was also lifting the bottom hem of it to get the tentacle away from the Girls. Gavin thought I was having a wardrobe malfunction and kept trying to pull my top back down.

I screamed "NOOOOO! TENTACLES!" and I lifted the hem again to scrape the tentacle out. At that point, my reputation with a bunch of beachcombers I'd never see again didn't mean squat to me. When choosing between saving "the Girls" from more pain and having to flash a bunch of strangers, or try to walk out of the ocean to the lifeguards so they could remove the tentacles themselves (and still having to flash a bunch of strangers), I chose the former.

I can say that this is probably ties for Most Painful experience of my life, the other being when I broke my foot in three places when I was 12. I didn't tell anyone I broke my foot for two days because I didn't want to get in trouble for how I broke my foot (one of those "sneaking out of the house" maneuvers), and it still didn't hurt as much as that initial 2-second sting.

I've spent the last 33 years playing in the ocean without incident (other than the near-drowning when I was 8, and the time I got hit by a wave and lost my glasses when I was 9 and couldn't see past arm's reach the entire weekend). I'd never been stung by a jellyfish before, and now that I have, I can honestly say I probably won't be going out in the ocean ever again.


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