One of the weirder phobias I have–aside of my fear of tomatoes touching my food–is that I’m terrified of fish. I don’t mean that if I see an aquarium, I’m going to break out into a cold sweat and start crying, no, even I’m not THAT insane.

But since I can remember, my parents have been taking us to tropical places–I know, poor baby, right?–and along with tropical places = snorkeling.

When I was 4 or 5, my parents bravely took us to Mexico and in a stunning fit of idiocy on their part, they left my brother and I to swim alone while they leisurely relaxed in a cliff-type thing above us. Out of sight, out of mind, I think, was the idea. Having three kids of my own, I understand the urge. But I’m still unsure what the fuck they were thinking to leave a 14 year old in charge of a 4 year old in the ocean.

Because my brother promptly ditched me to go and strut his lack of muscles in front of a couple of bikini clad babes.

I could swim, though, so I just waded into the water.

What happened next has been replayed over and over in my mind for the next 24 years.

The fish, accustomed to friendly humans who might feed them delicious treaties, swarmed me. Since I wasn’t underwater myself, I couldn’t see their beautiful swirling colorful fins. Instead, I saw a bunch of black THINGS just swarm me.

I screamed so loudly that pretty much everyone at the beach–including my lazy parents– came running. Maybe they thought I’d been half eaten by a Jaws-like shark, or perhaps I caught sight of a fat hairy dude in a Speedo. Who knows.

All that I do know is that for years after this, I had to force myself to go into the ocean, shaking and terrified, every time we went on vacation. The fear would subside the moment I was under the crystal blue water, but up until that point, I’d be silently shaking in my swimsuit.

Our last family vacation happened in 2000. My brother–recovering from a nasty divorce and full-on taking every bad feeling out on me–was 30, I was 20. My parents made the grave error of leaving us alone to share a room where we fought like it was 1999.

This is likely WHY this was our last vacation as a family.

One of the days that we were there in Cozumel, we went to some renowned beach to get some snorkeling done and generally laze about the beach. By this age, I can assure you, I wasn’t upset that my parents didn’t watch me swim. In fact, I welcomed the opportunity to get the fcuk away from everyone else and have some relative solitude in the waves.

I’m a decent swimmer, so once I got past the rocks and coral at the mouth of the beach–where, of course, in my normal good gracefulness, I fell and cut the shit out of my foot–I got pretty far away from the lip of the beach where I could get in and out of the water. This beach wasn’t really full of sand, you see. It was more the coral and other stuff that will cut a bitch (like me) up.

But I relished the soft whooshing of the ocean in my ears as I snorkeled about, following a family of yellow and blue fish around and trying to forget the hysterics of the morning. My brother had called me a worthless piece of shit for the 437th time that hour and I crumpled into a pile of tears outside of our villa. The 5,000 feral cats who’d been following me about swarmed me as I cried. It was strangely comforting.

It was wonderful to feel so free. There’s something so comforting about the soft lull of the waves, the ability to be a voyeur into another world, and after my initial fear, I am always reluctant to get out of the water.

Out of nowhere, as I was admiring a particularly delightful looking puffer fish, my body caught fire. I was electrified, my body searing in pain and I began to hyperventilate.

I popped my head above water to see if I’d run into some electrified fence (I was in pain and terrified. I know how dumb that sounds now), nothing. I forced my face down under the water to see what I’d obviously run into. If it were a school of jelly fish, then I’d do well to make sure to swim AWAY from it rather than into the swarm. Still, I could see nothing.

I swam choppily back toward shore, hyperventilating and panicking, now noticing just how fucking far away I was from the beach. I looked down at my arms and legs and saw with horror that I was now a mess of criss-crossed red welts, from my legs to my arms and my chest.

Finally, after what had to be at least two hours (read: 3 minutes), I grabbed hold of a ladder and hoisted myself shakily up to the beach. I sat at the edge of the cliff-type, surveying the damage and trying to catch my breath, crying heavily. I was breathing so shallowly that I was starting to white out, and using the last bit of my common senseI crawled back away from the edge, lest I fall to my watery death below. This time, I really could have used a chaperone.

I passed out for I don’t know how long, and when I woke up, the welts had turned to bleeding blisters and I had uncontrollable goose bumps without being cold and a good case of the shakes. I was now officially fucked up.

Eventually, my mother found me and helped me back to a towel and gave me a medicinal pina-colada. The rest of the vacation–including the following day which was a snorkeling boat cruise sort of thing–was uneventful by comparison. If that horse bucks you and all that good boo-yang, right?


What’s attacked YOU, Internet whom I love beyond compare?



49 Responses to I Fought The Man-O-War And The Man-O-War Won

  • Maria says:

    I was stung really badly from my navel to forehead by a man-o-war when I was ten. F THAT SHIT, YO. It sucks. I feel ya.

  • Michellew_ says:

    I am left with so many unanswered questions by that post, I could just cry. Kind of like when you see an awesome movie that you just live to death, but the ending fucking sucks so you make up your own ending in your head. Yeah, like that.

    P.S. I know I wrote ‘live’ to death instead of ‘love’ to death, but my stupid I phone won’t let me fix it!

  • desiree fawn says:

    I got bit by an iguana once. Really hard.
    Enough that I could see white stuff, and weird bone stuff in my finger.
    And then I passed out from blood loss.

    I still have a cute little scar 🙂

  • Kristina says:

    Another great lesson from Aunt Becky-NEVER SNORKLE. I was already pretty sure that snorkeling wasn’t my thing, due to the fact that the one time I went snorkeling I forced my husband to hold my hand the whole time and I had about 7 1/2 panic attacks when I thought I was going to float so far away from my group that I would end up somewhere near the southern tip of Africa, oblivious all the while, looking at the pretty fishies. Plus, when we were in Mexico in January, my hubs was snorkeling and came upon a shark. Yes, a shark. I have no desire to just happen upon a shark. Or a Man o War. Ever.

  • wishing4one says:

    bugs. mosquitos, nats you name it, they all attack, all the time and anywhere. i have THE worst reaction to any and all bug bites. have since i was a kid. of course now I live in cairo where mosquitos search and destroy me every the summer. i am just ending a serious body outbreak from something. not sure what the hell got in my pants, but my arms, legs, back bit the f up. after tablets, liquid medicine, 5 types of creams they are almost gone. i get the occasional itch still but damn this was bad. OFF is my best friend, and DEET is the miracle of miracles. oh and glad u survived, both times.

  • Michellew_ says:

    should probably clarify that the above comment was a GOOD thing. Ya know? Like the story left me wanting more…. Reread and realized that the medication has taken over my brain!

  • I, too, have been the victim of man-o-wars. Lucky for me, they were all on the leg/ankle region, and not on my torso. Stings like a mofo, though.

  • Bree says:

    Oh man, you get attacked by ALL the cool stuff…

    My fear has always been “Rats on my feet.”

    What might they actually DO to my feet, you ask? Nothing really, just… be there.


    So guess what got stuck on my foot during a nighttime charity walk?

    If you guessed “a rat,” you win!

    Not only was I surrounded by coworkers (I happen to work for the charity that the walk benefited), but also by small children and elderly folks. My leap into the air and string of expletives did not go unnoticed.


    Guess what the rat DID whilst stuck to (more like next to) my foot? Nothing. If was just… there.


  • jenni says:

    Dang I guess I will stop whining about my brutal crab attack (read:it nipped my toe).

  • Kristine says:

    I went snorkeling while my friend when scuba diving, because I was cheap and just out of college and didn’t have a real job yet (well, I had one lined up, but it didn’t start for another week or so). The guys on the boat warned me to “stay away from the brown things.” They failed to mention that “the brown things” were teeny tiny jelly fish. Which you have very little notice of them coming until you are surrounded. I found one in my bathing suit when I took it off that evening. I have since decided that I will pay the extra $150 to scuba dive next time. Also – in Cozumel – They should probably put that in the brochure “BEWARE OF JELLY FISH”

  • Marie says:

    Never have I gotten any further than to cover my toes in the ocean. I am scared to death of the creatures such as what you just wrote about. I prefer my swimming to be in chlorine. If I want to see pretty fish I go to the local aquarium tyvm.

  • The Notorious BEX
    Twitter: mommywantsvodka

    All right, Michelle W. Dish. What do you want me to tell you about?

  • Coco says:

    On our honeymoon the hubs and I went to the Cayman Islands, which I highly recommend if you have thousands of extra dollars just loitering about, but I digress. Anyway, we went snorkeling with stingrays, which is normally not recommended but I guess there are generations of them on this one reef that have gotten accustomed to being fed, first by fishermen and now by tourists who pay to handle dead fish.

    The brochure didn’t mention that the rays are some 3 feet across. They don’t really have sharky teeth or anything, but they can latch on to you like giant slightly scary Hoovers and give you a weird stingray hickey (I wonder if that’s your payment for bringing them free dead fish?). So we dove into about 12 feet of water and everything was beuatiful and the rays were actually pretty cool. But then one snuck up behind me and gave me the stingray hickey and I hyperventilated water into my snorkel and had to be physically helped back onto the boat, choking and vomiting seawater and trying to tell the teenagers who were laughing at me, I mean, acting as our guides on the lovely voyage, that I had just received unwelcome sexual attention from a stingray.

    So the moral of the story is just stay at the pool bar and suck down Cayman Sunsets, made with lots of 151, if you’re ever on Grand Cayman.

  • Meghan says:

    See I live in ALberta where we grow Bears, and cougars and big meat eaters, not so much bugs and stuff. I haven’t had to deal with things like that jumping up and biting my ass. I have tho been attacked lately by the dreaded Dandylion and Pop;larfluff persuasion. Making my nose run, eyes swell and makes me look like I was on the losing end of a fist fight. Perhaps Mrs. Spit can name some fearsome nasties here in our province sinc eher hubby travels the upper areas alot, me I stay closer to home where it’s boring, and buggy free. unless you go to the mountains and get attacked by rocks…I have done that.

  • Jack says:

    Dogs, feral cats, Vietnamese. I don’t know…it’s just something about my presentaion, I guess.

  • Jenn says:

    Is this about actually being bitten or is it about fears in general?

    I can’t say that I’ve ever been bitten by anything more than a common mosquito (which leave welts the size of quarters). But I have a fear of large groups of women in small places. Which stems from being pecked and poked by large groups of girls at slumber parties and I’m pretty sure that I was invited just to have someone to pick on.

    Does that count?

  • I can’t think of anything that has attacked me at the moment because I have the shakes thinking about swimming in bodies of wather where creatures live!! And expel waste!!

    When I was a kid, I used to swim all the time in algae-infested, mosquito-swarmed ponds and lakes. Come out the water looking like the Swamp Thing, picking green goo out of places where sun had never shined before on my body. Water as dark as toxic waste. Then one afternoon a fish (god, I swear I hope it was JUST a fish!) nibbled my toes and I was all, “Oh, HELL NO! I am done!”

    Now it’s just pools for me. Unless I spot a Band Aid in the water. Then not so much.

  • Coco says:

    I’m not sure about Michelle, but I’m wondering if your parents drugged you to get you to go on that final vacation because your brother? Sounds like an a-hole.

  • Out-Numbered says:

    Dude. I have two words for you: Swimming Pool.

  • Sunny says:

    I don’t know WHY people like to snorkle. I have not been stung (my brother has), but I have been cut by coral and swarmed by fish looking for their next fix. My Dad somehow talked me into trying SCUBA, and I had a full-on panic attack (possibly the one true one I’ve had in my life). The SCUBA instructor had to pull my hyperventilating self out of the ocean and back into the boat, where I waited for everyone else to finish.

    Next time, I stayed back with my Mom, read my book on the beach, and went shopping.


  • Mrs Soup says:

    I remember going to the beach with my bestest best friend to stay in their cabin. This is in Oregon, where our beaches tend to be rocky filled and cold. But that’s okay! Cuz they are beautiful!

    Anyways, this cabin was pretty far out of civilization and we would run around the forest and play all sorts of games. Then someone told me that you swallow some outrageous number of spiders in your sleep every year. My mind thinks 8 million, but I know that can’t be true. But my 7 year old mind just KNEW it was true. I didn’t sleep very well that night.

    I slept even worse the next night after I thought I had found the best hiding place for Hide-and-Go-Seek ever. Around behind the cabin. Where there was a HORDE of spiders and their webs. And I found them all.

    I’ve been severely arachnophobic ever since. I couldn’t even watch the Charlotte’s Web movie with Julia Robert’s as the dear sweet Charlotte. Nope, couldn’t do it. Can’t even watch the previews for it.


  • Nicole H says:

    I too had a run in with a Man-O-War, though not quite so close. In fact, I never saw it. I was out swimming and everyone was heading to shore, but I didn’t understand Greek so I had no idea what the guy on the beach was yelling until I caught up with my friends. Close enough for me.
    Pina-colada sounds really good right now.

  • Hope says:

    In the water? I was almost run over by the Love Boat once, I’ll have to write a post about that experience sometime. I wasn’t really feeling the love that day.

  • I am attacked by mosquitoes and horseflies every time I step out the door. But my worst attack was the poison ivy that spread through my bloodstream and caused a breakouts of blisters over every inch of my body and my face swelled up to be as perfectly circular as a full moon. That’s what I get for crawling on my hands and knees through waist high weeds to retrieve a dropped pint of baccardi rum.

  • apathy. And the sumobitch got me HARD.

    (and that story scared the bejesus outta me. Thanks for that…)

  • dude…i am supposed to go snorkeling for the first time next month in Croatia. Now I’m scared.

  • a says:

    I stepped on a bee once. That sucked.

    I sat on a nest of something and got about 100 bites at an auction. That sucked.

    I had to inject heparin to protect against pregnancy loss. At 11 weeks, I developed a rash at the injection sites. Twice a day, I injected, and the rash gave new meaning to the itchy pregnancy belly. That reeeeeaally sucked.

    I am allergic to many soaps/body washes/shampoos, and they all manifest as vaginal itch. That is an attack like no other and it always takes me a week or two to figure it out.

    Finally, when I was two, I fell into the backyard pool and almost drowned. Due to my deeply ingrained fear of being out of my depth in water, it is unlikely that I will ever encounter a Man-O-War.

  • quietgirl says:

    Like we need another thing to be terrified of in the ocean. I saw all of the Jaws episodes a billion times by the tender age of 5, and have still not gotten over the sheer primal terror of it all.
    And sorry for my impropriety with handling MY emotional rollercoasters. I appreciate you tolerating me 🙂

  • heather says:

    Cooked, lifeless, shellfish? A feral mother-in-law? An imbalanced and raging Mockingbird? How about a ferret with razor-sharp teeth? Please, I could go on and on.

    This? Full of The Awesome.

  • Eva says:

    I ended up starting school late because the first day of kindergarten, some dog (a dog at kindergarten? what?) jumped on me and I was terrified. So I was always one of the oldest which meant I was BAD in high school.

  • ainebegonia says:

    I was 8 or 9, I was walking to a friend’s house with my sister who was 10 or 11 and I swatted what I thought was a fly. It was a bee. It stung me on my cheek. I felt my cheek swell up and I stopped breathing. The next thing I remember was waking up in the doctor’s office. My sister had picked me up and carried me 3 city blocks, taken me into the doctor’s and screamed for someone to help me, ran a block back to our house and told my mother what had happened. To this day, bees terrify me.

  • ouch!

  • GingerB says:

    Hoo boy did I enjoy this one. You people don’t want me to work, do you?

    Aunt Becky, those fish swarmed you because of people like me – who feed the fish – when I was on my honeymoon and pregnant, I was snorkeling and then vomited my guts out far from shore, puking up all the eggs and pineapple I had eaten, to the delight of all the fish around me. My husband had to drag me in to shore.

  • Badass Geek says:

    I once fought Darth Maul who had a double-bladed lightsaber.

    It was pretty intense.

  • Jenn says:

    Uh, holy crap. I’ve never been attacked by anything. Unless a dog trying to hump my leg counts.

  • SCY says:

    Sounds to me like you were stung by a long blue bottle 😉 and the best thing for that if no hospital nearby is to have someone pee on you – it soothes the burn apparently…

    My story? I got spat at in the eyes by a mozambiquan spitting cobra when I was a tender 18 years old – lived in an old farm house hospital 77km’s away… it was FARKING sore and I was SO shyte scared I was going to go blind… but was fine! Then two weeks after I got my eye patches removed from the cobra venom incident I was struck by lightning through a telephone!!! I shit you not…


  • Gaby says:

    I also had a hyperventilating incident while snorkeling in Hawaii. We were at Hanauma Bay, and I had diligently listened to the video that tells you “Don’t touch the reef. The reef is a living thing. We repeat, DO NOT touch the reef.”

    So, my husband and I head to snorkel, we’re floating around, and suddenly the waves pick up a bit. I started to want to catch my breath, but I was over the reef, and you CAN’T TOUCH THE REEF! So, I’m freaking out about the higher waves, I can’t put my feet down to just chill out for a second, and the shore looked way too far away. Luckily, my husband noticed my slightly panicked look and paddled me to the shore.

    Long story, short: Hyperventilating while snorkeling sucks.

    Also? I was stung by jellyfish in Jamaica, and I was lucky (?) to have apparently been stung by “nicer” jellyfish–the lady at the front desk of our hotel freaked the fuck out when I mentioned I had been stung, and basically wrote me off as one of the soon-to-be dead. I had been feeling fine after getting calamine lotion or something like it to put on my stings, but after the hotel worker’s reaction, I resigned myself to waiting for death. I was fine. But I still hate jellyfish. Those bitches.

  • lady lemon says:

    When I was very little – probably around 4 or 5 – my grandmother (whom I adored and who adored me) built me a “stove” in her backyard out of cinder blocks. As a kid I was very fond of “cooking” out in the backyard. Dirt pies were my speciality. So my grandmother who catered to all my wants decided that the “stove” would assist with my budding culinary efforts.

    So, as soon as I arrived at her house I made a bee-line out to that stove and stuck my hands inside, so excited with my new toy. I instantly pulled my hand back in terrible, numbing pain. Everyone looked around all confused until my grandfather spotted the culpret – a scorpion.

    What happened next was a blur of worried adults and Poison Control on the phone. Somehow I survived the ordeal, I don’t even think I went to the doc. Weird.

  • lola says:

    Hmm, not much has bitten me beyond mosquitos and ticks. Must be the bitter taste I give off.

    I hate the ocean and lakes, unless I’m on a boat or a jet ski. Jaws had a major impact on me as a child when I snuck into the theater with my brother, and swimming in the lake down the street left my best friend covered in leaches once. Totally gross.

  • Kendra says:

    Well, I feel like a big baby now, but my worst story is easy to come up with. When I was studying in West Africa, my host brother took me to the beach one day. He warned me to be careful on the beach, but I couldn’t be bothered to listen and wandered right into the water. A big wave came up and knocked me over. I came up sputtering and sore from the knees down, I assumed because I’d been knocked into some of the large rocks on the shore. But when I came out of the water, my brother flipped out and I realized I hadn’t hit rocks at all; I’d landed on a ton of sea urchins, and now I had sea urchin spines stuck in all over my feet, ankles, and a bit up my legs.

    It was a long walk back to the house, and I was in no shape to manage it, so instead I spent the next hour or two sitting on the beach, trying not to look, while my brother used a safety pin to pick each and every spine out of my feet and legs. And when they got too sandy to see what he was doing, he washed the sand away with sea water. They eventually healed fine, but it hurts just to think about it, and I firmly believe all sea urchins are evil incarnate.

  • deb says:

    I got stung by a wasp once, and it hurt like a mofo. But seriously, that pales in comparison to your story.

    It sounds like I just said, I was caressed by a flock of butterflies.

    Do butterflies come in a flock? If not, what do butterflies come in? Besides cocoons.

    And then cocoons? How do they make butterflies? That’s just amazing because caterpillars are NOT pretty at all. They’re kind of like worms.

    I like worms though. I can bait a hook in no time. I’m a great asset to a fishing trip.

    Ooooh, fish. Look – we came full circle.

  • Venti Vixen says:

    Man-o-war are evil bastards. I used to body board as a kid and in great parenting moment, my parents left me at the beach (in Hawaii) to find lunch. I jumped in and landed right into a swarm of Man-o-war. Couldn’t see them but they stung the shit outa me and I couldn’t get them off of me. I didn’t know what the fuck was happening. Lifeguard got me out – I had tracks all over my body, lookin’ like a two-bit junkie. Man, that hurt like a muthafucka. Thanks for unlocking that trauma for me.

    I love your blog!

  • zelzee says:

    How awful it had to have been.

    I thought it was bad when I was snorkeling and I saw a snake!!! I never kicked my legs so fast to get back on shore!!!

    My story is pretty lame……….now that I’ve heard yours!!

  • Laura says:

    The attach that brings on the major fears happened when I was younger. We were at a park. There was a guy walking around who brought his huge green parrot. My sister and I walked up to say hi. That bird got a crazy look in his eye, then jumped over my sister and attacked me! He attached himself to me. I shook and swung my arms until he let go. He didn’t bite me but his talon cut my finger pretty deep. Yeah the attack was anti-climactic. However, I had a wicked fear of birds for a long time.

    Cut to three years later. My sister volunteered us to dog sit for a friend. The owners left, we showed up and made our selves comfortable. Then I heard this screeching from the back room. I looked at my sister and asked what that was…a little parrot. My sister had hid it from me because she knew I wouldn’t walk in the house otherwise. I felt stupid running around the house trying to get away from this little bird while he slowly walked behind me on the ground. After three days of total fear and I kinda got over it. That bird knew it was pure comedy. Attack of the slow walking bird.

  • Nancy says:

    I hate jelly fish, I cannot imagine the pain that you felt! Poor baby. Oh, and your brother’s a douche bag, huh?

  • birdpress says:

    I can’t walk into the ocean because I’m terrified of being pinched by a crab or stung by a jellyfish.

    I was bitten by a bullfrog once. I was feeding it worms in my mom’s goldfish pond and I think he mistaked my finger for a worm and he snapped at me. It didn’t hurt, just shocked me, but it did leave little scaley cuts on my finger from it’s mouth. Not enough to bleed, just weird.

  • Lisa says:

    As for myself, I try not to swim in habitats.

    As for you, Aunt Becky, my Uncle Divorced Brother made me more mad than the man-o-war.

    Just sayin’…

  • swirl girl says:

    Picture two thirty something gals at Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon. Picture them donning snorkel and masks and flippers and entering the wading pool which is basically a giant pool with thick (like 12 inches) glass separating real fish and sharks and stuff from the ‘snorkelers’ above. Picture the cherry picker scooping up friend number 1 as she freaks out and has a panic attack mid-pool. Something touched me. Some gigantic fish or shark or seaweed or grain of sand touched me. Picture friend number 2 laughing her ass of.

  • mumma boo says:

    Sea Monkeys. Those bastards are vicious. 😉

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