I confess I have a horribly crippling and irrational fish phobia.

And once people find out about this socially awkward trait of mine, I almost always get the question of “WHY?” – Well, if you have a phobia, you know it’s not always easy to explain and it’s especially not fun to talk about. I have decided once and for all to blog about this weirdness so people [students] will stop asking. I will be able to say “Please refer to the May 5 blog post and do not ever ask me again.” Yes, I realize I am setting myself up for public mocking and humiliation, but alas, we cannot hide who we are.
So, here it is. The cold, hard truth. And the truth lies not in one teeny-tiny incident but in several psychologically damaging incidents that have occurred throughout my lifetime, rendering me more helpless and pathetic as an adult than when I first began my life, wide-eyed and innocent…
Bear with me. It’s not easy to write this.
Incident #1 – Four-year-old Krissi (spelled “Krissy” prior to middle school years) was not afraid to touch fish, look at fish, even hold minnows and hook them onto a fishing rod. (GASP.) One day, out at her grandparents’ lakehouse (standing on the pier), Krissy’s little two-year-old brother squeezed a minnow so hard, its eyeballs exploded and guts oozed out between his grubby little boy fingers – right before Krissy’s very sensitive gray eyes. Very gross, but not enough to make her frightened of fish the rest of her life. Just grossed out. A little.
Incident #2 – Five-year-old Krissy went fishing with her grandparents. Her grandfather, Papal Homann, caught a catfish and demonstrated to Krissy how to identify such a fish. While holding the live, squirmy catfish in his hands (its ugly mouth gaping open), one catfish whisker sliced across the palm of Papal’s hand. Blood, water, and mud mixed in with the fish’s glittering, putrid, scaly skin. Suddenly a catfish appeared dangerous and gruesome to this sweet, blonde-headed child. After all, it had made her Papal bleed – a lot. (This was also the same day that Krissy’s fishing rod came unwound and hooked her little brother in the rear – a little more blood. Whoops.)
Incident #3 – Same day as the catfish incident, Krissy’s grandmother, Nanny Homann, was frying up the fish the family had caught. She offered a little piece of fried fish to Krissy, who had never tried any. “It tastes like chicken,” she promised. All it took was swallowing down the one bite. Little Krissy’s throat closed up in an allergic reaction and the last thing she remembered that day was being rushed to the hospital in the back of a green station wagon, unable to breathe. Krissy learned that day that fish are not only dangerous alive, but they had the power to kill her all dead and fried up, too.
Incident #4 – One afternoon a couple of years later, Nanny was skinning fish for the family dinner (Krissy would have an alternative meal made just for her). Krissy walked in to the kitchen, though, just in time to see Nanny slice a pregnant fish in half. Didn’t know it was pregnant until we saw inside … and, yeah, I most definitely cannot go into detail on this one. Use your imagination – it was THAT horrible. I’m sick just remembering right now.
Incident #5 – After years of avoiding fish, Krissy (now changed to “Krissi” after an identity crisis in middle school) was a young teenager on her family vacation at the campgrounds on the Frio River. Even though she and her brother were old enough to bring friends on family vacations, Krissi was still skittish around fish in the river. In fact, the only way her aging Nanny could get her to snorkel with her was by allowing almost full-grown Krissi to swim on her back and look at the fish over her shoulder. (Pathetic.) One afternoon, Krissi and Kevin (with their respective friends) were loading up the back of the van to leave the river that day. The boys had, of course, been fishing and had a bucket of minnows in the back of the van. Krissi was graciously videotaping the boys while they talked about their experiences on the river that day. Kevin, being the devilish little brother that he was, decided to demonstrate to the camera what a minnow looked and acted like. After removing the little pest from its bucket, he brought the fish too close to the camera and “accidentally” dropped the minnow into Krissi’s lap with video rolling!! Krissi freaked out and tried to jump up in the back of the van to flick the foul creature from her lap. Unfortunately, it became caught, squirming and writhing, within the creases of her jean shorts. The incident ended in ruined video footage, panic, lots of tears, and cries of “MOOOOM!! Kevin did it on PURPOSE!”
Incident #6 – Another young teenage experience happened when Krissi went to a family reunion in Minnesota with her step-mom, Dawn. Some of the cousins were fishing out on the dock – Krissi had definitely learned by now to avoid those situations. So she was lounging comfortably up at the cabin with Dawn, playing cards with some of the adults. That was when Dawn’s cousin (niece?) Haley came running in screaming that she had caught a huge bullfish. And yes, the girl was holding the monstrosity in both hands – and who did she come directly toward to brag? Krissi and Dawn, OF COURSE. Red flags were definitely going up in Krissi’s head, but she tried not to overreact. However, she knew it was going to happen even before it did – the fish slipped right out of Haley’s hands and slithered right down Krissi’s right arm, leaving tracks of muddy water and a murky red substance. Krissi screamed and knocked the fish away – right into her stepmom’s lap who freaked out, too. Haley desperately scrambled to pick up the flip-flopping fish from the floor. Krissi had to run to the bathroom to hide her tears and wash her arm off. She still remembers the shakiness and the near panic attack as she tried to calm herself down all alone in that bathroom. The phobia was definitely getting worse.
Incident #7 – A freshman in high school, Krissi went on a beach trip with her youth group. She had reservations about getting in the ocean, so instead had tons of fun on the beach. When she finally decided to brave the water, two of her “big brothers” – seniors Kris Klein and Luke Benton, who liked to tease her mercilessly at times – thought it would be funny to dunk her and then steal the shorts she had been wearing over her swimsuit in the water. The boys played Keep-Away with her shorts and she refused to get out of the water without them. Finally, she stood up, hands on hips and demanded they give her the shorts back. At the same time, a pesky, mean-spirited jumping fish flew right out of the water, close enough to Krissi that it brushed her arm and flopped in her hair. She was so terrified, she screamed and dashed clumsily and short-less to the shore as if a shark were on her heels. Kris and Luke felt so bad that they gave her the shorts back, but not until after they nearly drowned laughing at her terror. (And if either of you are reading this, I still haven’t forgiven or forgotten that afternoon.) *EDIT* Since reading this, Luke has officially apologized for causing me “mental harm” but still refuses to accept responsibility for the rogue fish. Ugh, boys.
And those are just the “growing up” incidents. As an adult, the phobia is way worse. Every time I come into close proximity with fish, I get very nervous and panicky. I don’t like to look at them, I don’t like them in aquariums, because aquariums are just glass-casings that can explode. Nothing is more horrible than a fish flopping its life away on dry ground. I hate the way they smell, the way they move, the way their eyes stare sightlessly at me. I want nothing to do with them. Even a couple of years ago (in my TWENTIES) my teenage cousins knew to lie to me about fish living in this manmade lake at Pine Cove camp – it was the only reason I agreed to swim with them in it. I actually believed that it was a fishless lake until I saw my uncle fishing on the other side. (I thought it incredibly sweet of them to try to protect me like that. But I was out of the water pretty quickly at that point.) I have recurring nightmares about oceans that turn into solid fish instead of solid water – they happen about every 6 months or after I’ve had a “fish incident.”
So, that’s it. And now I’m going to use some therapeutic coping mechanisms to prevent me from dreaming about this topic tonight. Sometime I’ll explain my elevator phobia (since it’s actually surprisingly rational and understandable), but tonight one phobia is enough.