Little confession: I have aquaphobia. For me, this translates to a pronounced fear of underwater scenes and man-made objects associated with the deep, like wrecked ships (hi Titanic) and submarines. It’s an irrational fear and one that, obviously, leads me to believe that I died in an underwater accident in a previous life (since that’s not irrational).
I haven’t always been this way. The Titanic Reading Rainbow episode, where LeVar searches for treasure on a beach and the viewer meets the crew/little robots that first explored the Titanic, was once my favorite. I would watch and rewatch it over and over again,* and then one day I couldn’t anymore. I had to put a little mark on the VHS that had the episode so that I wouldn’t accidentally view it.
Truth be told, I’m not exactly sure at what age the phobia began to exhibit itself. I have memories of flipping through National Geographic and screaming every few pages (damn you NG for loving to feature deep sea spreads), but I think that was post-puberty. Anyhousen, it was definitely after I turned five since I have very pleasant memories of going on the Submarine Voyage at Disneyland in the early ’90s. I remember looking out of the round little windows and seeing mermaids (!!) and fish and being no more frightened of the ride than I was of It’s A Small World (which, looking back, is so dang scary!).
All of this is to say that when I first saw these photographs of the Weeki Wachee Springs mermaids I was both mesmerized and terrified. It’s a funny thing, this phobia. I often find myself at once drawn to and frightened by underwater images. But seeing as I’m a fan of exposure therapy, I gazed at those mermaid photos long and hard. Once the initial fear wore off, I found them stunning, hence my sharing them (and this little phobia) with you. The Weeki Wachee Springs almost went out of business thanks to the Disney World behemoth, but they’ve managed to stay afloat (pun intended) and the mermaids continue to be their biggest attraction (and have since 1947!). Photographer Annie Collinge says of the performers, “They are still local celebrities to many people.” And why wouldn’t they be? They are mermaids.
So, have I been working on conquering my fears? Yes…slowly. Last Winter my family and I went to Maui and after too many days sitting on the beach (yes, I’m that chicken), I finally swam out past the breakers and explored the reef with my parents and brother. And you know what? Athough a little frightening, it was also incredible! I saw humuhumu, eels, and beautiful coral. On a trip to the “fish bowl” a few days later I went diving (only 8 or so feet, mind you) to explore the coral towers. Surprisingly, it felt natural to swim like that. I left Hawaii actually eager to snorkel again! But it seems my aquaphobia extends far beyond the physical ocean. I still get tense when I see pictures of submarines and continue to keep my guard up when flipping through National Geographic. Someday I intend to watch the afeared (though once beloved!) Titanic Reading Rainbow episode. I can hear it calling my name from the VHS shelf downstairs. In time LeVar, in time.
*My Mom recorded the shows on multiple VHS tapes so we still have access to 16+ hours of LeVar Burton magic. Mr. Rogers too.