I saw Jaws the summer it came out, in 1975. I was nine years old, and I still remember how the theater erupted when Brody finally killed the monster shark. I absolutely loved the movie, and that night I dreamed of a shark swimming up through the toilet bowl and coming after me down the hall.
My experience paralleled America’s. We loved Jaws, and we became paranoid about sharks. I grew up in the water at my grandparents’ house on the Connecticut shore, and though I kept swimming after Jaws, it was always with the vague fear that teeth could tug on my leg at any moment. My sister, two years younger, was so traumatized by the movie that she’d go into the water only at low tide. Never mind that there’d been only two shark bites on the Connecticut coast since 1900. Facts are never as salient as feelings.
So when I got this assignment, I decided to do what I’d never wanted to do: swim with sharks. I would take scuba lessons and go to a place in the Bahamas known as Tiger Beach, where I’d dive with tiger sharks, the species responsible for more recorded attacks on humans than any shark except the great white. It would be my first dive after getting certified—which means it would be my first dive anywhere other than a swimming pool or a quarry in Maryland—and it would be without a cage. Most people who got wind of this plan thought I was either very brave or very stupid.