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I Fear the Walrus This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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What do you expect? I was only four, and they were at least 200 pounds each. The cacophony of reverberating grunts and barks filling the room only made the tears pour down my face faster and harder. Through tear-blurred eyes, I saw the massive outline of a 300-pound male sea lion just inches from my face. With its greasy flippers, it clapped and barked while balancing a red ball on its nose. The scent of dead fish and animals hung in the air like a fog that slithered its way into every part of me.

I had been so excited. My dad had loaded my brothers and me into our trusty Volvo, and off we went to the Boston Aquarium's Sea Lion Spectacular show. When we arrived at the entrance, my dad leaned back and told the ragtag lot of us, “This is a real treat. Today is your chance to actually meet a sea lion!”

I had never even heard of sea lions before, but it sounded like fun. Meeting a giant lion that roamed the ocean's savannah? Just wait until I told the neighborhood boys.

As we filed into the arena, inching along behind babies in strollers and tube-socked men with fanny packs, my eyes began to adjust to the dark dankness of the room. Oh, no. What were those things? They were nothing like the soft, cuddly lion cubs I had seen on National Geographic's “Adventures with Andy.” This was bad. Sea lions were big, loud, and smelly, not sweet and soft little animals.

“Daddy, I don't–” I started, giving up on my meager bravery.

“Look! That one over there just ate two whole fish! Cool!” yelled my brother, not seeing the terror in my eyes.

After we took our seats in the front row, the sea lion tamers circled the arena looking for eager kids to meet the sea lions, like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory without the fun and candy. Sinking into the sticky vinyl chair, I prayed I wouldn't be chosen.

“Ah! And who is this adorable little one with the orange bow? I think somebody wants to meet a sea lion!” exclaimed the overzealous trainer, whose name tag read “Denise, call me Deni!”

“No, no, Deni, please no,” I whispered, hoping one of my brothers would hear my plea and send this too-bubbly Deni off to harass another unfortunate child.

“Go, Sydell! Go make friends with the sea lions!” my brother Fletcher said, prodding me toward the stage.

And that's how I ended up with a giant sea lion moustache tickling my tear-stained nose. Its big brown eyes stared into mine, as if trying to read my soul. I was paralyzed, unable to move in the presence of the giant sea-beast. Why did it have to be so big and oily? Why couldn't it eat regular food, like pasta, instead of dead fish? Why was I even here? Deni didn't notice my fear, distracted as she was by the boy trying to ride one of the other sea lions like a pony. After forcibly dismounting the future sea lion cowboy, she found me stranded frozen in the midst of the hubbub. Grabbing the arm that wasn't covering my face, Deni ushered me back to my seat.

“Oh, I am so sorry, doll face! Stop those tears now and try to enjoy the show. It'll be fun!” she assured me.

It'll be fun, she said. Enjoy the show, she said. For the next hour of the sea lion “spectacular,” I wailed hiccupy sobs that were nearly as loud as the sea lions, almost blending in with their barks. My father patted my back sympathetically yet confusedly, promising me that the sea lions could not, nor wanted to, chase us the hour-long ride home.

Flash forward to Father's Day 2013. As my dad and I stare at the “Exciting Events” calendar outside Mystic Aquarium, he points out the sea lion show.

“It's been nine years … you can't still be afraid. Let's go and conquer that fear. It might be fun! And educational.”

My father is a teacher, so yes, education is a large element of everything.

“No. We aren't going. I don't like sea lions” was my sorry excuse.

And to this day, I refuse to hear, touch, or see a sea lion up close.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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