Illustration by Jim Cooke.

I just wanna swim in peace. That’s all I want. I want all the creatures of the sea to get along and coexist in harmony so that I might responsibly frolic in the earth’s panoply of crystalline bodies of water: lakes, oceans, streams, rivers, and such and such.

But YOU, Mr. Jellyfish, aka the sea nettle, aka the chrysaora, aka SATAN… you are fucking everything up.

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I was at a friend’s house last weekend with my kids and the house was on a river. It’s a perfect day for fishing, kayaking, getting into a drunken speedboat accident, etc. I wade into the water with my oldest kid and suddenly, she spots a goddamn jellyfish, with the penis head and the endless, venomous tentacles. She sees the whole nightmare right in front of her.

“DAD! THERE’S JELLYFISH IN HERE!”

I see the thing and I freak the fuck out, too. But I can’t let her see that I’m freaking the fuck out because the worst part of parenting is that you have to have to be brave for your kids, and kill lots of spiders and cockroaches and silently confront all your worst fears, and act like it’s not the worst goddamn thing ever.

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So I say, “Oh, well I’m sure they’re nice and don’t sting,” even though I have no proof of that. We get out of the water, and my kid tells my friend about the jellyfish.

“They don’t sting, right?” I ask him, leading the witness.

“Oh, they sting,” he says. Not what I wanted to hear, man. “They’ll give you a little sting.”

AHA! A little sting. The barest of stings. Why, it’s hardly a sting at all! More of a kiss. And they’re so pretty! THE LIVING SEA. I tried to spin the news to my kid but she wasn’t having it.

“I wanna go back home!”

“Dude, I didn’t drive forty-five minutes in shitty DC traffic just to turn around. We’re staying, dammit.”

“I’m not going back in the water.”

“Well, I am.”

And to prove my resolve, I jump off the dock into the water. Now I can see some of these white jellyfish around me on the surface, coming close enough to make me poop my pants a little. It’s such a nice day out, but I can’t savor any of it because my eyes have to stay an on the water the whole time. MUST NOT GET CAUGHT SLEEPING.

“Are there any jellyfish out there?” my kid asks.

“Not many! It’s fine! This is fun!”

I don’t know where the Dad Denial Gene comes from. All I know is that, like every other dad I’ve ever known, I will happily lie right to my children’s faces just to get them to tolerate things they otherwise wouldn’t tolerate. Yes, we’re not very far from home now. Yes, climbing this mountain is going to be very easy. No, wasps are NOT flying hell-beasts determined to kill us all. I lie, and then I lie again, even when I’ve been caught.

Back on the dock, I see my girl gathering up her courage.

“So it’s okay?”

“Yeah!”

Then she smiles and jumps off the dock and we meet in the water. She’s laughing and has forgotten her fear, which is good. This was my goal. We’re having a ball, until…

“Dad, I think I got stung.”

“No, you didn’t. If you had, you would be…”

“AHHHHHHHHH!!! I wanna get out! I wanna get out!”

“Are you sure?” What a question.

“Ow, dad!”

“All right, all right. Calm down. You’re fine. You are jusssst fine.”

As I start helping her swim to the dock ladder, I feel a sting on my leg. A real lash. I can’t see past the surface of the water because the river is murky, so at this point I’m picturing a SWARM of sea nettles enveloping us, chanting jellyfish war chants, ready to suffocate us. I start freaking out, but again… I can’t VISIBLY freak out, which makes the whole thing even worse.

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We get out of the water, and I see that my leg is bleeding. I can’t stop scratching it.

“Did you get stung, dad?”

“Huh? Me? Eh, maybe a little.” OH GOD IT STUNG ME, THE FIEND.

“Did I get stung?”

“Lemme see.” I examine her like a doctor even though I have zero medical training. Her skin is red. “Well, if you had been REALLY stung, you’d have a welt, with raised skin, etc.” Then I go into full victim-blaming. “They might’ve just psyched you out. Your mind may be playing tricks on you.”

“It hurts.”

“HMMM… Curious.”

“Ow! Now it really hurts!”

My friends gives us vinegar (it dulls the venom), and we rub it on the welts. And there, with both of us smelling like old salad dressing, I finally stop bullshitting my kid.

“Did we get stung?” she asks.

“Yeah.”

“I’m not going back in.”

“Me either.”

“Jellyfish suck.”

They do. They fucking suck. What is the point of jellyfish, anyway? Sharks I get. Sharks are cool and fast and look great on TV. They are the hunters of the sea. But jellyfish? Fuck them. They do nothing. They are mouth-breathers. They just laze their way through the ocean, serving no purpose. I bet they don’t even know they’ve stung you. It’s like a guy driving down a highway, not realizing he’s dragging his muffler behind him. I hate jellyfish. They’re ugly and dumb and forced me to lie to my children. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to want them all exterminated, along with any other ocean predator, so that I might enjoy the water for ten days a year. Fuck you all, jellyfish. I WILL KILL YOU WITH BLEACH.