Thursday, May 23, 2013

Home Style Exposure Therapy

Me. The perfect subject for Home Style Exposure Therapy.

“The frog! The FROG! Noooooo!”

There was a full grown one in the front driveway and it was after me.  I tunneled into the plant bed which was my very best choice of hidey hole.  No one could ever find me there when we played hide and seek. It was full of pointy Spanish sabre spears and smaller prickly succulents that gouged and stung my legs and squished under my bare feet.  

I squatted making myself smaller hoping it-she, wouldn’t see me. 

The giant frog was dressed in a full bib apron and a flouncy white mob cap like an obscene Beatrix Potter/Charles Dickens cloning experiment. I had the vague notion that she was my babysitter and I was being bad making her chase me. I was terrified of the consequences. She breathed a menacing wheeze like hissing, clicking and crickets. 

She was angry. 

Worming further into the foliage, I prayed that she would pass me by. But she only grew closer swinging her webbed feet in a heaving flopping stride. My panicked breathing, ruffling the leaves around me, drew her attention. She slowly turned her misaligned shiny face toward me.  A new stream of crickets, clicking and hissing sounds spewed triumphantly from her wide upturned ruby red lip-stick adorned lips.

“Dere yuh arrrreee.  Yuh neeeeeds t’commmme wit me liddel missssss.…sshhhhhh.”

And she reached out her slippery wart-covered manicured hand. Fire engine red nails tipped her fingers. As her tentacle fingers wrapped around my wrist, I filled my lungs with a huge draught of air preparing to light the fuse on an ear piercing scream.

“What frog? Wake up, Linda. Where’s the frog?”

Mom was sitting on the edge of my bed shaking me awake breaking the grip of that hideous dream. “I keep dreaming about her Mom. She comes looking for me every night! And she’s getting bigger.”

“Every night?” said Dad, leaning on the doorframe, grinning so I could see the distinctive gap between his front teeth. “Why do you think she does that?”

“I don’t know Dad, but I need her to go away. She scares me.”

Mom, her brows furrowed, said, “Now, I told your Dad that this could be a very bad idea, but he has something for you.”   

I hadn’t noticed that he had his hand behind his back, and all the horror of that recurring night terror began to fade into pink and purple unicorn prancing little girl glee. 

I was getting a present!

“I think,” said Dad, “This new friend is in charge of making that bad nanny frog stop chasing you. He made a promise to protect you.”

He tossed a big green frog on my bed at my feet. Not a real one. Stuffed like my Teddy Bear and my Lion. 

But I still jumped up so hard I bumped my head squarely on my bookshelves over my headboard sending a cascade of storybooks to the floor.

The frog. It was a Steiff toy stuffed animal, soft and grinning and sporting realistic markings and a pink tongue, just like a real frog. Its shiny black eyes glinted at me conspiratorially. We were going to be brave slayers of nightmares and bedtime buddies for many years to come.

I loved Frog on sight. 

I was, however, a tad pissed that Lion and Teddy Bear had not stepped up earlier in this saga.


Fort Lauderdale was the city of my birth. My parents were the “Where the Boys Are” generation and as the hipsters of that generation, they loved to hang out on the famous Ft. Lauderdale Beach at Las Olas Boulevard. All of their photos from every angle had the iconic Elbo Room bar in the background. Mom and Dad and my Aunt Polly (Dad’s younger sister) were the original denizens of Spring Break where one could walk into the ocean without touching sand because every square inch was covered with bedspreads and beach towels and prone students slathered in baby oil and zinc oxide. 

There was a strategy to a beach day. We met up with Aunt Polly who would get there early, a cup of coffee in hand, to set up a family headquarters complete with magnetic playing cards for breeze proof bridge and a transistor radio.  She had cool beach toys too, and if I bugged her persistently enough, she would rent a big heavy rectangular rubber raft so I could go out and bob on the waves with her and look for fish.

Young single men who were part of my parent’s social circle would “borrow”a me, a goofy little blonde gap-toothed three year old girl, to “take a walk” up and down the beach. Within ten paces, these dorky Dobie Gillis/Maynard G. Krebs type guys wearing big grass Bahamas hats or sailor caps would magically transform into irresistible chick magnets. All the cute girls in bikinis would mob them cooing.

Looks like one of the guys who borrowed Wing Baby.

At a very early age, I was apparently a “wing baby” the perfect bait for these guys fishing for dates.

“Oh, what a cute little girl! Is she yours?  No?  You are married? No? Wow! It’s so evolved that you babysit…Do you like children? Mind if I walk with you?” 

Wing Baby was 100% successful and I got ice cream if I didn’t fuss too much.

Portuguese Man 'O War and Sargasso Seaweed

There were times when the beach was not so hospitable. The wind would shift and itchy critter- filled Sargasso seaweed would festoon the beach in fishy smelly piles. And, even scarier, big iridescent blue bubbles washed up trailing very long cobalt blue stinging tentacles. Some that hadn’t beached themselves yet would bob on the swells looking like alien sails on otherworldly boats.

Aunt Polly, a beloved and celebrated kindergarten teacher, always made things fun though, even on one of those non-optimum beach days. She taught me how to shake seaweed over a beach pail and observing little crabs, shrimp and even seahorses swimming in the cool water.  And we would find sharp sticks of driftwood to pop the scary big blue bubbles, called Portuguese Man ‘O War, being very careful not to step on the blue strands of stinging tentacles draped for several feet behind the bubble. 

A man ‘o war sting, a neurotoxin shot into the skin via tiny retractable barbs, causes terrible pain. One little detached inch of tentacle on the sole of the foot could ruin a whole day.  So we took pains to just poke the bubbles and enjoy the satisfying pop.

And we never, ever swam with them. 

You never could tell how far those tentacles could play out from the bubble in the water. Could be inches. Could be yards. We found out.

Aunt Polly was absorbed (winning) in a hot game of bridge but I wanted to swim and I was becoming a pain with my requests every 5 minutes. Her friend Joan, a fellow teacher, offered to take me out to bob around on the waves with her.  So we raced and splashed and giggled into the crystal clear ocean water on that perfect beach day.

Schools of shiny silver fish flipped and flowed around our legs and they tickled.  It was pristine, magical and we played mermaid. Joan held me afloat in her arms and I practiced my dog paddle. I stood on her shoulders and jumped off trying to make cannonballs.   

Off in the distance on the top of a wave, I thought I saw a flash of iridescent blue and I asked Joan if it was far enough away. It seemed very far away, but we decided to be safe and head back to the beach anyway.

Wet strands of string and thin threads wound around my legs. Joan looked down because she felt a similar sensation around her legs, waist and chest, like some kind of tangled maypole was binding us both. Quickly, she knew what was happening. She lifted my 4 year old body up over her head like I was a wriggling barbell and began thrashing and screaming toward shore.

On a diabolical synchronized chemical signal that surged throughout the entire organism, every stinging barb in those cobalt tentacles simultaneously fired; my legs were consumed in blue flames. 

Before my vision irised down to a pinprick and winked out, I saw Joan’s anguished face. She was powering though the swells of waves and unimaginable paralyzing pain holding me over her head while the man ‘o war continued to wrap her with new tentacles. 

I saw my legs kicking the sky wrapped in blue electric stinging strings intertwined with red welts moving up my stomach.

I saw my Aunt Polly flinging playing cards into the air and running into the surf to pull us out…

Joan, Aunt Polly and I were off to the hospital where our stings were treated with toxin neutralizing ammonia, and painkillers. Aunt Polly ended up stung badly in the hands and arms from attempting to pull off the tentacles from Joan and me as she dragged us to the beach. 

I still didn’t have a clear idea of what had happened. Trauma does that.

My Dad joked about pee being an antidote for the toxin. 

"We could’ve skipped a trip to the hospital if we'd have just stood in a circle and peed right on you!"   That was not particularly funny to me. Aunt Polly and Joan laughed a little too long and hard about that one. They were both still a little shocky from the incident. 

Patricia Murphy's Restaurant.  
My fave because it was like a fairy garden.

Everyone was particularly concerned about me since, always normally offering up the Lindy Wall of Sound, I had very little to say after the accident. So I waited until we were all at dinner at my favorite restaurant on the Intracoastal, Patricia Murphy’s before I dropped my grenade.

“I am never going to the beach ever again.” 

I grabbed a warm yeasty popover from the basket with a real linen napkin cradling those pull-apart delicacies. I had a jones for those rolls.

All the adults stared at me and an awkward moment was savored by all. They sipped their drinks and tapped ash off their cigarettes. And then, Dad pulled a shopping bag from under the table.

Here came the pink and purple prancing unicorn little girl glee which nullified the darkest of thoughts.  I was getting a present!

“Linda, you love the beach. But we won’t make you go there any more if you are scared. Let’s talk about all the things you would miss out on if you didn’t go to the beach again.”

And Mom said, “Even if you never ever go to the beach again, we have a little something for you to keep your seashells, beach glass and maybe some beach sand in so you can remember how much you loved it.”

“Or you can just make it your purse…” offered Dad.

And from the bag came a sparkling clear blue plastic bubble purse that looked like an unpopped man ‘o war with no tentacles.

Well, ok.  I did have to go back to the beach then.  I needed some seashells and glass after all.

S'me. Ain't 'fraid o nothin'!


  1. Ha!!! I think puppies and young kids are supposed to be 'chick magnets!'

    As for Frogs, they always scared me as well!!!



  2. I think there are psychologists who could probably dine out for years on some of my stories. The good news is that they are so "out there" they have to be true. And they are! Thanks ~shoes~ for reading my little blogspot tucked back in a dark little cobwebby niche within the infinite internet cave...


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