The Mermaids

“I must be a mermaid, Rango. I have no fear of depths and a great fear of shallow living.” 
―Anais Nin


Tentatively, delicately, I slip past the cling of curtain and with the ginger care of a broken butterfly, I fold my body into the ocean floor of the shower. It takes seasons, and all the care of a girl who has learnt the dangers of moving too quickly. Here I sit, curled and foetal, as my boney tentacles grasp for the taps, always a notch too tight. Tentacles were never strong enough. And then, the water, all the comfort and escape it brings. The knowledge that I cannot sit here forever. And for a few minutes, never more, for the fear of the water running cold, I am free.

 I am just another mermaid smiling in the bottom of the shower.

You probably think I am crazy. For, of course I am not a mermaid. Just a silly sick girl, with an imagination run wild.

She dreams of freedom. It’s only natural they nod in agreement, and smile for the girl who will never again know a life lived free. Maybe the cruel will joke that it’s the medication.

Oxycontin does that you know. But I don’t expect them to understand.

 They are just silly healthy people, with no eyes to understand.

Mermaids always were beautiful. That much we can agree on. Flowing locks of sunlight, Titian, oak and oil. Blonde and brunette are much too plain a description for creatures so pretty. Cheekbones as high as the note of the bluebird, and lips plump with loneliness. There is breast, ensuring the burning desire of man, and bellies soft and taut. You may think it an oxymoron, but it can be done. Eyelids gently curve, a slipping blouse, making way for all that lies underneath. Colours of envy, joy and smiles, the brightest of eyes to be sure. And the darkest of lashes, peppering the windows to their souls.

Vanity is surely worth of repentance, or at the very least, a disapproving nod. Call me what you wish; but I must hold onto all that I still keep. My eyes, green and blue and grey, depending on how the sun shines. Rose petal lips, and a nose with the gentle curve of a smile. My underwater canvas.

But being beautiful doesn’t make you a Mermaid. You still don’t understand.

For so long, you have thought these to be beautiful women who are forever swimming. But wait until they sit upon their rocks. Look below the oceans chopped surface. And now your eyes meet their tails, the scales in magnificent blues and greens, gems of the sea. It has, until now, remained a secret, a pursed lip, a story untold. Now you feel the hot jealousy leave your skin; You cannot envy the beautiful freak. See the arch and splash of their tales, as they leave in shame.

My broken legs nap in the bottom of the shower. They are curled and bruised, boney and with a story to tell. For three years, these legs re learnt how to walk, how to jump, how to stand on their little tippy toes. They walk now, albeit slowly. They are known to jump, on occasion. Tippy toes is a party trick. A little further up, and my gills gape and attempt to mend. Two months ago, the surgeon took his knife to my perfect little belly. He took his knife, and he cut, and sliced, and drained. Four perfect gills, tattoos unwanted. Forever, as a partner kisses under the stars, I will wince. Not because they hurt. But because I will remember I am a Mermaid.

Mermaids, they are almost always beautiful women. If you ever happen across a Merman, close your eyes, and remember the moment. The Disease, it attacks mostly women. I was only a girl of thirteen, but it didn’t seem to mind. People say that we don’t look sick. And they are right; If you don’t look under the surface, you will never realize the truth. You will never see our tails.

And still, you don’t understand. The bewilderment only stretches across your features. I hear you shout.

But you aren’t a Mermaid.

To be a mermaid like me, you must pay the ultimate price. You must leave land, and retire to the sea. No longer will you walk, dance, and breathe freely on the grains of sand. You must take your place in the cold of the sea, and know that you were never given a choice in this. No-one chooses to be a creature.

To be like me, you must sit in the rocky shallows, and watch the rest of the world upon the sand, knowing that you can never be like them.

But, as I sit curled in the rocky shallows of the shower, I close my eyes, and I smile. For I am a Mermaid. And I will never be like you.

My cuts, those which bled and scarred. The nights spent screaming and sobbing in a sea of my own blood. The IV’s and Cannula’s piercing the crooks of my emaciated arms. Each of these have left a hole. Each has left me gills. Each has taught me to breath underwater.

While the rest of the world weeps for the day at work, yells for the missing remote, snaps at the shop keeper who is only in training, I am soaring beneath the water’s surface, smiling at all that I see. The seaweed blankets of a hug with a stranger, cuddles in the sunshine with my Golden Retriever. I see you bemoaning your wardrobe which is never quite right, the latest bill to rest in the letterbox. And I dive deeper, gulp all that you will never taste, into my crackling lungs. I fill with the afternoons I spend with Daddy, patting my kittens and talking about nothing. Or at least, nothing that has to do with keeping me going. I inhale the dusk, and the pictures saved in my mind of the stars on a Friday night. You scream and tell me that nothing is fair, because your boyfriend broke up with you. I take the deepest of breath, and laugh. I am holding hands with starfish, and making bouquets of Coral. I am too broken to run, but I love it when my little brothers hold my hands, and help me bounce on the trampoline. It doesn’t matter that they are doing all the work; we have fun pretending.

You can breathe on earth, but you are not truly living.

The tail, all which has betrayed me, all that has made me different from you. The thing which makes me a freak. On land, in your world, in your ideas, I am useless. What good is a girl who cannot walk like you do? But I can swim. I can swim deeper and further than you could ever dream. To lands of sunshine and kisses. It is here I meet the other Mermaids. I prefer to call them my friends. An underwater palace of girls and boys, all too busy swimming between the layers of smiles and freedom to notice that they don’t have hair, or working kidneys, or that they need oxygen tanks in your world to breathe. It is here we are free, truly free. For, we are still broken. Our bodies still fail us, betray us. But all of this is irrelevant if we are all the same. We swim together, hand in hand, tails linked. Together we swim through rough seas of infection and failure, wheelchairs and Naso Gastric Tubes. With the light of the water, we pull one another through, when one begins to lag behind. We are weightless and free.

You walk. But we swim.

So tonight, as my body rots in the bottom of the shower, do not pity me. Do not think that I am unlucky, that I need your sympathy and gentle smiles.

 Because I am a Mermaid, eyes closed, a smile on my lips. I am breathing underwater.

I am free.


13 thoughts on “The Mermaids

  1. I can’t even begin to explain how much this touch me- thankyou. It bought tears to my eyes, but happy tears. The tears that can only be created through intense understanding and shared experience. I am forever here to hold your hand as we explore the beautiful depth of the ocean 🙂

  2. Hi gorgeous,
    I too am a mermaid, but one of a different ilk. I have kept my identity hidden for years but now I am revealed as my sea swamped lungs struggle to breath in this mountain air. Each breath is a struggle and I wheeze and cough, and shrug off the well-meaning “Are you okay – take a minute to stop and catch your breath” for my breath cannot be caught. Take heart, though this is not our choice to live like this, live we do.

    “If you swim effortlessly in the deep oceans, ride the waves to and from the shore, if you can breathe under water and dine on the deep treasures of the seas; mark my words, those who dwell on the rocks carrying nets will try to reel you into their catch. The last thing they want is for you to thrive in your habitat because they stand in their atmosphere where they beg and gasp for some air.” ~C. JoyBell C~

    • Hi Madmother, thankyou for your beautiful comment, and for sharing your own story. You sound amazing. I am sorry that you are a Mermaid, but I am not sorry that you are able to see the beauty in this world; what a gift. Keep fighting and swimming and enjoying the little moments. One day we will all be ok, of this I am sure. xxx

  3. Jess,
    Your writing is beautiful. I hope you don’t mind me sharing a link to your blog in a post I am writing. Asked what inspired my writing an eight book Science fiction and Fantasy series, (although it is not clear to many readers,) those who share my life know my inspiration came from watching a loved one battle chronic disease.
    Your words explain so much, so perfectly. Thank you for sharing.

    • Thankyou so much for your beautiful comment rosalie, it means more than I can say. I would feel honoured if you were to share a link of my piece on your own blog, I am very humbled. I am sorry you had to watch a loved one fight like I do, but thankyou for being there for them. We can’t do it alone. Thankyou so much for reading xx

  4. Hi,
    I so much enjoyed your piece. Could I have permission to share it with my students? 7th grade reading. If so, could you send it to me at my email add?
    Deborah Buttner

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