One day I just washed up on shore. tangle of seaweed, two legs I didn’t know how to use. And dry. So dry. It was a word that I had been taught but never understood fully, even when I would take brief excursions to sunning on briny rocks, far away from people.
“humans ruin everything,” mom used to whistle harshly under her breath. “always poking around where they have no business.” Mom was a drowner. She hated her job, hated culling anything that she couldn’t eat, but she was the best hunter in our pod, and so she was, of course, a drowner.
I lay there on the beach for a while, not understanding what had happened, only that I could not return. Every breath felt like sandpaper inside my newly formed lungs. I closed my eyes and tried to sleep.
2. Of course, we were like them once. Grand Mama walked off the coast of this same shore and never looked back. They didn’t make it to the home they were looking for. They walked and grieved and got lost in a storm that moved the ocean sideways from the stars and got their maps confused.
3. I have legs. Breasts. Hips. I don’t know how to move in this place. The rhythm on land is harder, more demanding. I see so many of us that have washed ashore. I wonder what this is about. We come to each other, in the coffee shops that we live in, the libraries, the internet we catch each other with. We come to each other at night. Having legs. Breasts. Hips. Means something in this world. I’m not quite sure.
4. I have dreams that I am a drowner. That I am snatching some person with blue skin down from the top of our home and skinning them gently while they squirm away from me, trying to breathe their can of air bubbles. I take off their mask and they are so pearly and raw, flaccid like babies. I hate to drown them. But this is our home.
5. I discover that we who have been washed ashore are black. and none of us know how to get back. Every once in a while, somebody thinks they have found the answer. They usually end up washed ashore again, drowned or defeated and half insane. The insane ones walk around with seaweed in their hair all the time, talking about Atlantis. Atlantis is not real, at least that much I know. Sometimes, one of us has slipped away, and does not come back. They do not tell us that they are going. But they go. And they do not come back. We notice.
6. I got my first jellyfish sting the other day. I do not think I can ever go back now. I taste like the enemy to the ocean, so dry. I read about shark attacks and I think that I can no longer call the sharks my Great Aunts and Uncles. Because I am raw now as well.
7. My lover is one that is not like me. He says that I smell like the ocean, and some days slightly fishy. I thank him. He is confused. Buys me perfume. But he loves my skin. rubs my nipples like talisman and that sends waves of pleasure through my body. I feel like bursting and I want him to rub my nipples more. Nobody has done this before, and I ask him to do this all the time. He gets bored with my nipples, and he tells me so. His eyes remind me of a replica of the ocean. He leaves me. I want to find more people with eyes like oceans. Maybe they can take me home.
8. I go to the swimming pool. I watch them in their bathing suits, looking like half open oysters. Moving through the water, Ssmetimes I think they move like us, and other times they flail like they are fighting the water. I step in. The water is different than what I know. It moves against my body different. Or it may be that my body is strange to me now. It is indifferent, compliant. I cannot dance with it. I wade in up to my shoulders, my neck, and I stop, unsure. The water doesn’t speak to me. I don’t know how to use these legs, these feet. I get out of the swimming pool, feeling even more dried out than I had before.
9. Black is a funny word. It is empty, like the water in the pools, It seems to be a prefix that means “not”, or “exception”. None of us. It feels like never knowing what it feels like to be who we were. We don’t talk about who we were. It doesn’t seem to be relevant now. The people here don’t like us. When I see ones with blue eyes, they don’t look like oceans to me anymore. They look like I mean “not”. They don’t know anything about “home”. Some days I feel like I mean “not”. I try to slip my tongue around the words I used to speak, but my tongue doesn’t work the same. These words I use now, They are like a shackle on my tongue. I used to think that shackles were jewelry when mom used to show me the shackles that GrandMama turned into teeth when she turned shark. Thick, ugly jewelry. But I know what shackle means now.
10. I have another lover. black like me. She goes by Star. She makes me homesick too much. Because she’s dry and wet at the same time. We fight a lot. When she cries I lick her tears and they remind me of home. She says I’m dry and wet too. I don’t feel any ocean left in me, but she says she does. We fight and then we kiss and then we remember things together. Sometimes when we fight, she leaves and then I go looking for her for days. I always find her again. I hate the feeling. It feels so good that I’m afraid that she is not real. And we fight so that I can make her real. And then we kiss and I remember. Too many days like this. It’s like another shackle. I begin to count time by the days. The days that she is here and the days that she is gone.
11. I have a baby in me. In the ocean, we would always have twins. But when I go to the doctor, it is one, only one. The doctor asks me who the father is. I say the baby has no father. The doctor looks at me like I am “not”. I look back at him because I want him to know that I am, even though I have no words for what I am. He looks away like he does not even see me anymore. He tells me that everything is fine, and I should come back in a month. I am lonely. All this time on land and I have forgotten about my twin.
12. I have been looking for her for 8 days. I give up. I don’t want this baby in me anymore. I go to the clinic and they vacuum me out for $425.00. I am bleeding but I am ok. I go home, feeling a storm in me. I sleep for 3 days.
13. My twin comes to me in a dream. There is a storm in the ocean and my twin is calling for me because all of the pod has to move. Twin says that they need all the drowners and that I am supposed to be next-in-line. Twin shouts at me. “Wake up! Come Home!” and I wake up. But I cannot go home. I go to the corner store for a bag of flaming hot cheetos. The bleeding between my legs annoys me, and I adjust my pad all the way down the street. “We need drowners,” I say to myself out loud.
14. I don’t understand how we are all here, we have all come from the ocean, and yet none of us know each other. None of us remember the names of our pods. We know that we had them, but we cannot speak their names or see their faces in our minds, except sometimes when we dream. We remember only broken bits of our stories. We talk and try to piece it together, sometimes, until somebody sucks their teeth and mumbles how ridiculous the whole conversation is. I remember my dream, though. And I remember twin, even though I cannot remember twin’s name. Maybe there is a way to go home. I do not say anything to the others when I am in the library with them. I am quiet, thinking.
15. The other humans have begun to cull us. It is on the news everyday. They say that we break the law. They have their own drowners when people break the law. But sometimes we don’t know the laws that we are breaking, because we try to act like them, to fit in. And when they break the law, they don’t cull themselves. Sometimes we even study the law and tell the drowners what the books say and they still cull us.
16. I have started to feel afraid, all of the time. Fear. Fear for no reason is new to me, and I shake it away, but it still grows in me like seaweed. Maybe from the place the baby was growing. I wonder where Star went. I hope that somehow she made it back to the ocean. I hope she wasn’t culled.