Deep Dive–No Thanks!
I dream of living by the ocean, the waves crashing as close to my front door as possible. I love everything about this fantasy, but it takes an ominous turn if I think of going into the water. I don’t even want the calmest swell covering the top of my foot. That’s too far in for me, no thank you! At that point, my dream of the ocean turns into my worst nightmare. I wouldn’t even consider skimming the surface on a boat. Nope!
I’m not afraid of water. I swim just fine. I’ve simply never understood the infatuation with going into this underwater world filled mostly with beings who don’t even breathe air. For example, I don’t need to run into the giant oarfish, a harbinger that something ominous is about to happen…as if running into an oarfish isn’t ominous enough! And a big “No Thanks” to the vampire squid and all their friends. Probably because I can’t get my head around any of this, I’m obsessed with people who take every opportunity to swim with the fishes… and whatever else is under there. Perhaps I’m hoping they can help me understand and free me from my terror. Perhaps it’s like that impulse to slow down and look at car accidents in the next lane or to watch horror movies. I don’t know.
Avoiding work one evening, I decided to take a peek at Netflix. I wasn’t actually planning on watching anything. I just figured I’d program-surf for a while. I clicked on the big, red N, and the screen filled with the image of merpeople, or rather humans with tails, swimming with fish in a giant aquarium. What the heck? Merpeople, the docuseries invited me into the “whimsical world of professional mermaiding…where people’s passion for swimming in fins has become a half-billion-dollar industry.” I leaned back in my lounge chair and stared. I knew I should keep on clicking, but I couldn’t.
I understand the desire for adventure. I tore out my C-section stitches trying to hang glide. I don’t judge. But the opening preview scenes of Merpeople had me wishing I drank. Call me bonkers, but I figured if people devoted their time to mermaiding, it must be fun. The preview showed actual grown-up humans, screaming and running to faucets to rinse the chemicals out of their eyes. I guess making creepy underwater mermaid faces isn’t good for human eyeballs. Go figure!
One of the main mercharacters is Mermaid Sparkles (pronouns mer/her). She dreams of the day when she can be a full-time fishy and afford fins made by a top fin designer. This requires more money than she makes at kids’ birthday parties blowing fishy kisses, giving hugs, and posing for pictures, because tails don’t come cheap. I confirmed this by doing what I do when I need solid facts—I flipped to YouTube. I learned that a tail can cost $20,000. Let that sink in. I have to admit, the tails are beautiful. I don’t want one anywhere near me, because while I’m not afraid of water, I’m profoundly claustrophobic, and those tails are tight…leg-binding tight. Still, they are gorgeous.
At this point, I had to take a break from the aspiring fishies, so I switched over to the news. The Titan submersible had just gone off the radar. Literally! News announcers and YouTubers filled the air with hope and began what would become endless updates on the search for the five passengers. They counted down time in oxygen hours. I felt like one of those annoying audience members at a horror film, the ones that yell at the cabin-dwellers not to go down to the basement. I won’t go into details. My warnings weren’t pretty. But come on! We were supposed to hold out hope that five people who decided to plunge two and a half miles underwater to look at the Titanic (because that’s not inviting a curse) have vanished but might still be okay. Perhaps my sense of dread was fueled only by my feelings about the ocean, but I couldn’t imagine they were fine.
I switched back to the Merpeople. They were wacky, but far less depressing.
Over the next couple of days, I swam (pun SO intended) through the stories of some of the mercharacters. Mermaid Morgana leads “the USA’s most prestigious mermaiding troupe” and is the head of MerMagicCon. (Tickets are on sale for 2024, with pricing for Observers, Merlings, and Guppies. ) Mermaid Che’ Monique is the plus-sized fishy who created The Society of Fat Mermaids, a company offering mermaid-themed apparel “shellabrating fat folks.” Central character, Eric Ducharm, aka the Mertailer, wants to be the biggest tail-maker in the world and opened Mertailor’s Mermaid Aquarium Encounter. And one of the more multitalented mers, nonbinary Blixunamy, lives the mer-life “all day, every day.” Besides mer-ing, they also produce music and design the clothing line DeTailz.
If there’s any concern that my aversion to the ocean might be threatened by the sparkle of the mers, not a chance. I hadn’t forgotten about the Titan, another group of people who chose to plunge into the dreaded sea. By the time I’d finished my mer-binge, the tragic news of the loss of the ocean explorers had been confirmed. To add to my conviction to stay in my own world, I ran across stories about orcas attacking boats. And this is no one-off event. The orcas are training each other to attack people who invade their territory, aka the ocean. These glorified dolphins seem to have decided they’ve had enough.
I had to stop.
Though Merpeople did not convince me to take a chance on the deep blue sea (in fact, I had to take frequent anxiety breaks while watching it), there was something heartwarming about how a group of diverse individuals found a community of like-minded, inclusive fishies. While I still don’t want to join them for a dip, I am always happy to see people find belonging…even if it is underwater.
But not this human! I’ll find community and belonging while my feet stay firmly planted on the shifting sands.
Kait Leonard writes in Los Angeles where she shares her home with five parrots and her gigantic American bulldog, Seeger. Her fiction has appeared in a number of journals, among them Does It Have Pockets, Roi Faineant, The Dribble Drabble Review, and Sky Island Journal. Kait is currently working on a novella-in-flash and a children’s picture book. She completed her MFA at Antioch University, but she’s refusing to leave.