I’ve been dwelling a lot on karma these days, maybe because it’s too hot to do anything more productive – like contemplating or considering or rejecting karma. It may not even qualify as karma, but I’m referring to the kind that goes like this: if you make up a story to get out of a bind that story will end up coming true.
What this has to do with mermaids is this. Many of you know that I am one, have been long before Disney merchandised the whole concept with that cloying Aerial. But for the past two months I’ve had to stay clear of the river that flows in front of my house because of a small but pesky open wound that may or may not have started from a spider bite. For a mermaid, not being allowed to swim is the equivalent of being grounded. I’m not the only one. A mermaid sister of mine, Lolita, has been grounded thanks to a nearly-broken back. We’re both miserable. Which is why I’m wondering if karma is to blame. I can’t speak for my mermaid sister’s case, but I may have had it coming.
About three years ago I invented a story. (Okay lied.) I told my inquisitive nephew Brandon that the reason he couldn’t see my tail anymore* is because I was grounded by mermaid management. It isn’t necessarily permanent, but until the powers that be say so, I am no longer a mermaid.
*The tail he once saw (full disclosure here) was a costume I rented before his little brother could walk and before his little sister was born. On a visit to Florida, I wore the costume in his bathtub and posed for this picture. This does not prove that I am not a real mermaid. It was simply easier than auditioning for the Weeki Wachee mermaid show or giving up my voice to marry a prince. I’ve been Auntie Mermaid ever since.
I come by mermaidenhood honestly. I wanted to be a ballerina but I wasn’t tall enough. As I’m explaining in the book I’m writing for Joggling Board Press, my mother conveniently taught swimming lessons at the Hillsboro, Oregon indoor pool. Here’s a little sample (not yet edited):
“I spent hours each summer day cross-legged at the bottom of the shallow end, holding my breath and trying not to puff out my cheeks too much. Through the stinging, chlorinated water I looked up at my mother’s legs, treading water, and resolved never to look like I was riding a bicycle. I squeezed my legs together instead, pointing my toes and bending at the hip to propel myself under the struggling students. Blowing tiny bubbles from my nose, I could undulate across the entire length of the pool without coming up for air. I refused to wash my hair with the special chlorine rinse my mother used because I wanted my blonde hair to turn green, like the moss tangled in the illustrated Little Mermaid’s locks.”
I loved that my nephew knew me not as Teresa but as his Auntie Mermaid. But once he reached about ten the questions started coming fast and furious.
Q: Why doesn’t your tail come out every time you swim?
A: I have special lotion (sunscreen) that I always put on my legs to keep my tail invisible.
Q: Is Gary a merman?
A: No. He’s not a good enough swimmer.
Q: Can’t you make him one?
A: No, I love him too much to drown him.
Q: We won’t tell anyone. Can’t we see the tail again?
A: Sorry. Mermaid management found out about the first time you saw my tail and that’s why I’m grounded.
See what I mean about karma? The story I told to get out of a bind has actually come true, just ten years later. Swimming in the life-giving, organism-filled waters of our tidal ecosystem is a recipe for flesh-eating bacteria. I didn’t just ascertain this from the tabloids – actual doctors concurred. Wait until all broken skin is completely healed. No matter how hot and humid it is. This weekend marks the all-clear mark when it’s safe for me to swim again. So for the sake of karma, don’t mention it if you see a mermaid’s tail break the surface of the water.