The water lashes against my toes. I wonder if there’s jellyfish haunting the waves, ready to sneak up on my unforgiving feet and strike my legs – the only movement I’m grateful for anymore, but they do little to ease my fears in the ocean. I am not in Port Aransas, I remind myself.
I feel my bathing suit bottom fall beneath me, and I struggle to cling to its strings, forever waging a war with what I want and what my body gives me. I think of the possibility of sharks mating nearby, but I am not in Miami, I remind myself. Even with the cold East Coast water crashing against my sunburnt shins, I tell myself I am not in danger, that I’m still in control.
But then I think of the first time someone pulled me beneath the surface. I could see through the pool’s transparency, but I felt out of control, struggling to stand when only my arms could flail. I didn’t fight the person pushing me down; I fought the water. It’s funny I should fear the very thing I envied as a child. I dreamt of being Ariel and swimming beneath the sea amidst the sharks and crabs, of adventures beneath ships and stormy waters. I feared the trident, wanting Ariel to find her independence and escape to an exotic land where she could walk rather than swim.
Yet that exotic land is never what it seems. The first time a third grade classmate pulled his arm around my neck on the playground, I ran to the recess monitor in tears. No one seemed to care. We were playing boys chase girls. It was my own fault, wasn’t it? Boys were stronger and used to rough housing. I fought with my own younger brothers, bringing out the nails when it became serious. But this was different. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t control my fate.
The water is not freedom to me. My near misses with drowning are not thrills I wish to repeat. I never learned to float – it scared me, the idea of losing sight of my surroundings and floating out to sea, never to be heard from again. But now I pull my bathing suit bottom back up around my waist and look at the crashing waves. Would it be so bad to float away? Would it be so bad to feel a jellyfish sting? Why not test the body that dares to defy me? Why not test the body that fears being out of control yet is constantly chained by the prison of a disease that will never die?
I look down at the scars on my stomach, my favorite injection point. My belly button remains unscathed—maybe because it knows better? It has somehow escaped the pain of this foreign substance, yet a substance I need to live. I look down at my blackened fingertips and the hands that keep me alive. Would they give up on me in these waters like my pancreas has given up on me? Would they fight even when the fight was worthless? Would they swing and wail when the sharks came biting or when the storms pulled me under?
I think of the weight I’ve gained since I stopped caring about my body image and let the ounces of insulin show in the fat pockets around my hips. I exercise to keep my blood sugar stable, but that does not prevent the extra insulin I take for a mistaken carb ratio from sticking around. I could stop taking the insulin and let the calories pass through my kidneys while my body starved to death, eating at what fat remained. I could, and my mind is crazy enough to attempt it, but my body won’t let me.
My hands continue to twist the needle onto the pre-filled injection pen, dialing to the correct units and then plugging that sharp point through my skin, allowing the insulin to give me life yet destroy me at the same time. My hands do the work while my mind watches in awe and disappointment. Is this my ocean? Will I forever swim in daily doses of injections and blood sugar readings? The pricks of blood taint my belongings. It doesn’t always clot right away, and I am too impatient to wait for its stubborness. So it leaves its mark on objects of my life—a pad of paper, the bathroom sink, a white t-shirt, a water bottle ….
I fall beneath the waves – my toes can no longer feel the sinking sand or the evasive seashell pieces. I watch kids on surf boards and frisbies flying through the air. I used to play ultimate frisby. Would I still be good at it? I became intimidated by its intensity in college, and it was no longer fun so I quit. But could I still catch the frisby if I tried? Could my hands still work their magic no matter how weak low blood sugar made me? I can feel myself shaking, losing vision, sinking into a relaxed yet cardiac state. My heart is beating rapidly, my mind is losing consciousness. The waves carry me not like a funeral pyre, but beneath its arms like an infant in the middle of war. In wanting to protect me, they suffocate me.
I keep my eyes open and let the salt water burn. My legs are lifted from the floor and carried to unknown depths. I see little fish below. I worry about bigger fish. I used to dream of being a blue whale. Not that I like to move that slow, but I like that no one bothers it until it dies, and then it gives back to the ecosystem that sustained it. I would like diabetes to let me be, let me live in peace until I die and float to the bottom. Then it can take over my body while science tries to figure out why it picked me (why it wanted to destroy me). Maybe then other people can learn from my mistakes?
Maybe? But I am not a blue whale. I am not a swimmer, either. I cannot float, and I cannot fight the waves. I just lie still and accept my fate. The frisby glides past—another life, another missed opportunity. I am stuck on this beach. Until when? I don’t know. I think I see a zebra shark resting on the bottom, but this is no blacktip reef. I am close to touching it, but suddenly my arms move in quick succession. My legs create ripples behind me. The shark swims away.
Then someone pulls my hand, and I follow until I am out of the water. I choke on sand and look up.
My younger brother of 24 stands on the beach, a quizzical look on his face. At six feet, he towers over me, his arms rested against his side.
“What are you doing? Swimming to the edge of the ocean?” he asks. I was swimming?
“I don’t know. I thought I’d just try.” I stand with weak knees.
“Next time, tell someone,” he says and smiles.
“Can I ask you something?” I say as I follow him to the top of the beach. He turns around. “How did you find me?”
“You’re not that good of a swimmer,” he laughs. I laugh, too.
I find an abandoned frisby and toss it to the waves.