Tiny feet danced in the water. Heels strived to look glued together; toes pretended to have scales. Hair fanned out and road the ripples beneath the wind-capped surface. All was peaceful and quiet and in slow motion.
I gasped for air every few seconds, momentarily breaking through the thin skin between fluid imagination and windy reality.
In my mind I was graceful as I swam through my underwater world. To the true residents possibly watching, I must have looked like a fish on a dock; my torso jerked forward and back as my legs spastically followed. Floating on my back my imaginary tail would flick up through the ocean’s surface and my invisible scales would sparkle in the sun with every twist and flip.
My sister and I would play mermaids almost every time we were surrounded by water—the ocean, the pool, our bathtub, it didn’t matter. The game gained significantly in legitimacy when, for Christmas, our dad bought us the mysterious mono-fin. Slipping both feet into the single large fin, the plastic forced our legs to remain connected. Once separated limbs flowed together in an automatic synchronized motion. We were one step closer to growing gills.
It is an unfortunate human characteristic—always looking elsewhere, always wanting to be something else, someone else, somewhere else. What makes that lush, green grass on the other side of our imaginary fence look so much more appetizing than the parched blades beneath our feet?
Who knows? Maybe the soil is better on the other side. Maybe it gets more sunlight. Maybe the grass really is better on the other side. Or maybe the human eye was designed to over speculate and scrutinize what is close up and see beauty intensify as it fades into the distance. Maybe it is all an optical illusion. Maybe the trick is training the brain to see what the eyes are incapable of seeing.
I used to wish I were a mermaid. I used to wish I were her, or her, or even her. It didn’t matter, as long as I wasn’t me. I used to wish I lived in California near my grandparents and cousins. I used to wish my parents weren’t divorced. I used to wish I could have one home and not two. It all looked better. Probably because I couldn’t even see life from that angle—it was all in my extra-colorful and extra-exciting imagination.
Even now I yearn for what is beyond. For when no teacher can define me by a letter grade; for when no one can tell me what to read or what to write or when to talk. But something tells me that the grass I am on is going to look exceptionally green the minute the gate is open and I am running in the opposite direction.
I used to wish I were a mermaid. Sometimes, I still pretend I am. But what was once a childhood game has now been blurred and twirled into something entirely new. It is the curse of a human to always look beyond; beyond the horizon, beyond the stars, beyond the unknown—always searching. Being a mermaid used to be my world beyond I craved and secretly wished for with a quick blow of a birthday candle or a squinting prayer as a star flashed across the inky blackness. Now, the twirling and dancing with the tantalizing wetness becomes my place of refuge. Under the flowing liquid ceiling I no longer yearn or look beyond. I am deep in the present. I am submerged in the depths of what matters most. I am, for the small precious moment, completely surrounded by the moment. I am content.
Of course, as my fins turn to feet, and those feet sink and grip to the grains of sun-baked sand, I will lose my scales and become human once again. My body may ache for the warmth and dryness of a towel. My tongue may crave unsalted water. I may wish it were warmer or wish for some shade. My humanness will take over and the constant whisper of wishing will continue. Until I can dive back in to my quiet world, I will remain human. On land, all I can do is try to learn how to see what my eyes can’t—that the beauty of the present far surpasses the beauty imagined anywhere else. Because the present is here, it is raw and it is real, and that is beautiful.