For most of my adult life I've used analogies to navigate the process of living. For example, I've always been a strange fish. The complete lack of representation of anyone I could relate to in the media I consumed whilst growing up means that I am now unable to see myself in any narrative. Not even those which now feature people who look like me and live like me.
But I see myself reflected elsewhere. In 2007 footage of a frilled shark surfaced, captured by divers off the coast of Japan. She was in distress, swimming lopsided, and died within a few hours. It was surmised she was sick, to have been so far from her natural habitat.
I saw myself in that slow, heavy shark. Meant to swim in cool, quiet darkness, in stillness and solitude in which the cycle of seasons are not measured by light. To be a silent creature passing by other silent creatures with nary a pause. To venture in to the world is to enter warm, shallow waters, bright with sunlight and full of extroverted fish in dizzying crowds. Society asks that I live in these bright, balmy waters, but I'm not made for it.
That shark was caught and couldn't swim home. I've learned to flee into the depths sooner, rather than later.
I'm one of a sentient and intelligent species, however, and can adapt. There are ways to exist in shallow and busy waters. I was not one creature, but many. A whole school of fish, the many pieces and parts of me moving not necessarily in unison, but with coherence. Sometimes, when there were sharks in the water, the school was in chaos. Other times, the school was a mesmerising ribbon of silver, curling around a thriving seamount. I had to fracture myself to move through a social world. It wasn't an injury, just another way of existing.
These seem like such trifling little toys, now.
Can I speak of anger for a moment? Anger is magma, and the volcano only erupts when there is naught else it can do. Magma comes from the depths as well. Sometimes it can be controlled, sometimes it can be channeled, but it will always want out.
Trauma does not come from within. Trauma is the meteorite that slew the dinosaurs and lays waste to all the strange and wonderful things a life can grow. A depth not of me nurtured that meteorite, out there in the world, and then slammed it upon me. Perhaps I invited my meteorite, but then, who honestly anticipates the extinction of the soul?
I used to contain multitudes. My mind had no boundaries, no beginning nor end, the multiverses playing out in layers of consciousness I only barely acknowledged. There was never only one Tessa. How could there ever be only one Tessa? I could survive everything, because there was always more of me, so much more of me.
Until the meteor struck, and the ocean died.
I'm not a fish. I'm not a school of fish. I'm one, only one, standing on the shore of a disease-mangled ocean. The surface is broken by the bloated carcasses of so many fish, the waves do not form those smooth glass tunnels of my memory but are chunky with skeletons and decay. Pus floats like polar ice on these waters, riding low, yet still so much sitting high. The water that laps at these bergs of sickness is stained with the blood of ruptured corpses, stirred by a wind corpulent with decay, the reek so heavy its a wonder the air has the strength to carry it. All this wasted meat. There are no scavengers to enjoy this feast.
The extinction of the world leaves only one, wondering when the horizon drew so near, why there is nothing else but this beach.
How small I have become. How very small.
No one can see this, but I spend my days standing in that disgusting soup with a bucket in my hands and the taste of putrefaction in the back of my throat. One heaped bucket at a time, I pull the empty bodies of fish from the surf, I scoop pus from those rancid bergs, I work and work and work to clean that ocean. Behind me, on stained sand, are mounds of detritus. All the poison I pull from the ocean in slow-growing mountains.
There are birds hidden in the pus. Birds that survived the first impact and surging tides, birds who tired of flight and tried to rest only to discover that pus is not an island. Caught in that quagmire, feathers slick with it, they floundered and sank and drowned in the symptoms of my wounds. They appear from the stuff suddenly, frightened and frightening and staring in panic.
Sometimes the waves bring up secrets from depths that no longer exist. I have a hook and a rope and being the only one I pull these behemoths to the shore. Their jaws are a mile from crook to crook. None of them smile. A sunken eye larger than the sun, cloudy in death, reveals nothing. I drag these monsters up the beach, their skin sloughing off in great curtains, and go back to my bucket.
It is unglamourous work. There is nothing to romanticise in this filth.
Occasionally I find another me. One of the multitudes lost in the cataclysm will wash ashore. Maybe she will be in a foetal position with her face hidden in her palms, or perhaps she will be standing with her fingers curved, her spine curved, all her bones curved into the question. There is nothing to be done for these pieces of me. I try to comb the pus from their hair, take the scabs from their skin and leave them on the beach where they are found.
Squalls are unkind. Sometimes I can see them coming and find myself a shelter amid my own ruins. Other times they take me by surprise and I find myself hunkered behind a soggy pile of scabs, the bucket over my head drumming furiously with the unforgiving rain. These storms bring new wreckage to the shore. There is always more.
I don't often venture close to the impact site. The turbulence in the air over that space is upsetting, the tides vicious and mean, and the miasma so thick I cannot see nor hear nor breathe. I don't know if occasional exposure to it will help me or not. I only know that it is there, now, and I must live with it.
One bucket at a time, when days and nights have no meaning, and the tides are always bringing more, more, more.
It's hard to accept love, here, now. I don't know what there is to offer. But then, I know what it is I love in those precious people around me who also struggle with a history of invisible injury. Their wounds are a part of them, and so I must love those wounds. Their wounds do not define them, so I can see a person who exists with or without that struggle, who inspires love. Their struggle is a heart breaking over, and over, and over, and for taking up that fight I love them too. Fiercely. So, perhaps this is what can be seen in me.
Later, I will have a bounty of silver scales and event-stained skeletons. Later, the bones of these deep giants will be revealed as towers of glass, casting shadows which are not shadows. Give me enough time and the mountains of pus I move from sea to shore will dry and harden. The pressure of aeons will turn that once rancid mucus into beautiful, milky stones, which when polished and then held up to the ear will hum quietly of grief. Entire ranges of humming peaks. I can give you the ambergris of lost whales and the surrendered pearls of unknown clams. Strange and unimaginable mosses will creep across this long grave. Algae will bloom in this sickened water. There is an ecosystem in the future and its ghosts reach back in time to here, now, urging me on. One day, multitudes of me may wake again.
Sometimes I do nothing. Sometimes I look at all I have done and all I have yet to do, and the futility of it all becomes overwhelming. I sit in garbage and the vomit of the ocean and there is nothing in this universe to hear my wail.
The tide creeps up the shore to suck at my toes, and I pick myself up, pick up my bucket, and carry on.
I have contained multitudes, and so I can grow a new world. This is not unknown to me.
I do not know what it will be, but this new world creeps closer, one bucket at a time.