Mermaid No Longer in a Jar

Dear 2012,

Something changed in the final days and hours of 2011: ME AND MY RELATIONSHIP TO AD.

Throughout 2011, while my father continued his quiet decline toward BRAIN IN A JAR status, just like his father before him, I found myself becoming a MERMAID IN JAR. Trapped by history and genetics. Closed in by grief and fear. Unable to swim, both literally and figuratively.

This burden of learned and inherited traits felt so insurmountable at times that I forgot about my characteristics of courage and joy. That rascal known as Alzheimer’s Disease was taking a toll on me without my even having it. My father’s diagnosis felt like my own.

But looking at the world through a jar gave me blurred vision. I couldn’t see what was staring me in the face: the loss of my own identity amidst the loss of my father’s memory. I was becoming him because I was losing him.

I’m not sure what happened over the past few days to change my mind. Maybe it was 10 unfettered days with a family of my own creation. Maybe it’s the psychiatrist who is encouraging me to crawl out of the Sea of Lonely and watch it pass rather than drown in sorrow. Maybe I hit maximum capacity on being Bercaw, and now it’s time to give my other DNA a chance to come out and play.

I can still be sad about my dad, and salt water can still stream down my face when I miss his mind. But I don’t have to live his story just because it’s what he taught me. It’s time to write a new chapter. One in which I swim free.

So, today, I unscrewed the top of my mermaid jar from the inside.  I’m leaning over the jar’s lip and splashing. I can see so much from this point of view: the places I want to travel; the people who love me; and, the person I want to be. It’s all within reach.

Greetings new year. I’m looking forward to finding myself here.


P.S. I found this story today on “Drunken Boat,” a journal of online  art literature, and am glad it’s not about me.

Mermaid in a Jar

By Sheila Heti

I have a mermaid in a jar that Quilty bought me at a garage sale for twenty-five cents. The mermaid’s all, “I hate you I hate you I hate you,” but she’s in a jar, and unless I loosen the top she’s not coming out to kill me.

I keep the little jar on my windowsill, right behind my bed, right near my head so if I look up in the middle of the night, up and back, I can see her swimming in the murky little pool of her own shit and vomit, and I can smile.

“Hello, mermaid! How are you this fine evening?” I can say, and sometimes do. “How very sad it is that you’re so beautiful, and you’re so young, and you’re so fucking trapped you’ll never get out of that bottle, ha ha!”

Once I went on a class trip and brought my mermaid along, just for the hell of it. We were going to Niagara Falls and I was thinking, “Right, well, maybe I’ll hold her over the rail, give her a little scare, put her in her place,” or thinking about letting her loose down the falls and out of my life. But once we got there I forgot her in my little brown lunchbag with my hot cheese sandwich, under my seat in the yellow school bus. But she got jolted on the ride there and jolted on the ride back and that was enough for me.

Once I had a party and invited all my friends, seven little girls, to play and sleep over, and having called every number flashing in our heads, and having already called the pizzas twice and seanced out of our minds, I just thought, “Oh, why don’t I bring my mermaid out to show? They could make their faces at it, they could have their fun, and we’d be able to toss it back and forth like a real little football.” But then Emma fell asleep, and then so did Wendy and Carla and the rest, and the mermaid just stayed locked in the closet where I’d put her that afternoon.

Once when I thought she needed a bit of discipline I rolled her measly bottle down Killer Hill in the ravine. Another time I threw her deep into my best friend’s pool.

Now she’s getting old it seems. I even saw a grey hair on Friday, and wrinkles are spreading all across her skin, and as much as I liked her before, I like her even less now. I was thinking sort of what to do with her, but I think I’ll just keep her there a little while longer. At least until I’m happy again.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. nancy says:

    Yes!!! Swim out, swim away, swim to

  2. Allan Nicholls says:

    it is awfully nice to have you back….

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