I suffered a sea-change at age twelve.
My friends and I sunk ourselves in the water of our local beach, the white wash foaming on the lips of the waves we ducked under. To an observer, we would have epitomised a child-like innocence unknowingly about to turn rotten. We would still brave the cold, and the only photos we’d take were to send to our mothers to let them know what end of the beach to pick us up from.
That particular day, we had swum into an armada of bluebottles. Their tentacles were bound up in each other, like a woven bag coming undone, and they wrapped themselves around us. We ran out of the water frantically, all comparing our welts, and began to walk along the road that led to the surf club at the other end of the beach to get some ice.
The word bluebottle itself is a kind of myth.
A bluebottle is not an animal in itself, but rather four different colonies of polyps that depend on each other to survive. The float is a single individual that supports the rest of the colony, and the tentacles are polyps with the job of detecting and capturing food. They hand their food over to the digestive polyps, and reproduction is carried out by the gonozooids. They are symbiotic.
I often consider the symbiosis of the men who slowed their car down whilst we walked along the bitumen road, our stings swelling and searing. Their odometer clocked down to a fraction slower than the pace we walked at, and they followed behind us. Was the first man to yell out at us the tentacle? Had it been organised that he would detect and capture that day’s prey? The next man to stretch his head out the window seemed to break us down, dissect us, easier for digestion.
“She’s got great tits.”
We hadn’t even got our periods yet. Did that matter to the gonozooid man, the one who drove the float, or was this whole scene an exercise to demonstrate how little our bodies belonged to us? We had dared to walk the road, as we had dared to enter the ocean, and now we would brave the cold.
Bluebottles are translucent. When you are close to one, you can see through them. But their art lies in how you will never know when you are close, and when you realise, it will always be too late. You cannot suspect every car will treat you this way, and so you act with the assumption that you belong to your body as they belong to theirs. It is only three years later, when you are fifteen, that it is too late again and you watch the symbiosis come to fruition once more – the float, the tentacles, the dissection and digestion, the plastering of sex upon your body that has now become aclimitized to the cold.
I am nineteen now, and I exist in this dependency. I am someone’s daughter, someone’s sister, someone’s partner, someone’s friend. I am not a float, but rather attach myself to others subjectivities and situations in hopes of survival. If men were known not as a float, but rather as someone’s son, someone’s brother, someone’s partner, someone’s friend, perhaps there would be an opportunity to educate and to enlighten them. But they are totalities in themselves, microcosms of the patriarchal culture that buzzes in the air.
I seek the totality of the Blue Dragon. She feeds on bluebottles, soaking in their toxic chemicals and stinging cells into her own skin. No bigger than a thumbnail, she countershades, her colour palette of azure and bleu de france camouflage her against the lulling backdrop of ocean waves. Her underbelly, in shades of silver coins, brews with the bright sea surface and conceals her from predators below. She gulps in oxygen (“I eat men like air”) and floats in the high seas. At the centre of her heteroglossia, there is a unity, a central oneness. She is not delegated, and she floats out there somewhere as you read this, her ceratas the shape of a hand held by no one.
There was a neurological sea-change within me, yes, when those men wound down the windows and the sharp pain of their words pitted onto us hurt more than the welts decorating our legs. I learnt I could be anatomized, fragmented, splintered into worthy and unworthy parts. But I suppose I did soak up some of that sting, and I store it somewhere, a protective layer around my last offcut of oneness that lets me write this piece.
I brave the cold.