Sarah Kay – Jellyfish

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It was somewhere in between the last day of school and the first. Somewhere between morning and nightfall, somewhere between New York City and the very tip of long island, there was a nine-year-old girl standing somewhere between the shoreline and the sand dunes scanning the horizon like a hawk, like an amazon warrior like a great cavalry captain like char la man on the morning before he took his final enemy – jellyfish.

There were jellyfish on my beach, in my ocean, and that silhouette of a soldier and that was me. I was the nine-year-old protector, I was the conqueror of the jellyfish, I was the vanquisher of the venomous, and I was armed with my plastic bucket and my legs which are strong enough so that I could hold against the pull of the sinking tide and wait for one of those red and purple translucent throbbing bubbles of death the drift unsuspecting into the claw of my plastic bag, and my legs were fast enough so I could dart back up onto the beach, where I could toss my captives mercilessly into the sand pit I had dug, never stopping for breathe, only for a juice box in the cool shade of a green and white umbrella.

I was a man on a mission (which is to say girl with a bucket but in the bright glare of late August those two look an awful lot alike). That bucket was sword and shield that hole was prison and redemption. There is no repentance. I had no guilt,  I was risking life and limb to protect everything I knew to be sacred- but you have to understand I really believe it was so.

I lost count after twenty-two, the movements became fluid, almost memorized. As day began to sink the pink and orange began to creep their way into the crystal of afternoon skies, seeping like ink into the ocean around my ankles, I grew weary. Mom and dad called from the beach “time to turn in my bucket!”. Time to stop killing the enemy to start thinking about what I wanted for dinner.

That’s when it hit. That one that got way- quick like lightning blinding like gunfire piecing like the point of a spear, I was hit and I was down I was down hard and fast, it was a hit and run. That jellyfish was gone before I had time to register pain, and that mark lasted all summer long like a railroad track on the back of my hand, a battle scar to mark the war I had fought.

Somewhere between then and now irony slipped its way into my vocabulary, laughter became and anecdote for guilt, sacrifice grew to be a band name for shame and unnecessary death became a nightmare that rode me piggyback. Somewhere between then and now I learned that every move you make echoes outwards from your body like ripples on the ocean from a skipping stone. It was what taught me that karma is as tangible as the taste of seawater. Somebody somewhere has a scorecard so that an eye for an eye tooth for a tooth really come around to bite you in the ass but what is it about immortality? With the right sword and shield we think we can fend off anger fear and hatred, if our legs are fast enough we think we can outrun age, loss and death- but we can always truly live as master of all the jellyfish.

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