Fish/Shark

As a child I feared unlocked doors and fireworks, queen sized beds and loneliness. So my father gave me a baseball bat to keep underneath my bed and instead I feared imaginary men in hooded sweatshirts who preferred to break in through second story windows.

Found while moving, the bat was discarded along with seven paper clips, one black sock, and a battered copy of the book A Wrinkle in Time. The pile seemed insignificant once inside the waste bin, ephemeral signs of a childhood no longer mine.

Though I am no longer a child, there is still that sense, the one of being so much smaller than the world, that sense of knowing your heart cannot contain it all, all those things you feel and think, which still remains. That fear of insignificance still remains. When I stare at the night sky, velvet in its texture, blue in its coloring, I am reminded again that I am less than one of those stars, burning for thousands of years, white hot bodies so far away from me they look like mere fireflies, singular sparks dotting the firmament. They look small. And that is the way I feel today—small.

Some days, there is a comfort in this, to see yourself as one among many. When I look at pictures online of sharks surrounded by schools of fish, it is always clear where the sharks are, leaving circles of water absent of fish around them. They remind me of icebreakers pushing through icebergs, everything on either side of them falling apart, shifting into disarray. The submerged world finds itself suddenly afire with fluttering fins desperate to escape, and only the shark remains apart from it, its movements seemingly unhurried. It glides, I think, watching the bodies part way before its own, at peace with itself, with the world around it, with its place within the larger system of things, with its individual shark-ness, its role as breaker of the orderly pattern of aquatic things.

The fish, on the other hand, the “alarmed fish, trapped against the surface above and surrounded all about, abandon their coordinated schooling movements and become chaotic. Their graceful and disciplined schooling strategies of uniform spacing and polarity degrade into frenetic attempts by each fish to save itself. “

At this moment, the fish do not seem beautiful in the fierce way that causes me to find sharks beautiful. Yet if you are but one of the many, in that circling school of fish becoming spherical, even if you are alarmed, frenzied, your odds of being eaten are but small. It is only the “fish that break loose [that] are singled out and eaten.” There is a relative safety in numbers, in being just like everyone else.

As people, there is no way of really telling, when we break loose, which we shall become—fish or the shark? The one breaking or the one being broken? Is this what I fear in being alone? Not the aloneness itself, for this is not new to me, but the lack of a predictable outcome? Last weekend I sat in a bar alone briefly, in between visits with friends. For that period of time when I was alone the noise of the people seemed so loud that I could no longer comprehend any of the words they were saying. I could have been in another country entirely, so little did I understand their language. I went unnoticed, and I said nothing, not even to the bartender. Yet I watched all their interactions, the bodies swaying with liquor, the bodies angled towards one another, the bodies leaning a little too closely into other bodies, my own body apart from these other bodies, a little island at the high top.

In that moment, was I shark, watching the gaps in the water widen on either side of me? Everyone else, just out of reach.

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