January 7, 2015,
I am lost. I am a sea-person from the Cuban city of Havana, residing on land during the night and water during the day. I have been trapped in this strange life on land and in this strange body for an eternity. I lost my powers...my ability to breathe in water. I always thought I was crazy, so I never spoke a word of my other life to anyone - not even myself - but now that Joan Henderson’s case has been made public, I feel that I finally have the courage to share my story. My life has been stolen from me. I have to get back to the waters, where I belong. I feel if I stay here on land much longer, I’ll die. I am living in another dimension, but I don’t belong here. I have to think of a plan.
“Hey, Claire, what are you doing up there? I thought you were coming downstairs to eat dinner. It’s 8:30.” I looked at the clock. It had been 45 minutes since I told Stephen we would eat dinner. Sometimes that husband of mine was helpless. He could have made dinner, himself, but, no… I have to do everything.
“Sorry Stephen, I was just…” my voice trailed off, “thinking about something.” He looked at me funny and sat down at the table. “Dinner isn’t ready. The fairies didn’t cook while I was upstairs, so you’re going to have to wait.” I snapped.
“Claire, what’s going on? Why are you acting so annoyed at me?”
“I’m not annoyed, I’m just thinking.”
“Well what are you thinking about? Clearly something is bothering you, and you always say we need to communicate our feelings more.” Obviously, he wasn’t going to let this go. Although, bringing up this little problem of mine would not go well...I supposed saying nothing wouldn’t go well, either.
“Stephen, do you remember that case a few months ago that was all over the news about Joan Henderson? She was admitted to a mental hospital because she claimed she was from another dimension, but no one believed her. Psychologists claimed she was suffering from some kind of PTSD and paranoid schizophrenia, but she swore she was trapped in the wrong dimension. Do you remember hearing about this on TV?” I was sweating, I realized. I knew that Stephen loved me, but he was not a patient person, and he didn’t believe in anything you couldn’t prove.
“Uh...I guess I remember hearing about that...why? What are you thinking about this for, all of the sudden?”
“Well, what if she wasn’t crazy? What if there are people all over the world who are getting put away, locked up...but what if they’re not crazy, what if they’re just lost?”
“This is ridiculous, Claire. I don’t know what you’re going on about, but can we eat dinner now?” He put his hands on his temples and let out a big sigh.
“No! Look!” Something inside of me let go. I no longer cared about how this shell of a man responded to my claims. I had to get back to where I belonged, no matter the cost. I had to accept that I was trapped here in this cruel place. I went and got my journal and opened it up to today’s entry and handed it to Stephen.
“What is this?” He read the entry, expressionless. “Is this some story you’ve come up with? I told you to give up the writing dream, already. This isn’t even creative. What, is this some spin-off of The Little Mermaid?” He put the journal on the table.
“No, asshole, this is real. I’m lost, Stephen. I need to get back to my universe, the one where I live in the water, on the coast of Cuba. I’m dying here.” My mascara was running down my face and I realized I was losing it - after years of telling myself this wasn’t real, I had finally accepted my tragic circumstances.
“Okay, Claire, I’m not sure what you’re talking about, or what’s going on, but you’re acting crazy. Do you hear what you’re saying? We’ve been happily married for five years, lived in Vermont all our lives, and now you tell me out of the blue that you’re actually a Cuban mermaid trapped in a parallel universe? Do you hear yourself?”
“No, Stephen, wait --”
“I’m calling a doctor, right now.” He picked up his phone.
“Stephen, listen to me! That’s not what I’m saying! I need you to listen to me for a minute.” He put the phone down.
“How do you think I can speak Spanish fluently? I never took a Spanish class. I never studied Spanish. I just know the language as if it was magic. And, look at the scars on my side. They look like gills.”
“You told me you studied Spanish in high school. You told me your scars were from a dog, that you had had them since you were a child.”
“I lied! I had to...you would have never believed me if I had told you the truth...just like you don’t believe me now.”
“Claire, you have to go to the doctor. You have to see a psychiatrist, or I’m out of here.”
“You’re going to leave me?” I stopped crying. “How do you think I can hold my breath underwater for so long, huh?” The look on my face was pure disgust in the man standing before me.
“Listen to yourself...Claire, this sounds like you’re having some kind of mental break-down. Don’t you think it’s possible that these things are just coincidences? Don’t you think it’s possible that you’re unhappy in this life, and so somehow, subconsciously, you’re creating these stories as a way to escape from the problems of the real world? Look, I don’t know where all this is coming from, but you need to get it together, right now.”
“But didn’t you hear Joan’s story?”
“Yeah, and I think the psychologists were right...I think she was on the verge of a psychotic break, and was suffering from severe mental illnesses. She was probably abused as a child and formed these false memories as a coping mechanism, Claire.”
“Her story is real. What if there are others who are trapped here and they can’t say anything because they are afraid to be locked up like her?” I went upstairs to get something. I had one piece of evidence that I had kept hidden away all of these years, never seen by anyone. But when Stephen sees it, he’ll have to believe me. I reached into my dresser drawer and took out the picture and brought it downstairs. It was faded, yellowed, and a bit wrinkled, but it was evidence, all the same.
“What is this?” He took the photograph from my hands. In it, was a teenage girl. She had long, brown curly hair and she had a big flower behind her ear.. She was thin and wore bright red lipstick, a small, white, short-sleeve T-shirt and a long, loose red and pink skirt, which was blowing in the breeze. She was smiling, standing on a street lined with old, tattered, brightly colored apartment buildings. To her left you could see three men playing instruments and a small crowd watching. The girl in the photograph was me. Stephen turned it over. Scribbled in the lower right corner were three words: Havana, Cuba, 2007.
© 2020 Jillian Cleland