“Let’s pretend we’re mermaids!” I suggested to my sister. It is 1991, we had received The Little Mermaid video for Christmas, and we watched it any time mom would let us. Nene was two years younger, and thus agreeable to anything I suggested.  Sometimes I think she was just happy I was being nice to her for a change, including her in my make-believe world.

“Okay. But how can we do that when we don’t have a swimming pool?” she asked.

“Mermaids don’t swim in pools,” I said, my impatience with her creeping into my voice. I reigned it in, though – I needed her. “We can pretend the hall closet is our grotto. We don’t need to swim, we can pretend,” I pointed out, downplaying my intense desire to really swim like a mermaid, to really be a mermaid.

We gathered supplies for our deep-sea expedition. This included a fork (for our hair), our stuffed toys (to be fish) and the sea shells from our mother’s collection. Her name was Michele, so she collected shells. We weren’t allowed to touch the coral, but we wouldn’t get in trouble if we just took a few of the more common shells, like the spirally ones and the snail shells, as long as we put them back.

We set up in the hall linen closet, the biggest one in the house. The shelves became natural rock formations, the folded sheets sponges and seaweed, and it was properly dark inside, so it was perfect for the setting of an oceanic cave.

It didn’t work though.

As we shut the doors and turned on our flashlight with the blue cellophane over the lens, I tried to make it enough. I jumped, willing that spot deep in my chest to pull me upward, allowing me to take flight and swim through the air. I jumped again, certain that if I wished it hard enough, of course I could do it.

It wasn’t enough.

“This is boring,” I announced. “Let’s do something else. Let’s play Barbies instead. Barbie can be a mermaid. I think that would be better.”

It was a little better. I could make Barbie do all the things I could not. She could flit about, unhindered by stupid gravity. She could have adventures I could not. She looked a lot better in a bikini top.

That night, I dreamed I was in the next-door neighbor’s backyard. They had a swimming pool, and I always thought it was unfair because they were old people and they didn’t have any grandkids to come swim in it, but they never invited us to do so either. In my dream, I dive off the diving board, even though I am eight years old and I don’t know how to dive, and as I splice into the water my legs transform into a tail. I become a woman with a tail like a fish, a mermaid, and I can breathe under the water. I swim the length of the pool, then fly out at the deep end and the air around me becomes an ocean.

I woke up crying. I would never be a mermaid, even though I wanted to so badly.

As I sit here writing this and recalling this dusty memory, the feeling deep in my chest is as strong as ever. That indescribable internal pull pierces through the haze of time, the constant through all events of my life.

I type my stories now, though. I live through them.


She doesn’t look as happy as I would be as a mermaid. It’s okay, Waterhouse, I still love you. #favoriteartist #canyouusehashtagsonablog?


Photo Source

Hooking up with Yeah Write again this week. Check it out for some superior writing! You should join us. Fun, fun, fun!


Let’s Pretend — 36 Comments

  1. Loved this. Totally made me tear up as I sit here thinking about doing the same thing with my sisters when we were little.

  2. I felt like I was diving through the water with you in that dream. It’s wonderful that you can still remember it so well. The worst part of dreams like that is trying to hold onto their sparkling freedom as reality lumbers into your consciousness and blots out all that nighttime beauty. I used to try to write down my dreams, but I could never capture them properly before they slipped away.

  3. Oh, the things we can achieve in our dreams and the dreams that unfold in writing. Such beautiful, soul enriching things the mind and imagination can conjure. I loved this Natalie. It really struck a chord with me.

  4. Beautifully told reminiscence. Oh, childhood. Wonderful and scary at the same time. Reminds of the Mississippi John Hurt song:
    When my earthly trials are over
    Cast My body out in the sea
    Save all the undertaker bills
    Let the mermaids flirt w/ me

  5. I love the image of the closet, the blue cellophane, the two of you hoping to swim. You handled the intersection of real and imaginary very nicely here. And the last line— !

  6. You can do anything you want on your blog including hash tads. This was a lovely description of childhood dreams and fantasy. I agree 100%. It is why we write.

  7. “unhindered by stupid gravity” love this line.

    the last part about still feeling that feeling of longing so many years later – yes. i feel it to reading this. well done.

    • I spent a considerable amount of time cursing gravity and the fact that my hair was brown.
      It surprised me that that feeling remained so strong for such a long time…only now, it’s applied to different things, of course. I gave up on the mermaid thing long ago.

  8. Now I am totally nostalgic for playing “Little Mermaid” in 2nd grade.Of course I was the weird awkward kid, so I was always forced to play Flotsam or Jetsam. Sigh. Thanks for sharing!

  9. Aw, I love this memory. Of the impatience over gravity, of wishing so hard for something and waking up crying at the injustice. Great piece and nice work.

  10. I hate it when old people have pools and don’t use them.

    My wife loves The Little Mermaid. It is fun. But she really is the brattiest of all the Disney princesses. Plus she rejects her species. Sometimes we watch the movie and wonder what we would do if one of our girls started to act like Ariel. So help me, I would destroy that grotto; just in a much nicer way.

    • Oh, I know – looking back, it’s terrible. I mean, she’s sixteen and she runs off – against her father’s wishes – with a different species. But as a little girl, it was magic. I mean, the ability to breath underwater and swim so fast in a totally different atmosphere? Plus singing crabs and fish?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge


Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers:

%d bloggers like this: