by Jade Song
How did we mutilate our bodies?
We mutilated our hair. We cultivated our arm leg pit vagina hair for months like farmers growing wheat, until we shaved all of it off in one hour, together at the shaving party before the big meet. The razors cut lines down our calves coated in whipped cream, our hands wrinkled and pruney. We soaped up each other’s backs, an early lesson in Sappho. If you shave my back I’ll shave yours. Then we emerged from the locker room showers as newly naked mole rats.
We mutilated our guts. Bowls of raw oats mixed with applesauce, stacks deep of banana walnut pancakes, pots of pasta mingled with marinara and basil, shakes of chalky protein powder blended with egg whites, casseroles of coalesced buffalo chicken dip. We laughed at nutrition labels based on a 2,000-calorie diet and we laughed at the skinny girls in the cafeteria who pecked at tiny containers of Light and Fit Strawberry Flavored Greek Yogurt.
We mutilated our beauty. Though this sense of beauty was an outdated version. We created our own out of weightlifting and stair climbing and swim practicing. Our shoulders grew thick and our thighs expanded wide and our hair hung limp and our skin peeled, parched into crackling fish scales, because that’s what we became after five hours in the pool every day. Fish. Not mermaids.
We mutilated our language. 8×200’s middle 100 red, 12×25’s off the blocks sprint, 8×400 IMs descending fast, 6×25’s underwater kick, 8×50’s IM order, flip turns snorkels kickboards pulleys. Our secret code, written on chalkboards and whispered among lanes.
We mutilated our bloodstream. Water flowed through us instead; we were bodies of water. We could not distinguish where we began and where the 25-yard pool ended. But we were not the water that is the roar of the ocean wave or the still shimmer of the peaceful pond. We were not the powerful waterfall crashing over the gorge, nor were we the simple drops that dance down the car window during a rainstorm. We were the kind that was corrupt, neither fresh nor salt, more poison than oasis, life ending rather than life affirming. Our water was steeped in chlorine. We licked our dry arms after practice and the smell still emerged from our pores. Too much of it and we would disintegrate. Too little and the bacteria would murder us.
But we did not mutilate our girlhood. We were girls, always, first, even when we were fish, and we never forgot it, especially under the steaming showers where we stripped naked after practice, skin still red from lack of oxygen. Or when we huddled together to do our team cheer, arms looped around as we pitched our heads back and forth, yodeling, hear us scream and see us swim, don’t mess don’t mess don’t mess with the best ’cause the best don’t mess. Or when we slid our hands around each other’s’ waists to help pull up the $300 fancy technical swimsuit; if it took longer than 10 minutes it was too small, but shorter than five and it was too big. We were fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, seventeen years old, off to Honors Algebra and European History and Spanish and prom dates and football player hormones and the first sip of beer, all outside threats aimed at tearing down our castle built within a moat of chlorine. But we stood strong against the tirade. A team. A kingdom.
We were tougher than the wrestlers and the tennis players and the cross-country runners combined. High school was a small world, but it was our world. We ruled with a dihydrogen monoxide fist.
We were fish, we were water, we were a high school swim team, we were girls.
Jade Song is a writer and art director. She grew up in Pittsburgh and now resides in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in Waxwing. Find her at jadessong.com/.