The Fish Girl
It’s mid morning on a midweek day. The sun is slipping in and out of the lake, the water slipping in and out of shadow. The shore is vast and quiet — soon it will be full of fish children relieved to be out of their desk chairs. But for now, they remain inside, filling their bellies full of Lunchables and juice.
In a classroom on the big kid side of the lake, there are eight fish girls, crowded around a group of four desks. One of them deals a deck of cards, and the fish girls play the game while cramming food in their faces, for they only have twenty minutes. When the bell rings, they take their time packing up and getting to shore, which, although still vast, is now full of the screams of joy and pain of hundreds of fish children. The fish girls head beyond the trees, where they sit on the grass. One of them introduces a new game called Paranoia, and they spend the rest of recess (and many of the following) playing.
As the sun grows warmer, the fish girls continue to deny the trickling of the sands. But denial cannot erase the inevitable. While three of the girls move to the deeper side of the lake, the other five move on to the vicious ocean known as high school.
And in the ocean, there are more fish, more sharks, more nets, more hooks, more sunken ships.
Two of the five are dragged into other fishes’ currents. The remaining three stay in one group, but much like many of the other fish, they are nothing more than sharks in disguise. They drag new fish-sharks into the group.
This new group eats lunch at a table at the end of a side hall, flittering between five and seven people. Not much food is eaten, but much blood is shed. Specifically that of the true fish girl. Her old fish friends, now turned fish-sharks, tell her most embarrassing stories (photos included), while one of the new fish-sharks steals her shoe and dumps it in the trash. The fish girl retreats to the outskirts of the group, hiding in her own skirts, hoping to get through the hour without being the butt of the joke yet again.
Another new fish-shark is dragged into the group’s current. But this time, the fish girl bonds with her quickly. They split from the group, making their own current amongst the sea of students during lunch, never looking back at the fish-sharks they left behind. The new fish-shark likes to tease the fish girl, but it’s not as cruel a hook as the ones the old fish-sharks liked to bury beneath her skin.
Then comes the second year of the ocean. The three fish who were left behind in the lake arrive in the ocean, and the fish girl returns to her fish friends for lunches. She soon realizes just how harsh her new fish-shark’s hooks are, and she abandons her without so much as an explanation. A few days later, she tries to rejoin her current, but their bond is no longer the same. She continues to eat lunch with her younger fish friends.
Second semester rolls around again, and the fish girl begins to take her fish friends for granted. She reads while she is with them, she sits on her phone and only half speaks to them. Slowly, they begin to change into sharks, drifting away, choosing other sharks over the fish girl. Until one day, she looks up to find they have changed currents entirely, replacing her with sharks who make it obvious how much they appreciate them.
The fish girl no longer cares to eat lunch where she had once eaten with all her fish-shark friends. She takes to the corner across from her locker, eating lunch all by herself, sometimes reading, always listening to music. She frequently listens to Taylor Swift’s ME! on repeat.
After a stint away from the ocean due to debilitating OCD, she returns, not to the classrooms, but to various offices within the ocean. She eats lunch there as well.
When her little sister joins her in the ocean, the fish girl eats lunch with her and her sister’s friends. But she is not altogether comfortable there, and she moves to resource, where, at the very least, she has a table and a chair.
When the sun is quite cool, and the earth has just begun a new lap, she wanders over to the room beside resource, where they appear to be holding a club. She recognizes a few of the fish-sharks from around the school, one of them in particular from her guitar class the previous year. They play games, and it is almost like she is back in the lake.
She returns week after week, until one day, the guitar boy asks her for her name and Instagram handle. Although she is wary of letting him in, she gives it to him anyways, figuring she can always block him later.
She doesn’t. Block him, that is. Instead, she dates him, and eats lunch with him. And although COVID-19 split them up physically, they are still as close as ever. And while she may eat lunch while her family is scattered throughout the house, she is never truly alone.
The fish girl struggled to make friends. The fish girl could not understand how her fish friends turned into sharks. The fish girl thought she was broken.
The fish girl is autistic.
The fish girl is me.