There is freedom in the tide that pushes and pulls against damp sand. The briny breeze dances with the foam lapping at the shore. The beach turns to clay as I walk out into the gradient blue. I threaten not to turn back, but the flicker of fins root me in the sinking sand.
I sit cross-legged on the carpet with a present in my lap. It’s soft. That’s never a good sign. Every kid dreads clothing as a birthday present, but I rip at the shimmery paper anyway. They’re jeans. The denim is a course, Atlantic blue. I stand and let them unfold to the ground, measuring them against my hips like Mom always does. She’s smiling now, asking if I like them. I don’t, but I tell her I do.
I’ve never been able to drown my love for mermaids. They take grace from the creatures that flop around on the floor of a fishing boat gasping for freedom. The scales of a piano cannot compare to their lullabies, let alone the shimmer in their tails. They are strength. They are naïve. A single splash in the lapping waves and they’re gone.
There’s a ring of dirt around my ankles. Manacles. My legs chafe in the soaking bellbottoms as I run home from the park. Jeans have never fit me well. Mom always insisted the length mattered more than the fit, that I could always wear a belt, but they always managed to hug just above the protruding ankle bone. They scrunch at my knees, and I can’t help but feel trapped in the scratchy collection of stiff fabric.
Sirens. Peter Pan. Hans Christian Anderson. H2O. Splash. Sirenia. Sirenomelia. The Thirteenth Year. Aquamarine. Venus. Barbie: Mermaidia.
Skinny Jeans. The new trend. The denim wraps around my legs in a mummy’s embrace. I swallow my pride and shimmy them over my newfound hips. Jump twice, kick kick, one final jump and a squat. I suck in last night’s casserole and pray I can fasten the button, but Mom taught me the rubber band method if I can’t. And even while I’m out at the movies, browsing the mall, or on a date at the bowling alley, all I can think about are the oversized sweatpants waiting for me in the bottom drawer of my dresser.
I summersault into the weightless deep, head over heels, diving far enough into the ocean that it is no longer blue. There is a reason why the sky reflects the ocean. There is a reason why Levi jeans stain my hands navy. This is the only place unknown to the rest of the world. The mermaids hoard the world’s freedom with their collection of seashells and ship masts at the bottom of Earth’s treasure chest.
There’s nothing worse than shopping for jeans. I can’t remember the last time I looked at myself in the American Eagle dressing room mirror and didn’t feel a lump in my throat. They don’t make jeans for girls like me. Elongated trees with a thick trunk. But now they’re taller than they’ve ever been before. High-rise. Skyscraper. Meant for an Amazon like me. I like them because I can tuck in the gut Mom gave me and feel more confident. The fabric is “stretchy,” but the spandex abandons me after the third wash.
Fins do not know the taste of denim. They glimmer beneath glinting rays, barnacles crusting on Spartan scales. They course through currents like the sand sifting through my palm. They cannot feel the bite of a fastened button. They are not tattooed with the stitching along both thighs. They are free from the zipper’s teeth—sucking in a breath and never letting go.
Jeans aren’t meant for me. They’re for the courtesy of my mother. The courtesy of the dress code. The courtesy of the boys around me that whine that they can’t concentrate because a girl is wearing yoga pants. Leggings are for me. They’re made for girls with legs, curves, skin, bones. They do not have a say in what we choose for ourselves.
In the final scene of The Little Mermaid, when the day is saved and the shackles of the curse fall around her newly-formed ankles—there is a reason why she’s wearing a dress.