Archive for the ‘dolphins’ Category

“Haunted Shrimp Baby” and “Moth Baby” are two pictures that I drew with colored pencils and black magic marker back in 1999, trying to come to terms with my infant surgery. At the time, I was not aware that I hadn’t been given anesthesia for the operation.

As I uploaded these pictures, I was scowling. Such bondage!   The inertness of the images cried out, both “babies” trapped in tight bandages. The first image screams insanity, the shrimp laughing as inner darkness consumes her. She scares me with her demonic face. Her tail appears pinned on and is anything but functional. Neither creature has legs; no agency whatsoever.

In “Moth Baby,” the antennae depict replicas of the scar from my pyloric stenosis surgery; one antenna has four stitches, one five. Five is the actual number on my middle. As I re-count the stitches, I feel ugly. Seeing my scar does not always make me feel this way, but it does today. In the picture, my tiny, pink face looks like it’s about to burst!  No cry or baby die–the mantra the surgeon taught my mother.

A shrimp floating in air. A moth baby with wings pressed to its body. Art can tell the raw truth: trauma interruptus.

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Driving to work the other day, I had an epiphany. That though Sidra, the dolphin I blogged about a few posts ago, was sick (a fact I had not mentioned), she emanated love, acceptance, and grace; she was strong despite her illness and in her vulnerability gave so much. I cried thinking about this. Illness is a teacher and we are its students.

I originally signed on to help feed Sidra, not only because I thought it cool to hang out with a dolphin, but because I was moved by her plight. Sidra had liver disease, like many dolphins in captivity, I was told. Each day, I inserted several capsules of medicine into the gut of one of the fish that I was feeding her and threw her the food, hoping that she would get well.

How ironic that in Sidra’s state of unhealth, she was the healer. Maybe her effect on me was so strong because she was sick. We were both trapped—she in her concrete tank and me in my concrete body. What did she feel day after day, the vastness of her underwater world reduced to a pool with a 75-foot diameter? And how had I felt during surgery as an infant, paralyzed and awake but unable to escape?

Sidra died that fall, the summer after I cared for her. My old boyfriend, who had originally introduced me to Sidra, phoned to tell me the news. He said that she had gone blind before she died, the researchers realizing too late that in captivity, dolphins need protection from the sun. Soon after I heard of Sidra’s death, my life also took a dive.

I couldn’t save Sidra, but her spirit keeps saving me. Maybe I am still an active presence in her life. If life is eternal and she exists somewhere, does a picture of me persist in her mind?  As Linda Hogan, Chickasaw writer, says in her essay “Animals, Our Selves” in the most recent issue of Yes! magazine, “All around us are radiant species.”  And I have been lucky enough to be taught by One.


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You are loved by the universe, Sidra says.

Sure, I was taking care of her, along with other marine lab techs at the University of Miami Graduate School in 1974, and she was captive and dependent. Yes, I fed her the noon meal daily, even on weeekends, so she grew to associate me with food. But she also welcomed me like no other–black penetrating eyes, a high-pitched clicking sound, and acrobatic antics. She’d rise up on her tail and skip backwards; rocket high-speed around the perimeter of the pool; break the surface right in front of me, rising six feet into the air, and fall backwards as I sat spellbound on the diving board. Sidra held nothing back. She disarmed me. With her, I broke through self-consciousness.  I felt valued.

As a child, I felt ugly, partly due to the spider-like scar reaching across my belly. If you would have asked me at age 22 whether the scar, or the infant surgery itself, was affecting my life at that time, I would have said no. In reality though my middle was frozen. I had dissociated from my abdomen; in my mind, it didn’t exist. Sidra helped me heal. She made me feel loved if only for a half-hour a day one summer. Sidra saw through my wound to the real me.

Sidra still helps me heal. When I think of her, when I see her photo, I know that I am loved by the universe.

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