Helen Whittaker and Lisa Eldridge

Helen Whittaker
Where air and water meet


Lisa Eldridge
Inspiration piece

Being a fish is OK if you like water. Being an olive is OK if you like martinis. Being an ape is OK if you like bananas. Being a freak is OK if you like the circus. Being an artist is OK if you can find inspiration. Even if you can’t, being an artist is nice work if you can get it. And you can get it for me wholesale. “Wholesale” means you get a good price. I’d like to be an artist, but I don’t want to pay retail. Vincent Price made some movies I liked a lot, but he died. A lot of people have died, so my story is nothing new, but three months ago my dad died. I have been trying to find inspiration to write. I keep thinking about my dad.

My dad was a scientist, which is OK if you like science. He liked science. He was funny (goofy, really), so he also liked the circus, probably, although I might not have that right.

I feel somehow compelled to reiterate this: Being a fish is OK if you like water. If you do not like water, what are you? Probably you are not a fish. Water holds the key to our unconscious, I’ve heard, which is weird because wouldn’t it rust? Air is OK if you like to breathe. I haven’t been breathing too much lately. My diaphragm is stuck on mute, I think.

I am having trouble remembering things lately. Like nouns. Did I already mention that being a fish is OK if you like water? Baking a cake is OK if you like cake, or if you don’t like cake, you could go ahead and bake one and give it to me. How many Weight Watchers points are there, though, I wonder, in an entire cake? They always tell you the recipe makes 16 servings, but I will not dignify that with a response. While my dad was in the hospital, I made his favorite foods for him: German chocolate cake, macaroni and cheese, spaghetti sauce with meatballs. I wanted to serve him a feast when he got home. He never got home, unless you count where he is now as home, and some people do, but I’m not sure I’m one of them.

I miss my dad. I don’t know what to do. It has been suggested to me that I might try writing about my dad in order to work through my unconscious feelings. If I do this successfully, I will feel OK. That is what I have been told. I have been told to just keep writing, but what will I find if I literally just keep writing and never stop? What will I uncover? How deep down in the sea must I dive to find the fish that is my unconscious? How do fish breathe, down so deep in the dark water? I understand they have gills, Professor. But I don’t understand the mechanism beyond that fact. I guess the water strains through the gills like horizontal blinds on a suburban sliding glass door, shaped something like that, I mean. So the fish is able to somehow wrest oxygen from the water as it moves through the gills. Much in the same way, we humans use our diaphragm, which is a muscle or possibly just a rumor, to push air in and out of our lungs. My dad was on a ventilator in the hospital because he could not protect his airway. So he got pneumonia. That isn’t as fun as it sounds. I have not been taking deep breaths for weeks now, and without that breathing in, that inspiration, where is my inspiration to write? My diaphragm is full of fear. Apparently I’ve just been breathing through my gills. That’s enough oxygen to live, but not enough for inspiration. Fish don’t practice deep breathing exercises, generally, unless they do and I don’t know about it because I’m not a doctor. Not that doctors know everything anyway. Would a fish doctor know? Can a fish become a doctor?

I miss my dad. For a long time, even though he was sick, we didn’t know he was going to die. We never know when someone is going to die, probably, unless it’s someone we plan to kill ourselves. That way you can set a time that’s convenient for everybody. Actually, I did kind of kill my dad. I convinced my stepmother that turning off his ventilator and increasing his morphine was the kindest thing we could do for him. I had to convince my stepmother to do this, that last day, because she did not want to stop believing that my dad would get better. For a long time I had kept hoping that, myself, but the days and weeks were going by and I saw my dad. He was never getting better.

Still, that last day, I asked the doctor several times to explain to my stepmother, and to me, that my dad was never going to wake up, never going to be able to speak to us, never going to stop having seizures, one every eight minutes. I needed the doctor to convince me, even though I already knew, that there was no hope. I wanted to be able to say “It’s what he would have wanted.” Everybody always says “It’s what he would have wanted,” but that’s easy to say when the person who would have wanted it is in a coma. Yes, he wanted it when he was alive and breathing and the idea of dying was bizarre, as bizarre as one of those fish who has a flashlight on its ass or whatever, but would he have still wanted it if he could have woken up and said, actually, being in a coma on a ventilator is not that bad, considering. It’s OK, actually, if you think about the alternative.

My dad could not wake up and tell us this, unfortunately. He was far away where we could not follow him, somewhere in his unconscious or between worlds, maybe, while the ventilator breathed for him. Maybe being hooked to a ventilator is like breathing through gills, I thought.

Then it was time. First, the doctors increased my dad’s morphine drip to slow down his breathing and so he would not suffer. Then they took him off the ventilator. He breathed on his own for a while: full, deep breaths. We sat and watched him breathe.

Thinking about it now, I’m not really sure if fish do like water, actually. I have never thought to ask a fish that particular question.


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One Comment

  1. Posted June 7, 2010 at 11:17 pm | #

    “How deep down in the sea must I dive to find the fish that is my unconscious?” I loved it.