Shell-hunting and, I’m Hooked


Sometimes I find fragments: hardly identifiable bits of shell, already broken. Crumbs spat out by the still-hungry ocean. Some still hold portions of patterns, but have been sliced and softened over time. Some have been blanched and battered, washed out. Some are crescents, some are daggers, some are spoons, some are needles, some are hearts. Some are vague. Sometimes I find them when it’s too late, they’re too far-gone; they’ve already been bashed against reef and rock, refined for too long, refined into sand, into shell-dust. Sometimes I can’t recognize them as shells anymore.

Sometimes I find them unbroken. And pulse with a particular joy when I do: how could something so fragile arrive to the beach unscathed after navigating through such a shore break? Black lava rock like fists, pounding; the long-fingered coral reef like knives, like spears, gashing; the waves like elephants, tramping against the earth; it should powderize them.

But somehow some make it to shore, whole.

Cocaine: shrill, and lewd, and copper, trickling in the cracks of my skull.

Cocaine: my first time snorting, and, I’m not so sure it’s going to be my thing. Cocaine: splits the length of my gullet. My palms sweat, my pulse accelerates.

In our mother’s garage, the big door left open for air, so we could breathe, sipping on stolen beer and feigning happiness. I’d walked by this scene too many times on my way into the house, and wanted desperately to be invited in.

The exclusion held charm. My big brother C. and his gang of handsome derelicts: what could possibly be better?

I was 18 and hungry for insight. This drug had them hooked. I mulled over this again and again, asking myself why. They adored it; praised it like a sanctified deity; but rather rather soullessly, void of any real passion. They lifted up to let the light shine at it, as if in this way they might see it for what they wanted it to be. As if they could inhale and understand something about being human, or about feeling hungry, or impassive, or feeble, or broken, or lost.

This drug had them feeling full, only temporarily – allowed them to feel good, grand even, lingering and listless for hoursdaysweeksmonthsyears doing not so much.

Sitting on a cooler in our mother’s garage, tonguing my chemically powered upper lip, and dipping in and out of the conversation loop: fishing, cocaine, hunting, drugs, sex, fishing, cocaine: I’d never felt so god-damn cool, or so fucking bored.

They are in glass bowls, jars, in wooden boxes, hidden in drawers, forgotten in beach bags, in the pockets of my shorts; they litter my life. I spend a lot of my home time organizing these skeletons, and admiring them. In a fish bowl by my bed, the prized ones are visible to be admired every morning when I wake. And I marvel, how can so many opposing patterns and colours look so beautiful together? Their patterns don’t clash; rather, they seem to work together to make a fuller pattern. Nature it seems, even in a jar, cannot clash. Some shells have the pattern of tigers, some parrots, some tortoises, some tessellating triangles, rectangles, squares, dots. Some have stripes, some are seemingly blank, but have mild textures, or are radiant purples or reds on the inside. Some are simple; some are bold.

I segregate them first according to shape: cowries or cones, urchin spines or fish bones, spiraled, flat, sharp, hollowed. Then according to damage: dented, scuffed, scratched, chipped, halved, bitten off, pieces, scraps. These bits I’ll put in wooden boxes, or in drawers, to be hung in earrings, or drilled onto rings, I may get to them, later, but for now, they are stashed away, not on display.

  1. [I would write but never send],

you are breaking my heart. You’ve got me clutching, fingernails sunk in skin. You’ve got me stumped; you’ve got me fading . . .                    . . .                      . . .

I’ve never felt so much and known so little about anything as I do this: Demon-play. Drug-worship. Dope-dependency. You’re weak so strong. And I know you can cut clean, make a naked dash for the nearest exit, leave everything behind while your framework burns to the ground. Then, you’ll be ash-black and chalked and marvelously void. And, soon you’d start budding again, green grass glinting against the residue of your burns. You have to start again, from the beginning. Because right now you’re drying up, you’re dying, and I don’t mean metaphorically.

At worst, you’re          something      (a body in a puddle of blood)                something

(a fucking spoiled brat; kill yourself if you’re going to)      some

thing (somehow     still    alive)                                                    something (more)                                          something (not really  alive   any   more)

something to side step while walking through the front doors of our home.

You’ve been mostly-dead for the better part of a long while now, and I need you to know that I want you to want to be alive. I want to shake your collapsing corpse and yell plea to you: to be better, to be sober, to just fucking live. But I know you’re already chanting:    I WANNA BE CLEAN BUT I GOTTA GET HIGH.

Scabbed, scarred, you are so handsome. Sunken hallow faded green eyes echo what wisdoms you’ve discovered along your way. And you have grasped truths. And you’ve abandoned them; and yourself, in some ditch: traded yourself in for some class-act cliché of a drug-addict dope-sick kid. Traded truths for lies – do you even know what real is anymore? You’re so good at lying, that you’ve forgotten yourself what has happened or what hasn’t. This is your loop; needles, high, dope, sick, needles, high, dope, sick, needles, low, needles, dope,

You’re a skeleton. You’re a shell, emptied out. Is anybody in there?

Do you know without knowing that there is no end to this? Is death the only escape? an easy out. Brother dear, you are destroying me. I never knew this kind of selfish was possible          are my idol. You’re a flame. You’re a bucket of water. Don’t     Put yourself out.

I come home, and you’re yelling. You smash things when you’re upset; mirrors, lights, framed portraits, glass jars, full of shells. Skeletons fall on the floor; shells litter our lives. I sit, silenced by your rage. I used to yell too, but adding to your noise makes no sense. I’m searching for stillness.

I’ve never loved someone the way I love you       pleasedon’tdie     and I say this selfishly selflessly: Fuck you for doing this to me,   to all of us. I will be at your side for as long as it takes for you to set yourself on fire and start this life over. But I will not sit here feebly and watch you die. Tell me: how do I help you help yourself? Tell me what to do: tell me. I know you don’t know what we are supposed to do. We are sinking, sinking deeper. And I’m perpetually prepared for your death. There are limits to your body, you are tired, your veins are thick as ropes; you are infected. But brother dear, despite because of all of this, I love you to the bottom and, back […]          

love all ways,

always your little sis.

Underwater. I am hoodwinked, tumbling in the surge, stoned, unplugged from any reality that might exist above the surface. Underwater, I am unfettered. There is a particular weightlessness, or deadweight. This is what I crave: this feeling of floating, this feeling of nonexistence: an abyss, a void. This is where I must go.

When it all becomes too much; too loud; the noise, the lies, the confessions, the confusion, I reach for my mask, walk myself to the sea and plunge in. I dive in, off the lava cliffs, off the edge and I swim out; belly gliding over reef, over fierce-fingered coral, like knives, like spears. I kick under elephant-footed waves, dodging and evading. I swim out to where the water stills, to where the reef opens up to a field of turquoise sand. I am mesmerized, transfixed in the lilt of the swells. Underwater, vision is blurred, salted. But I know what I am looking for.

When I see the first one, I watch it tug and tumble, tug and tumble on the bottom. And I’ll dive for it, no matter how deep. I’ll dive deeper than I’m comfortable diving. And when I’m down at the bottom, when I have that shell in my possession, held firm between thumb and finger, and my head is pinching with underwater pressure, and my ears pop gently, I am so content. I’ll release the last of the air from my sponge-lungs and trace the bubbles back to the surface, laughing. And for a moment, this one shell is enough and I pause to admire its patterns, its textures, it contours. Then, I remember there’s a whole ocean of shells, and I pin this one in my palm, or maybe in my bikini for safekeeping, and I press my mask back to the surface and start scanning the bottom for another. If I can’t spot one from the surface, I’ll dive down and sift through piles of broken coral and scrap skeletons. I’ll scan the underwater sand dunes, salted eyes hopeful, expectant.

In these instances, I am insatiable. Even when my hands are full, and my bikini is bulging, stuffed with shells, even when I have no more storage, even my mouth is full of shells, I want to find moremoremore.

My body limits me, and eventually grows tired. So I swim for shore and pull myself from the sea, immerging like a possessed mer-child, shells spewing from my mouth, falling from my fists, slipping from my bikini. I feel wild and exhausted.

Sometimes I take a moment to organize my new shells on the beach, admire my loot, and double check there are no slugs or sea critters still alive in the shells. Sometimes I just stuff them into my pockets, or cradle them in my mask, and walk myself home where I’ll wash the salt from them and put them into glass jars.

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