Scar Girl

by Tammy Delatorre

sharkManhattan Beach, it’s not unusual to start drinking on a Friday night and continue straight through to Sunday evening, parties up and down the strand. I lose girlfriends fast. Last one standing, but barely. Some boy always volunteers to walk me home. I’m popular that way.

When I drink too much, I seek bodies of water to fall into. Pools, tubs, someone’s koi pond once. I like the cool wet feel against my hot inebriation. Today the mighty Pacific fills my ears; pushes up against the drums. I’m a strong swimmer, pier to pier, but I let myself sink; sound underwater is muffled; the edges of objects are soft. Perhaps one day, I’ll go under and never come back up. I reverse flutter. Descend, deeper and darker than ever. The water gets frigid down here; kelp wraps around my ankle, slides up my thigh. I dangle like bait.

It’s Shark Week. Over cocktails, the people at the last party were talking about the large shadows that swim just outside the marina. A surfer was attacked further up the coast. No one else dares the open water. All they can think of: teeth, fins, the tragedy of falling victim to the food chain.

My heroine of the annual Discovery Channel series is a female shark they digitally tagged off the cold waters of California. Marine biologists traced her to the Shark Café, where they believe these ocean predators convene to mate. The undocumented act is a mystery, but I imagine a fierce frenzy of sexual aggression, as the males pinned her down against the sea floor with their strong jaws and teeth. Pierced and scratched, she bled into the sea, but returned the next season. And the next.

The scientists named her Scar Girl because she’s been around the block; had her way with a shark or two; her wounds, a badge of honor. I feel that way, too, sometimes. That’s why I stay down as long as I can, in the hopes of meeting her, like meeting myself, gorged and thrashed and busted. That’s what they did to us. That’s what we let them do.

Out of air, my lungs go tight. I cannot wait a second longer. I kick and the kelp loosens. I ascend toward the light, swim against the rip tide to shore. Pull long strokes until I’m in the breaking waves. My legs and arms so tired they tremble from the final effort. On the beach, I find my towel and empty flask just where I left them. A group of guys I recognize play Frisbee nearby. I drop to my knees on the warm terry cloth, trying to catch my breath. They circle. Just call me Scar Girl, I say under my breath as they close in.

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In previous lives, Tammy Delatorre worked for a Nobel-prize-winning biochemist; helped to design, build, and race a solar car that won the World Solar Challenge in Australia; and danced the hula despite being teased for stiff hips. More of her stories and essays can be found at tammydelatorre.com.

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