Dolphin by Hailey Rose Hanks

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close-up image of silky ocean waves

My wife tells me I’m a dolphin cutting through the water. Sleek. Smooth. Small. Something that’s exactly where it should be. But more importantly: exactly how.

She tells me this a lot.

She tells me I’m a dolphin while we stand in the parking lot of the veterinary clinic, our drugged cat sitting in the backseat of my car. It’s cold out. Windy too. My shirt blows around me, and I cry. Our cat is fine for now, but I’m not.

She tells me I’m a dolphin while we sit in our living room in front of the fire finishing dinner and an episode of Kids Baking Championship. I push pasta around on my plate with a piece of garlic bread.

She tells me I’m a dolphin while we brush our teeth in our tiny bathroom, taking turns nudging each other out of the way so we can spit in the sink. I haven’t said anything this time to make her tell me this, but she knows anyway. She’s seen me looking at myself in the mirror—the glance that lingers too long on my stomach or thighs.

Stop it. She catches my eye in the mirror. You’re a dolphin, remember?

She tells me I’m a dolphin for the first time via text after I call myself something else. So the word, the idea—dolphin—isn’t random. It extends from me, could maybe be part of me someday.

I smile when she calls me this.

But she can’t always be there to remind me. And when she’s not, I might be sleek or smooth but never small. Never a dolphin.

I’m not a dolphin when my grandmother walks in on me running on the treadmill and tells me I look better now that I’ve gained a little weight back, that she was starting to worry I ate nothing at all. In front of the treadmill, the TV shows my reflection. I try to lift my lips to smile at her, but I vow to stare at myself and run until I see something I like or until I pass out, whichever comes first.

I’m not a dolphin when my mother sees an updated photo of me and sends me a message saying: LOOKING GOOD! I WOULDN’T EAT ANY CREAM CHEESE OR COOL WHIP NOW. My head knows she’s referencing her peanut butter pie recipe, that she might be talking about herself. But then I remember the way she’d fast when I was little to stay thin, talking to me about it like I was grown, like the act was wisdom I needed to hear to learn how to be a woman. And I remember the startling tone of her voice the last time I saw her many years ago when she asked me what size jeans I wore. When I told her, she said the number couldn’t be right, that I was much bigger.

I’m not a dolphin when I spend 48 straight summer hours watching all five seasons of House of Lies because with the show distracting me, I don’t think about hunger. By the end, my ribs show and the thought of eating anything makes me sick. And now I am small—objectively small—but I’d like to be more so, take up less space. In the mirror, I wonder if it’s possible to make my ribs, the bones themselves, shrink.

But I can’t, hard as I try.

Mom never said I should starve myself or run till I disappear or fantasize about chiseling my very skeleton into thinness. Those aren’t things a woman says. Mom’s version of a woman only does. She shows her daughter what it takes by example and nudges her to do the same with glib comments about weight.

But a dolphin?

She moves with grace. Ease. Speed, if she wants. Silky smooth through the water. She doesn’t think so hard as she glides. The only reflection is above her, out of sight, the sun on the waves. And her babies watch her as she moves, comfortable and calm. Thoughtless and natural. They learn from her what their bodies were made for.

Meet the Contributor

Hailey Rose HanksHailey Rose Hanks is a writer from the Nashville area with an MFA from Western Kentucky University. She’s currently based in Lafayette, Louisiana, where she’s pursuing her Ph.D. in English at the University of Louisiana.

STORY IMAGE CREDIT: Samantha Beddoes/Flickr Creative Commons

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