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How to Swim with Dolphins

"Dolphins don’t have bucket lists."

Published onSep 25, 2019
How to Swim with Dolphins

First: Just don’t.

Dolphins don’t have bucket lists.
They don’t care about yours.
They get a little depressed
when you look timid
and scrunch up your shoulders like,
“OMG. I am so proud of myself
for doing this.”
Then jump in
feet first.

when you tell your buddies,
you roll your eyes
and say,
“It was no big deal.”
And they press you,
asking if it changed you.

Because social media
tempts you with the treasures
of trips to Helsinki or
learning to play a banjo
or getting a civics award or
swimming with dolphins.
You want all of this.

But be warned:
Afterward, you’ll question
the arc of your life.
You’ll start dreaming
of the one who got away
near the beach
in Oregon
when you were barely 22. A boy.
Not a dolphin.

After you swim with a dolphin
you may Google
“Dolphin Trainer Certification Program”
even though
you live
200 miles
from a beach.

Then you’ll get depressed
and make a list of
the pros and cons
of getting rid of it all
and buying a tiny house
which you can drive
to any beach you want.

It’s all so much to think about.
So you get bold and
go down to the tattoo shop
that you’ve passed every day
for the last four years
on your way to work.
And you get your first tattoo —
a little one —
of a dolphin
inside your left wrist.

Mostly, don’t swim with dolphins
because they shouldn’t have jobs.
They should be with their friends,
not stuck inside a lagoon
becoming lazy and dependent
on a lousy-but-steady meal
of tasteless-but-plentiful fish.

If you meet a dolphin
you’ll make a connection.
But it’s not what you think
it probably is.

You think the dolphin
sees your soul.
You can finally say,
“I have a soulmate
who lives in the sea,
and who is very happy
to see me.”

You don’t realize
that it’s an Office Space dolphin
who thinks he’s made it to the big time,
hanging out with executive humans.
Everyone in this equation
seems to have made it big.

If you must swim with dolphins,
go 400 miles out to sea
not totally sure
if you’ll ever see one,
let alone meet one.
Go blind from
the water’s reflection
and sink under the weight
of a billion stars.

You still haven’t seen a dolphin.
But if you don’t head back
right now
you’ll die.
Because of weather,
and your poor lack of planning,
and the probability of panicking
if you actually get what you want.

So you make your way back to land
and then burn your stupid bucket list.
You’ve thought about this
way too much and
on the thought that you could have stayed longer.

You come to your senses
and realize that you would have been
a true-blue castaway,
and the only thing you could do,
if you met a dolphin,
would be to kill it for food.

But none of that happened.
The list is gone.

There is a barbeque on Saturday.
If you don’t go,
people will stop sending you invitations
on Facebook.

You go because the host will fill you in
about his trip to Ecuador
where he ziplined
and drank hallucinogenic tea
that made him forgive his parents.

And you’ll go
because the invitation said,
“We’ve got tapenade!”
And that’s sort of your thing now.
You like taking pictures
of all kinds of tapenade.

But once you get there,
you’re obsessing
about your fucking bucket list
and you jump into the pool
to escape the chatter
and a 25-year-old woman
in a tankini
hands you her baby
so she can get a beer.

“My baby can swim,”
she says.
“Even if I throw him in the pool,
he’ll float right to the top,”
she says.
“Don’t worry,”
she says.
“He’s had lots of lessons,”
she says.
“You know, for safety.”

You smile nervously
and stick your hands flat
under the baby’s armpits.
But he wriggles.
He’s strong.
And then he kicks away from you,
smiling and flapping,
going underwater,
popping up for air.

He looks you in the eye
and you reach for him —
his skin is slick and cool,
vibrating with joy —
glowing in the sun.

Born in San Antonio, Jennifer Hill is a writer, editor and content developer living in Austin, Texas. She graduated with a BFA in Writing, Literature and Publishing from Emerson College, where she served as a poetry editorial assistant for Ploughshares. She has worked as a story analyst in Los Angeles, a reporter in Boston and a freelance writer and editor in Austin.

Image: “Carolina Beach,” 2016, Canon EOS 60D, Juliet Furst

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