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Dead Sea

By Kael Knoxton Martin

When I was a toddler, my body was quartered as punishment and sewn back together again; after that, I decided I wanted to be a marine biologist. The ocean was my home, I told my mother. There’s so much life on our planet and all of it is beautiful. Even the Anglerfish. Even the massive Great White’s bite mark. Even the leeches. Why? Because they don’t know any better. Because their actions are not inspired by a morality reduced to ash nor inspired by sentiment; they kill because it is in their nature, because it is all that they know, because no one has ever told them that it’s wrong, that they’ve weaponized their innocence against the innocent.

No, I didn’t say that last part as a toddler, but if I could be a toddler again, I’d be an anglerfish, I think, or maybe I’d be the bite mark. I’d fight back, is what I’m trying to tell you, but I can’t be a toddler again. I can’t be a marine biologist, either; my once-eidetic memory has been scorched beyond recognition. Now I’m the bite mark. Now I’m the anglerfish and the leech and the corpse and the sharpened shark teeth sinking to the helldepths of the ocean, lower and lower until they fade through the earth and ascend into obscurity. I’m all of it, and I’m nothing, and I sure as hell am not ever going to be a marine biologist.

The thing they don’t tell you about being disabled is that it’s more similar to this than one may think. I’ve always acted with the innocence of said marine life; I do what is in my nature, I do what I know. Other children learned how to conform at an early age; I’m 21 now and I still haven’t figured it out. The shark hunts down the smaller fish and consumes it, tearing its flesh to strips stuck pretty between each tooth, to survive. Instinct. I wore my clothing mismatched. I only talked about operating systems and Estonian musicians. My arms moved on repeat and mechanical, a haunted fable animatronic. Instinct. No one ever told me that it is wrong, that the other children would weaponize their innocence against mine. Differences, apparently, turn you into the smaller fish; differences, apparently, get you consumed. My flesh, on the other hand, is regurgitated. Spit out. Too bitter. Isn’t that funny?

You’re the prey and the predator and the leech and the bite wound, all at once, if you’re disabled. The funniest thing about all of this is that I am eternally mourning the version of me that wanted to be a marine biologist, and as I mourn him, I realize that my grief is misplaced—and futile. Many of my disabilities are genetic; becoming disabled was inevitable for me, I was born, in the eyes of my peers, impure. The version of me that I mourn never existed so instead I mourn my oblivion; back then I still believed that one day I would be a marine biologist. I had no concept of my limitations, and I did not know that, to general society, I am inherently broken. I had something to achieve.

I had hope.

Now I just have a grief like a corpse handcuffed to my side. I can’t escape it. Everywhere I travel, the body follows, dragging its hauntings alongside us with its limp movement. Reminding me that, to those that I love, I am the equivalent of the corpse. Reminding me that I was destined for this, that one day I will become this corpse and the world will continue to spar on in ferocity. Reminding me that just as the body is a burden on my soul, I am a burden on my family.

Reminding me that I’ll never be a marine biologist.