Turtle hatchlings run towards the sea at night. Pupils fixed on the jumping glimmers of the Moon over the water—their only guide for safety. They stake their chances of survival on big numbers, on the anonymity of the crowd. Same shape, same shell, same pull to live. To move forward. Grow. Exist. There’s something endearing in their frantic attachment to the world, as if avoiding a premature death can justify the means and any risk taken.
As I wake up, I push myself up from the bed, arms wobbly like a pair of flippers. My head is pounding mercilessly, it feels like it’s shouting a mantra.
Am I human?
Am I human, right now?
I drank too much yesterday, a habit that I seem to be unable to shake off lately. Maybe that’s why I’m thinking about critters at an ungodly hour of the morning. Maybe that’s why I’m here in the first place, after I had vowed to never waver again. And maybe, just maybe, that’s why I can barely recognise myself in the mirror next to the bed—a cold sweat littering my back because of this alcohol-induced prosopagnosia.
Outside it’s a flared-up dawn, one of those whose bothering sun impregnates the vines and ripens up strawberry trees. Lea’s house is perched at the top of an old stairway, its walls bent like the back of a farmer. Or my neck under conformity. Coming into the room, she says something which sounds like a reprimand with no bite; the fennel infusion she hands me licks her face with tongues of steam. I think she is beautiful, but I don’t tell her. I never tell her.
Am I human to you, Lea?
Have I always been human?
Have I ever?
I can see the shoreline from the window, dancing in and out of sight behind the linen curtain. The water is a mirage. Too bad I don’t have a crowd of hatchlings to guide me towards it. I place GPS trackers on their carapaces for a job and yet they never once take me with them, to get carried away by ocean currents or be tucked under layers of flush sand. To turn me into an opportunity yet to hatch. Then, my sex and that of the clutch would be up to the temperature. Cold for male, hot for female, and a lukewarm seesaw for an equal chance at both. Turtle hatchlings experience the thrill of an unborn possibility way before their hobbled run towards the sea. I started studying them because I envy that prenatal freedom, that temporary escape from binarism. How can I be a human when I was a girl way before I breathed life into my lungs?
“I’m not staying for lunch —”
“That’s good, Toni is coming back soon.”
Lea and Toni got married last year, while I was out at sea for a research project, blending my edges among waves I knew I was too heavy to get carried away by. And yet I tried, daily. When I got the news, I sent them a picture of me and a congratulatory virtual card—a pixelated lie.
I met Lea in high school, back when my checkered button-down and boyfriend jeans was still an overlooked sign of teenage rebellion basking in the glow of pending conformity. She was the only one who left the safety of the hatchlings’ crowd to walk with me, step after step on a path she didn’t know anything about, predators be damned. At the time, we both didn’t understand how many of them there were, lurking behind the edges of our peripheral vision. But once I hatched and weighed in on my miserable status of society’s prey, pushing Lea back into the crowd became the only solution. Maybe Toni was there to catch her, maybe he trod into her life later. I never knew because I never asked. That’s who I am anyway, an unprompted answer.
It is never safe to crack open in the world. Frantically running towards a twinkling expanse, whispering promises of freedom to our underdeveloped scales and inexperienced limbs. That’s why turtle hatchlings hide behind the anonymity of homologation—if you look like everyone else, they might catch someone else instead. I don’t blame them really. It’s nothing more than elementary statistics, but a lonely pair like us never had many chances to begin with, and Lea’s shell would have been soft as a pudding under the striking beak of judgment. Giving way too easily for her organs to be pried out, sand grains sticking to the pulsating flesh. So, I pushed and headed for the water of my own.
“You know, I never asked you to change.”
“But you never saw the risks either.”
It’s estimated that only 1 in 1000 turtles survive until adulthood. Run with the crowd, hide in the stream. Hope that the predators won’t notice you.