[CREATIVE NONFICTION] Seahorse
My wife and I walk down Ocean Boulevard to the busier, white-sand part of Fort Lauderdale Beach and stand barefoot in the ocean. Beneath my shirt, my binder sticks to my sweaty, peeling skin. At the water, I listen to the waves with my eyes closed. Ten years ago, in Daytona, I thought I heard God’s voice when stars stretched over my head and into the liquid dark of the ocean at night. In Fort Lauderdale, I hear the discordant yelps of sea birds and toddling children. I lean against Grace, bending my knees until my head rests against her sunscreen-slick chest. Her heart thunders in counterpoint to the warm waves licking my feet.
Dead brown seaweed catches on my ankles. If God made me in His image, did His earthly body choke him too? Was he still wearing his heavy woolen simlāh, the outer shawl no one wore to fish when he strode across the wild salt of the sea to grasp Peter by the arm and drag him to his feet? Thick, sodden clothing hinders my breathing, but so does my chest when it curves outward.
I open my eyes. The ocean is dark blue where it touches the sky. “When we come back after I have top surgery, can I swim in the ocean without a shirt?” I ask.
“Of course,” Grace says. Her slender fingers stroke my sunscreen-sticky hair.
My chest and throat ache. The first time I went swimming with Grace, I wore an aquamarine one-piece bathing suit with ruffles on the top. I unclipped my earrings and Miraculous Medal and set them on the pool’s concrete rim. My water-dark hair stuck to my shoulders and back. No one read me as masculine. With my breasts bound down and my hair cropped short, I feel as though I’ve lied to Grace by marrying her, a lesbian. My gender moves relentlessly, swallowing me up like the warm water licking our feet. But my love doesn’t change. I want Grace. Salt from the waves and the sand stings my face.
I kick the water, watching it sparkle as it showers us. Grace chases seagull down the damp sand. When she comes back, laughing, I catch her around the waist and kiss her. The waves splash against our calves.
“You’re a seahorse dad,” Grace says. Three waves strike my legs before I understand the implication: male seahorses carry their babies in a pouch until they’re ready to be born. I look down at where my shirt wrinkles over my stomach. In Catholic high school, I used loose pages from my textbooks to write letters to my future children: Mummy loves you. God has blessed me with you. I haven’t thought about being such an intimate part of creation since the first time I pulled on a baggy shirt to hide my chest. Women get pregnant. Women are round. Women give birth.
But growing children isn’t universally feminine work. After all, God blesses daddy seahorses with hundreds of babies. Male seahorses don’t have to convince OGBYNs of their gender identity or confuse employers with requests for maternity leave. If they glimpse their own rounded reflection in a discarded glass bottle, their mouths don’t go dry from dysphoria. Their masculinity is fulfilled through pregnancy, not challenged by it because that’s how their masculine bodies were designed. They both subvert and realize the natural order of things like Jesus in his heavy cloak, walking across wild waves in a show of messianic, law-fulfilling power.
Grace presses her hand to my heart. “Your next tattoo should be a seahorse,” she says. “When you have your scars.”
“It would have to be big,” I say. Big enough to cover my right pec. An enormous work that people who see me shirtless on the beach will notice first. They won’t see anything wrong with the scars beneath it or the stretch marks near the waistband of my swim trunks. My babies can learn my seahorse’s curves and colors first as they lie on Daddy’s chest.
Grace and I walk up the beach to the road with our shoes in our hands. I rinse my salty feet in the outdoor shower. When I come back to the beach, the scars on my chest will be purple like the stretch marks a baby leaves on someone’s stomach or like a seahorse’s bumpy skin.
Kirt Ethridge has a BFA in Creative Writing and previously had work published in apt. They live in southern Indiana with their wife.