you & me

The Fixing of My Legs: A Disjointed Mermaid.


I had a dream. A dream vivid as reality, but filled with oddities that could not possibly be true.

Dreams, I believe, show a truth we can’t yet fully embrace. A truth that has been chained up in our subconscious, ready to slip out when given the chance. So when we dwell in the realm of the night, we see fragments of what we do not yet consciously accept. We see a reality cloaked in surrealism and strangeness to make the message we dread to face dismissible as fiction perhaps.

A couple of nights before my first round of surgery, I found myself in a soft hospital bed. My legs numb and swaddled. Having just woken up from my anaesthetic, I felt dreamy, but not dazed enough to miss that something was off.

“I can’t move my legs,” I whispered, confused as a sense of panic started to bloom in my gut. “Don’t you worry,” a nurse whom I hadn’t seen before said to comfort me, “the surgeon is on his way and he will explain everything.” Her words, though well-intended, made me feel more unsettled.

Hopelessly I tried to wiggle my toes, only to find I felt none. I managed to rock my hips from side to side, but everything underneath my pelvis remained motionless.

“When we cut you open,” the surgeon said after finding me in a state of impending hysteria, “we realized your bones aren’t simply misaligned. They are in fact no human bones at all. We found fishbones. Half a skeleton, to be precise.” I raised my brows. “We decided to reunite the bones in your right leg with the other half of the skeleton which was hidden underneath the muscles of the left leg.”

Fishbones, I thought. A mermaid tail. “We have reconstructed your tail, so that we can release you in the sea once you have recovered. So you can be reunited with your tribe.” His eyes sparkled with excitement and compassion. “What about the scales,” I asked, because I had never detected any on my skin.

“We have carefully created them so that you will fit in properly. They will shine bright in the ocean. Bright like gems in the light so that your kin won’t be able to miss you when you pass by. We wouldn’t want you to feel isolated or rejected.” I smiled happily.

The general anaesthetic was the aspect of my surgery that I feared most. The pain, I thought, can be controlled with the right painkillers. An aid I can rely on when I choose to do so. Similarly, doing physio exercises to regain my strength would depend entirely on my own discipline.

Accepting sedatives that ferry you to the land of the unconscious asked for the opposite entirely. It demands you to give up control. To place your fate in the hands of a qualified other. To trust that you will wake up again. As a human with a fixed leg.

Yet I woke up as a mermaid in my dream. And while there was never a chance this surreal surprise would come true in reality, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the casualness with which the transformation was accepted by both me and the surgeon.

Why wouldn’t I wake up as a mermaid? Not the literal kind, but a metaphorical kind. I have never been inclined to find any truth in dream interpretations of others — if I had been, I would have reason to feel concerned given that mermaid-related dreams are linked to treacherous behavior and misfortune, according to the web.

My heart tells me another story. It tells me both rounds of surgery will be transformational. They will not give me a fishtail so I can be set free, but a pair of functioning legs that will give me the ability to wander around without fear or restrictions. A metamorphosis into my new self.

A self that has taken onboard the love and care offered in trying times. A self that has learned to trust others more than ever before. A self that shines in spite of the enormous scars on her legs. A self that feels like me, but that is not held back as much.

That metamorphosis has begun with the fixing of my legs, and it will gradually continue afterwards. A path that won’t be easy for me, but one I need to take as my dreams so clearly revealed to me.


Elisabeth ten Cate is a 20-something-year-old writer. Five years ago, she moved across the pond to cross three things off her bucket list: living in London, studying philosophy, and truly mastering a foreign language. Today she finds herself at work in the screen industry whilst trying to chase her greatest dream of all: to be a published novelist. She’s a keen cook and regular host of dinners. She enjoys yoga, live music, salsa and bachata. You could contact her via her website.


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