Today I am excited to share the fourth installment of my “A Fish Out Of Water” guest post series: Women from around the world telling their stories about living in new cultures. I am hoping it inspires some of you to travel and if you can’t travel right now (like me) to at least dream about it. Today published author and artist Sezin Koehler writes about going from global citizen to living in the Florida Everglades.
Mermaid Out of Water
by Sezin Koehler
The drive out to the Florida Everglades is populated with people who don’t seem to know a thing about road rules. The freeway is under construction, so there’s no shoulder. Debris litters the expanse — not harmless trash like plastic bags or bottles, but roadwork remnants of bridge wire and cinderblocks. It has to be one of the most stressful highways in the world.
Being on a freeway at all is a strange feeling after enjoying public transportation in countries all over Europe during my ten years there (Switzerland, France, Spain, Turkey, Czech Republic, Germany). Looking out of tram or bus windows at historical relics in the form of apartment buildings, castles, ancient churches, never a dull moment nor lack of beauty to captivate the eye. A harsh contrast to the wide expanses of nothing, strip malls, and more roads, Florida’s great contribution to the world.
At Sawgrass Recreational Park my mom and husband’s goal was to see an alligator in the wild. My goal was to not have a heart attack, especially when I saw how close to the water we’d be in the airboat ride.
Riding through the swampland landscape, reminiscent of the Dead Marshes in Tolkien’s epic, I was ever-reminded of the vast nothing that this place has to offer compared to almost every other place I’ve lived; my mother worked for UNICEF while I was growing up, so add Sri Lanka, Zambia, Thailand, Pakistan, and India to the roster of places I’ve called home.
My Everglades terror reached its apex when my husband spotted an alligator swimming ahead of us. I was shaking so hard it’s a wonder the video I made isn’t vibrating. My fear was so intense I even dropped the camera at one point, convinced I was about to have a heart attack.
The nine-foot gator glided through the water and came right up to our side of the airboat. It opened its mouth and hissed, letting us know we are guests in his territory. The creature was relatively young, about eight years old based on his size. Gators grow about a foot a year for their entire lives. He swam around some more, eying all the tasty morsels just a leap away. I quaked in my shoes, begging my mum and husband to not stand and get too close. I have seen way too many horror movies.
I would find out later that alligators can actually launch themselves from the water. Never in my life have I been so glad to not know a piece of information.
My life here in Lighthouse Point is very much like how I felt out in the middle of GatorLand: isolated, frightening, surrounded by monstrous creatures.
In this area of southern Florida the standard of beauty is capped or bleached teeth, plastic surgery, fake tans in spite of the abundant sunshine, and either stick skinny or hugely muscled. Even when I wear a gorgeous outfit, I don’t get compliments from locals because my long flowing skirts, Tibetan resin jewelry, Frida Kahlo-inspired hair pieces, curvy and natural busty figure do not conform to what is considered attractive in these parts.
On a road trip down to Key West in search of Ernest Hemingway’s spirit I was shocked that female strangers would come up to me in the street, museums, bars, to tell me I’m beautiful, they love my outfit, my hair, my jewelry, I look like a vintage pin-up girl. After a year living around individuals who can’t wrap their brain around me, it brought tears to my eyes that just a few hours south of my unfortunate home are people who get me without even a conversation.
At Papa Hemingway’s house I learned that he wrote the majority of his novels in the four years he spent in Key West. With nothing else to do but go for a drink at Sloppy Joe’s, I can totally see how he managed it. In my first year in Florida I’ve indeed managed to finish my second American Monsters novel, and suspect that I could knock out my third and fourth here, too. However, the isolation and fact I’m essentially living in a retirement community is exhausting my creativity. I find that the lack of a view of something beautiful and historic is sapping inspiration.
Anaïs Nin wrote, “I must be a mermaid. I have no fear of depths and a great fear of shallow living.” In spite of the time I spend swimming, I am this kind of mermaid out of water, surrounded by people with lives whose only focus are the most superficial aspects of living, keeping up with the Joneses. Meaningful conversations are now a luxury, these are people who only put their toe in the waters of sharing and find it distasteful.
I hope soon I’ll be back in more suitable waters. Until then, I’m following Papa’s lead and writing a whole bunch of books and drinking a whole lotta rum, I mean vodka. If it worked for Papa Hemingway all those years, maybe it will work for me, too.
Sezin Koehler, author of American Monsters, is a woman either on the verge of a breakdown or breakthrough writing from Lighthouse Point, Florida. Culture shock aside, she’s working on four follow-up novels to her first, progress of which you can follow on her Pinterest boards. Her other online haunts are Zuzu’s Petals, Twitter, and Facebook — all of which feature eclectic bon mots, rants and raves.