Candice Kelsey: Becoming Crustacean

The heart of a shrimp is in its head. They have an open circulatory system with no arteries. Their organs float in blood. My heart is in my throat. I float in the circulatory system of parenthood, semi-transparent and flattened.

Mrs. Kelsey, we have your son here at Riverside Middle. He’s been caught smoking marijuana. You’ll need to pick him up. I end my Thursday night Zoom tutoring session early, lying to 9th grade Hadassa that my son had broken his thumb skateboarding. A mildly metaphoric excuse—without an opposable thumb, we lose the evolutionary advantage and are rendered unable to grasp things.

Like facts. The fact that it is a felony to hold narcotics on school property.

Fact: shrimp have small brains yet are quite complex. They’ve been known to perform choreographed dances to entice other fish closer, and can make the loudest noise of any sea creature. Navy submarines often hide in beds of snapping shrimp to avoid detection by radar.

Unable to avoid detection, my sixteen-year-old son is caught again the next night. Officer Phillips and another investigator had been staking out Blanchard Woods Skate Park for weeks. Columbia County refuses to succumb to the crime of nearby Richmond County.

Mrs. Kelsey, we have your son. You need to come pick him up. He has my car. The officer is kind enough to drive him home. As I stand in the foyer with my nose to the window in anticipation of my son’s arrival in the back seat of a police vehicle, I hear my younger daughter chanting in the shower.

I am ready and open for unexpected possibilities. I am ready and open for unexpected possibilities. Fifteen and earnestly using her new shower affirmation post-it notes, her own choreographed water-dance of positivity. My heart again in my throat. The juxtaposition of this child with that child as the blue lights shine into our driveway hurts.

There’s a type of shrimp that resides in the small crevices of caves in Australia’s coastal reefs, hosting a sort of cleaning station. It travels a short distance while waving its white antennae to entice fish in order to eat the parasites from their scales, a meal-for-shower exchange of sorts. The cleaning shrimp revels in unexpected possibilities.

Parenting has changed me. I’ve lost my brightness; vibrancy has become transparency. I camouflage rather than connect, focus only on survival. I say what needs to be said to Officer Phillips, so he doesn’t charge my son with a felony, so they don’t seize my vehicle.

My neighbors watch the spectacle from their front porches. I wave. I filter the water of life for my daughter as long as possible, pretending microscopic goodness abounds. My husband and I argue mostly in private. I become brown and green, blending into the mud. In crustaceans, it’s known as phenotypic plasticity. In humans, it’s called parenting.

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