Blanket Sea

Arts & Literary Magazine

Category: Creative Nonfiction (page 1 of 4)

“Zebrafish Husbandry” by Tamara Sellman

“Hey guys super genius in daylight eggs and fertilized it and I have the
eggs and they’re going to hatch suit and if you like this video please
give it a thumbs up and if you’re new to my channel please subscribe thanks”

—YouTube: “zebra danio eggs” uploaded by Feeling Fishy on June 9, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y5avtBcut8I

I watched the boy talk about his aquarium on YouTube. He was a scruffy one, all bedhead and unabashedly honest about the fact he was not great at making videos.

His handheld camera shots made me queasy. His dead-air pauses would have been awkward had the boy not been charming to watch as the cogs whirled in his head, his unmade bed in the background confirmation he was human in his chaos.

His chief male zebrafish was named Luke, and when he talked about how the adults eat their young, he paused again, performed a brief ceremony, his version of Taps.

This is the face of young science.

“That’s how random I am,” he says in the video. “I see random things.”

* * *

So did George Streisinger.

The University of Oregon researcher got tired of not being able to see inside the brains of mice.

This was in the 1960s, mind you, before the MRI was invented, a tool meant primarily to look at the brains of people with demyelinating disease.

Streisinger went down to the local pet store and bought himself a tankful of zebrafish. How random is that?

I wonder if Dr. Streisinger had an aquarium as a child. How else might he have known about these amazing invisible fish and their accidental window into the biology of the human brain?

You’ll have to ask the divine if this discovery truly was an accident.

* * *

It wasn’t until after the turn of the 21stcentury that zebrafish became famous for their biological applications.

Who woulda thunk. A stunning debut in Glia.

Maybe the boy in the YouTube video already knew this. He talks about how to breed zebrafish because this is something he knows. I’m not sure he knows why, he just does.

I’m sure he doesn’t need to know why.

He spends his days staring at the frothy clusters of life-buoyed larvae stranded along the bottom of his standard-issue home aquarium. Once liberated from their capsules, these newbies are extremely hard to spot in their transparency.

Make no mistake: he can see them.

* * *

Zebrafish.

They are fairly ordinary with black stripes to justify the name. No galloping hooves, no long flowing tails, though the females have fins that look like the tails silver horses in canter.

These aquatic pets are cheap to own, they spawn by the hundreds, and they grow quickly. What’s even more useful is that, until they are adults, stripe or no stripe, they are transparent.

Scientists today keep rows and rows of hundreds of zebrafish to research drugs for neurological applications. Budgets for live foods like bloodworm and mosquito larvae have since become a regular part of Purchasing Department requisitions at research universities.

The scientists administer their experiments directly into the tanks where the zebrafish live and breed. I wonder if they use pipettes or just pour the contents of their media in like milk from a carton.

The fish don’t seem to mind swimming in artificial baths of semi-water under close conditions, occasionally ending up in petri dishes and under microscopes where the curious watch and wait, tag and record.

Zebrafish are cheaper to breed and keep and can yield chemistry results far faster than mice and rats due to their accelerated growth cycles. A fat zebrafish female will spawn three hundred eggs outside her body, which are fertilized by males.

Mice usually have only eight pups.

One can infer how the hobby fish may eventually replace cages of lab mice in the basements of clinics, if only owing to the need for rapid consumption of test subjects.

The clear oyster-colored bubbles that house the embryos of zebrafish can develop myelin on their nerve cells by day 3 postpartum, along with bulging black eyes that are blind until the larvae pop, wriggling and spastic, from their hatches.

This is a modern miracle in biology.

So fast, so clear, so captive.

The fry remain transparent for weeks, growing rapidly: spines and tails and fins emerging in back-to-back cycles of metamorphosis. Acceleration to a cure? (For MS, for muscular dystrophy Duchenne, Alzheimer’s?)

Maybe.

As many as 80 drugs per week can be tested using zebrafish embryos. Talk about fast track.

Why zebrafish matter to science is not a question the boy on YouTube can answer. The zebrafish shares three quarters of his genome with human beings. How ridiculous it might seem to assume any relationship between man and fish except for imaginary freaks like the Creature of the Black Lagoon or, maybe, Aquaman.

I wonder if the boy knows about the lost continent of Atlantis. He ought to.

* * *

For research into multiple sclerosis, the mouse model has been, for decades, the only way to test therapies.

As recently as 2017, a transgenic approach, which forces zebrafish to develop a kind of zoological MS mirror condition called EAE, was achieved. The lab rats may or may not be happy about this, since EAE has been the sword they’ve fallen on for generations.

But they should be relieved, at least. Using the zebrafish to test drugs for things like toxicity, dosage, and mechanisms of action first means the rodents will be spared the worst of the Frankensteinian failures.

I suppose the boy who keeps fish might also become the boy who adopts mice.

* * *

There is this problem of no answers when it comes to MS. MRI handed over some answers, which accelerated the journey to a cure back in the 1980s. Now that we can peek inside the brains of zebrafish, give them MS, and then—yes!—get rid of it!

Unlike human beings, zebrafish are neurologically resilient when it comes to remyelination. It’s not all torture and genocide in the fingolimod* tank.

The future of animal research includes secure jobs in the field of zebrafish husbandry.

Maybe this will be the future of the boy breeding zebrafish on YouTube. Maybe he will go from wobbly hand shots and too much voice over to guardian over the protocol for colonizing his favorite pets using marbles and shallow water. He’s already showed us his lifetime supply of dechlorination tablets.

Maybe it will be today’s third grader that becomes tomorrow’s cure for MS.

I click subscribe.

 

*Fingolimod is one of several treatments used to curb or prevent demyelination in people with MS.

Image Credit: Uri Manor, NICHD.

 

 

Tamara Kaye Sellman is a widely published writer living in Bainbridge Island, WA. Her most recent work has recently appeared, or is forthcoming, in 50-Word Stories, Something On Our Minds, The Nervous Breakdown, Halfway Down the Stairs, Collective Unrest, Postcard Poems and Prose, and Crab Creek Review. Her work has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize. She works as a sleep health educator, healthcare writer, and MS advocate/columnist when she’s not crafting creative prose. She was diagnosed with RRMS in May 2013, but suspects her MS-specific symptoms in 1975 actually mark its initial onset.

“Delusion” by Mireya Vela

At night, I go into the backyard. I like being out there alone. The sounds of shrill, resentful voices from inside the house, as well as the loud clap of my loneliness becomes a dull din when I’m alone in the dark.

I feel the cold air on the back of my neck and hair. I turn on the workshop lamp and take out my journal. This isn’t a good time in my life. I’m twenty-three, and I can’t wait to escape into my thirties and forties. I want to speed up time.

I’ve been in therapy for about two years. I’m aware that I have a lot of work ahead of me before I begin feeling even slightly normal. Healing only happens with time.

On the other side of the wooden fence, I see a man leaning in to watch me. He reaches over the fence. He’s a stocky, leather-faced immigrant, wearing a light brown shirt. His hand, as he grasps is blunt and thick. He looks like my father’s brothers. I turn quickly to get a better look, but he isn’t there. He lives in the corner of my eye, as do all the rest of these men I see.

 

I’m twenty-five years of age. I’m walking down the hall of the school where I teach 5th grade. I feel the presence of another person coming towards me. Out of the corner of my eye I see a small statured man—hefty but diminutive—walk alongside in the opposite direction. He’s wearing bleary toned pants—grey or brown—and a red shirt. I register the shapes and colors before he passes me and disappears out of the corner of my eye.

Sometimes I see people I know aren’t there. This has been happening since I went into therapy four years ago and I unhooked the memories from their anchors.

Memories float. No matter what you do, whoever you were fifteen years ago can float to the surface to haunt you. It doesn’t matter if you are ready or if you are walking back to your classroom.

I take a deep breath and decide to ignore the man I just saw. I’m shaken. I take a deep breath and tell myself it is okay. It’s not, of course. But I’m very good at rearranging realities to match my needs. It’s a trick I learned from my tumultuous childhood.

At this school, I am working with the children from my neighborhood and it’s breaking me. I see children going through the same abuses I did. This time, it’s my responsibility to protect them and this terrifies me as much now as it did when I was a child.

 

I’m not delusional. I go through an exacting process.

Do I like what I see/feel/know?

No.

Is there anything I can do about it?

No.

Okay, let’s change our attitude to cope.

Okay, but this doesn’t feel good.

Noted.

 

I don’t talk to my psychiatrist about the people I see. I know she’ll heavily medicate me. I strongly suspect this is posttraumatic stress disorder. The problem with PTSD is that it prefers to unsettle you as you feel you are moving beyond those memories. When you feel strong, the memories appear, waiting for resolution.

Instead, I go to my therapist. The words spill out of my mouth with trepidation.

“Is it men?” she asks.

“Yes. How did you know?” I say.

“It’s out of the corner of your eye?” she says.

“Yes.”

“Do they look like the men who hurt you?”

“Yes,” I say.

“That’s common with people who have had sexual abuse. I’m sorry,” she says.

“I’m not crazy?”

“No,” she says, “You are just healing.”

“Healing feels awful. Why am I doing this to myself? I just want it to stop.”

“Because,” she says, “You want something better for your children.”

“Yes. Yes, I do.”

But for a moment, I think about quitting. Why do they call it healing when it feels like being ripped open?

 

I didn’t look it up then. The internet was newer and didn’t have the breadth of information it contains now.

At that time, I was not an adept computer user. I wouldn’t have known what to look for. Do I google “symptoms of abuse” or “visions out of peripheral vision”? Or do I just lay in emotional nudity, “Why do I see men who look like the men who abused me? Wasn’t the experience enough?”

Typing up that search on a computer would have been more than I could manage. Writing things brings a new level of reality. It’s no longer in your head. You’ve let out the thoughts to make words and that beast uncurls and begins to evolve. It becomes harder to pretend you don’t see it—that it doesn’t exist.

Writing makes things real. I like where things are. I prefer those images curled up in a tight ball inside my head, floating like all my other thoughts—bits of lint and fluff drifting in a vast tangle of deeper thoughts, beliefs, and memories.

Thoughts and memories of fear, floating amongst the clumsy words of kindness I use to talk to myself.

 

I’m twenty-six. I’m at my mom’s house in the bedroom that used to be mine. I’m changing clothes after a workout. I reach back to unlatch my bra. As I slide down the straps, I turn my body slightly. I see someone outside my window looking in on me. It’s broad daylight. I’m furious.

I put on a t-shirt and walk into the living room to make a head count. Everyone who is supposed to be there is there. But people walk in and out of my mom’s house like it’s a train station. They stop to chat or rest or use the bathroom.

I look at their faces. They seem calm.

“What’s going on? Why are you making that face?” dad says.

“Its fine,” I say, “Was anyone in the backyard just now?”

“Why?” he says, “What happened?”

“Nothing. Nothing.”

The shame of being watched silences me; shame always silences me. I don’t need the men in my family to maintain a tally of how many men have seen me naked. I don’t need them to talk amongst themselves about which of them have seen me naked. I don’t want them to talk about me. I don’t want to be a word bandied in their mouths.

There are multiple entrances into the backyard and I know I heard the clang of the kitchen door. Whoever that was knows I saw them.

I’ve never felt safe in my mom’s house.

 

My aunt committed suicide when I was twenty-five years old. Her conspiracy theories turned out to be a bit more than we expected. She left a single note to her eldest son:

“Jose, take care of my mother.”

She’s locked dead inside her one bedroom apartment till her sister finds her. All the signs were there. She was a prescription drug addict. She was heavily medicating in order to sleep and make it from one day to the next. She was telling us stories that didn’t make sense. She was missing work and her friends had started to call me to tell me they were worried about her.

In her car, she heard voices. She turned up the car radio so loud, I couldn’t hear my own thoughts. And she couldn’t hear the voices.

She was locked inside her own head, adrift in schizophrenia before anyone even thought to look for her. She must have been unbearably alone, living in this world while the rest of us lived in ours.

 

But I don’t have schizophrenia. When I gather the courage to speak to my psychiatrist, she tells me I’m fine.

“How do you know that?” I say.

“Because you are asking me. People that have schizophrenia don’t ask. They don’t ever doubt what they are seeing,” she says.

Her office is filled with stuffed animals and incense and Buddhas. I look down at her thumb.

She chews on it when she’s nervous. Today, she’s wrapped a band aid around it to prevent the chewing. Does she know what I’m going through?

I want to pass over this phase of my healing instead of through it. I rage every time I’m at her office. I’m angry. I tell her it’s unfair.

 

That dull doubt is my saving grace. I know my tía never doubted the voices she heard. They were part of her reality. No second thought. My wondering is that fine line between us—her and me.

While the doubt fills me with uncertainty, I’m grateful for it.

 

The flashbacks continue for about five more years. Those years feel like decades. Then the healing process shifts and instead of experiencing images as part of the PTSD, it becomes a lot scarier. I’m in a safe place. I’m happily married. I’m far from my family. Most of them don’t know where I live. I’ve stopped talking to most of them. Instead, those relatives become foggy memories in my mind. Once the flashbacks ease up, I begin to remember happier things. I remember gathering around my mom’s kitchen table, talking with the other women. When I remember this, I don’t remember their death pacts or their depression; instead I remember the comfort and warmth of their presence—the predicable affection that surrounded me.

At the same time this is happening, my brain has decided it’s time for the next phase of healing. I stop seeing flashbacks in the form of images. Suddenly, I’m hit with the emotions. I feel someone hovering over my bed and pressing me down, and I’m terrified.

“I’m so frightened,” I tell my husband, “Please hold me and tell me that everything is going to be okay?”

“What’s scaring you?” he says.

“I don’t know,” I say, “Please hold me.”

But I do know. The memory is non-specific and barely an image. It’s more like a sensation. But I know where it comes from. I’m a child and I’m being stalked. I’m afraid and terrified. I feel like a small animal, and I know he’s going to get me. He will devour me, and I will be gone. Erased.

One time too many as a child, I had to pretend I wasn’t scared, wasn’t anxious, wasn’t angry. I denied all the emotions. And now, all those feelings are crawling back expecting to be seen, to be noticed, to be called by name. They want to come out of hiding.

In the warmth of my husband’s arms, I talk to myself.

“You are safe. Everything is okay,” I tell myself.

I’ve gotten better at speaking to myself with kindness. When my emotions are settled, I pick them apart slowly. I honor them for what they are and hope that they forgive me.

“That is fear,” I say.

“That is anxiety. This emotion is temporary. I can feel it without being swallowed. I’m okay.”

“That is loathing. But I don’t need to hate myself. I did the best I could with what I had. I had good instincts and here I am on the other side. It’s okay,” I tell myself, “I am safe and no one is going to hurt me. I have many more resources now. I know how to take care of myself.”

I soothe the feelings till they are quiet. I rock them to sleep like babies. Feelings don’t have any logic. They are there to be accepted. Just like children. When my own children are not okay, I hold them and love them and reassure them. Here I am doing the same for myself—and hoping I can teach myself how to love myself better.

I compel the hidden men at the corner of my eye to never return. I stare at my life straight on.

 

Mireya S. Vela is a creative non-fiction writer and researcher in Los Angeles. In her work, Ms. Vela addresses the needs of immigrant Mexican families and the disparities they face every day. She tackles issues of inequity and how ingrained societal systems support the (ongoing) injustice that contributes to continuing poverty and abuse. Ms. Vela received her Bachelor’s degree in English from Whitter College—and received her Master of Fine Arts from Antioch University in 2018. She is also a visual artist.

Twitter: @mireyasvela
Instagram: mireyasvela
Visual Art website: mireyavela.com

“Rocky Mornings” by Sammi Curran

Every morning when I wake up, there is a rock in my bed.

Sometimes it’s a pebble. This is the best case scenario. I sleep on my back on the left side of the bed. My right arm stretches across the mattress. The pebble will usually be underneath my palm, never digging in, but a comfortable pressure on my skin. It can be smooth, or a little pointy. Either way, it doesn’t affect me much. I can roll out of bed and leave it there. I can easily forget about it and go about my day. I wish I could wake up next to a pebble every day.

However, sometimes the pebble is instead a rock. The rock can be either a quick fix, or something that weighs my mind down.

When the rock is the size of my palm, it isn’t too bad. It can scratch up my hand and arm when I get up. The rocks are always a bit jagged. When I sit up, I can see little bits of dirt and sediment that have fallen off, dirtying my sheets. That’s unpleasant. When I’m lucky, I can brush them off and simply throw the rock in the trash. Other times, the black residue clings to the sheets and needs a go in the washing machine. When a rock in my bed first appears, I know the next few days will most likely bring rocks too. I don’t know why, but they come for about a week or two at a time.

During these stretches of rock appearances, there are always a few days when the rocks are larger. They can get to be the size of a soccer ball. At this size, they roll into the dip in the bed made by my body. I wake up to an uncomfortable stabbing against my ribs. It feels like the sharp edges have cling to the fabric of my tank top, seeking to latch onto skin. It feels like my body is sore and bruised from the rock. I have trouble getting out of bed these mornings. It takes me longer to gather the strength to move. The rock’s weight, though agitating, make my body feel heavier. I’m stuck to the bed, and the day can pass me by. I can pull my comforter up to my chin and curl around the rough stone. My body feels too weak to move. Eventually, I muster the strength to stumble out of bed and start the day. It sets things off on the wrong foot, and I feel off the rest of the day. Sluggish, lethargic, detached.

But that is nothing compared to the boulder. To be fair, I’m not visited by the boulder too often. Unfortunately, when it does come, I know right away. Unlike its smaller brothers, the boulder wakes me up earlier than usual. I’m forced to roll to the center of the bed from the weight of it. The large mass digs into my skin, the backs of my thighs, the sensitive area at the base of my neck. Sometimes I’m facing it, my stomach crushed against the course surface, and my face staring at grey and brown nothingness. I am glued to the bed on these days. Moving is not an option. When the boulder is in my bed, every time feels like it will never leave. I’ll be lying here forever. No one will come to pry me away. I’ll lose everything because I’m stuck next to this anchor of a stone. All I have to do is roll away, plant my feet on the floor, and take one step, I know. But it’s so difficult. The boulder is almost three times the size of me, and no adjustment I make can make the boulder move.

I used to accept the boulder and let it win. Some days, it still does. Other days, I say to myself, I can do it, and, Won’t it feel great to get outside and take a breath of fresh air? Or I simply claw my way to the edge and throw my whole body overboard. The first step is to get out of that damn bed, away from that damn boulder. It’s hard, but I’ve taken to writing myself notes that I tape to the ceiling. Remember you mostly wake up to pebbles, they say. Not every day will bring a boulder.

These are true, and reminding myself of that truth can feel impossible. But I’m starting to look at them and smile.

 

 

Sammi Curran is a Writing, Literature & Publishing graduate from Emerson College. Her work has appeared in Corridors Magazine and Gold Dust Magazine. She has a blog where she talks about her struggles with living with mental illness and promoting positivity to her lovely readers. Visit her at simplyotterlysammi.wordpress.com.

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