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Resident Jellyfish

Maybe I'll stop reporting for duty...

By Alexandra ZellerPublished 6 months ago 5 min read
Resident Jellyfish
Photo by Vino Li on Unsplash

I am a glorified doormat.

In fact, I always have been. Never once in my life was I anything but that. From day one, it was my destiny as the eldest child to do the bidding of my family and support my siblings as well as my parents when they needed it.

That's how I ended up at this aquarium at 2 o'clock in the afternoon on a Wednesday.

I was taking a gap year between high school and college, essentially taking care of my younger siblings while my parents both worked. It wasn't their fault, but at the same time, I couldn't get the job I had planned to get in order to save for my education. I tried telling them, but I was just reminded that I could go work but they really appreciated the weight of childcare being lifted off their shoulders.

It wasn't a no, but it certainly wasn't the most confident endorsement of "go find a job".

I made sure to grab Olivia's hand as we approached the ticket counter. A friendly worker rang up our total.

"63.27, would you like to donate 5 extra dollars to go towards the Ending Childhood Hunger Initiative?"

I paused for a moment, first to balk at the price (ticket prices had gone way up from what I remember) and then to mentally calculate if I could truly afford to pay an extra 5 dollars right now.

"Uh, sure." I stammered out.

I could feel my face glowing red as the cashier took my card and rang up the total. Unfortunately, this meant I'd have to wait on buying more paint for my portraits. I didn't quite foresee my adult ticket costing nearly 40 dollars, or a child's ticket being nearly 20.

Mom was going to be upset, but I wasn't going to let money stop Olivia's fun. Her face always lit up when we walked into the entrance. The giant murals of fish and aquatic mammals would send her on a tangent for hours. She loved reading, learning, and seeing everything about the ocean.

Right on cue, she began babbling about how sea invertebrates were her favorite animals now. Sea anemones and jellyfish were the obvious favorites. According to her, there were thousands upon thousands of unique jellyfish.

We didn't even stop at the Amazon river exhibit today, she straight up pulled me across half the aquarium to stop at the jellyfish exhibit. It was a completely dark area, only lit by the aquarium lamps and the occasional bioluminescent invertebrate.

She laughed at the weird undulations of all the different jellyfish, pointing at the ones with particularly long tentacles and how beautiful they looked.

"Did you know that like a lot of things eat them? They suck them up like little pieces of gum. Turtles even eat them. Can you believe that? Cute little turtles!"

She said it with such enthusiasm that it was kind of spooky. I was glad to see her learning, but I kind of felt bad for them. They were beautiful, and graceful, yet so easily consumed by anything around them despite having stinging tentacles.

Like no matter what they tried to do it didn't matter because they were at the mercy of everything around them.

I crossed my arms over my chest and watched as she floated from tank to tank. Some jellyfish had stinging tentacle barbs, while others didn't. Some could create their own light show, some could kill a human. The list went on and on.

Eventually, we made it to the end, and she begged for food. Reluctantly I forked out another 10 dollars for some fishie nuggies. I'd have to figure out how to explain that to the parental units.

When we stepped in the door Olivia was a burst of energy. She ran to mom and dad telling them all about the jellyfish, and how crispy and delicious the fishie nuggies were. They side-eyed me until finally, she meandered off to go read the new picture book she got from the library.

I tried to sneak into my room, but as soon as her door clicked shut I heard my father's voice.

"Miriam, come here."

It was stern and I knew I'd be in trouble. She wasn't supposed to have fishie nuggies and we stayed out an hour longer than I was allotted.

"I cannot believe you got her nuggets again, and you were supposed to be home an hour ago. You didn't make dinner for your brother, and he was complaining he was hungry when we got home. We aren't paying you for this, again, until you learn to listen. This isn't a charity. You're lucky we pay you at all."

Yeah, I'm lucky I'm guilted into being a live-in nanny who never gets paid but is expected to follow all these crazy house rules that would never apply to a normal twenty-something.

I wanted to scream, I wanted to cry, wanted to point out how my friend's birthday was next week and I still couldn't afford to get her the makeup she wanted. It was 20 dollars. I told her I could do it. Apparently, I can't.

"Just remember that next time. We expect you to behave more maturely since we allowed you to live here even though you aren't attending classes."

Great. Yeah, because I chose not to take classes because I just wanted to lounge around the house and do nothing. It's not like I wanted to get a job. It's not like I wanted to work toward independence.

No, clearly I just took a gap year to be lazy.

I could feel tears welling in my eyes and I diverted my gaze to the ground. My mother said nothing and only gave me a stern look, followed by a condescending head shake.

"Don't cry. You knew the rules. You can go now."

They both walked toward the kitchen muttering to each other about how one day I'd learn. I wanted to fight back, but I felt like underneath their weight I was drowning. I wanted to speak, to scream, to stand up for myself, but I couldn't afford it.

I had nothing, and I was just at the mercy of whether they decided to eat me alive or let me flourish.

ExcerptShort StoryYoung Adult

About the Creator

Alexandra Zeller

A young adult still trying to find her place in this world.

You can follow me on all my socials!

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