Dear Ms. Mermaid:
Thank you for your letter. Your membership with Deep Water Insurance is important to us. We understand the following about your current situation: (1) The tail-into-legs procedure you seek would make you the loveliest girl in the human kingdom, and prevent you from returning–-ever—to your undersea home. (2) It is not merely the fair-haired prince you desire, but the promise of an immortal soul if he marries you. (3) If the prince marries someone else, you will dissolve into sea foam the next morning. (4) Your present age is 15.25 with a life expectancy of 300 years.
You described this transformation as urgent and imperative. We received your request at 11:56 p.m. and have worked into the night to provide excellent service and a reply by sunrise.
However, the tail-into-legs procedure for which you seek *Pre-Authorization is not recognized in accordance with accepted medical standards as a safe and effective treatment for (primary diagnosis) the absence of an immortal soul. Nor is it classified by Deep Water Insurance as *Medically Necessary. Nor is Sea Witch a *Preferred Provider in our network; the prescribed potion (made from her own tarry black blood) is considered *Experimental in Nature and does not appear on Deep Water’s Prescription Drug Formulary. In addition, services for Species-Based Dysphoria (secondary diagnosis) are excluded from coverage.
* Please see the Glossary of Terms in your policy booklet.
In addition, Ms. Mermaid, elective tailhood issues are no longer covered by your plan. Allow us to explain. On the morning of your fifteenth birthday you phoned our 24/7 Advice Nurse (calls are recorded for quality-assurance) and complained of pain from wounds caused by the eight ornamental oysters you had clamped to your tail in preparation for your long-awaited ascent from the mer-kingdom at the bottom of the sea to the human kingdom at the surface. We at Deep Water classify piercing as a procedure that establishes a pre-existing condition with respect to any further elective mutilation/modification of the tail.
We thank you for your phone call. It was important to us.
For the reasons listed above, your request for pre-authorization of a tail-into-legs transformation is denied. Deep Water Insurance will pay Sea Witch $0 for this procedure.
You also asked about coverage for the procedure’s known side effects and complications. Before we address your concerns, however, we must offer one of our own. We realize that your grandmother, the multi-pierced dowager queen, has been an influence on you, your sisters and your widowed father. According to our records, she may be suffering from undiagnosed status anxiety. This condition can be contagious. We consider her comment, “One can’t have beauty for nothing” to be an ominous foreshadowing of Sea Witch’s demand of payment for her services. Your grandmother is regal and Sea Witch is repulsive. The former taunts you sweetly about the impossible prize and the latter dares you to win it. Like two advertisements for the same product, they each convey a profound presumption of deficiency—in you.
Deep Water Insurance is committed to helping you obtain appropriate care. Your psychotherapy maximum is twenty sessions per calendar year.
Here is a list (by no means exhaustive) of the known potential side effects and complications of the tail-into-legs procedure you are considering:
As Sea Witch has warned (nay, assured), drinking her transformative potion will divide your tail into two human legs, and every step thereafter will feel like a sharp sword stabbing you. Sea Witch also claims that the legs, though painful, will be stunning, that your graceful movements and expressive eyes will be retained and that you will be the most beautiful girl in the kingdom. But we question the likelihood of graceful movement while enduring intense pain every minute of every hour of every day. Exactly what kind of beauty would your eyes express when glazed with agony? Would your smile be blissy, charming, subtle and spontaneous? Or the petrified horizon of a suppressed wince? Imagine yourself at the next royal shindig. Would you be lindy-hopping with your fair-haired prince till dawn if you felt serrated blades ripping into your arches and freshly sharpened points puncturing your toes? While blithe, high-heeled girls flirt and swirl all evening, would you be exuding the aforementioned grace, beauty and expressiveness from some seat in a corner?
Add the inevitable gossamer mesh of addictive pain meds and the ladylike poise expected of you around the palace, the fussy taffeta and wobbly ankles, the tiny treble j-hooks of longing embedded in the gelatinous tissue of your aortic chamber. How might these restrictions feel after having deftly navigated coral forests and roamed the limitless sea at the speed of one-hundred-and-thirty kilometers per hour?
Exacerbation of Species-Based Dysphoria (SBD)
Little Mermaid, creaturehood is an essential part of your nature that no cosmetic surgery will eliminate. We recognize that you have been encouraged to find something noble in the concept of trumping your biology. But we suggest that this is nothing less than a sugary bribe of assimilation, an attempt to “heal” you from a sickness that, in fact, belongs to your detractors. Our experience tells us that one is born into a species as one is born into left-handedness. We ask that you adopt a healthy skepticism toward any smarmy offer to equip you with “courage and truth” in the suppression of your essential self. Any mission to shame, heal, de-program—and especially, love—you out of your mer-status should be viewed with extreme caution.
Which brings us to the matter of marriage. Given the desperate impulses that prompted you to consult both your grandmother and Sea Witch—and the sales pressure exerted by the latter in insisting you must act before sunrise—you may not have fully appreciated their warnings that for you to gain an immortal soul, the prince must love and marry you such that he forgets his father and mother and cleaves to you with his whole heart as portrayed in Judeo-Christian scripture. The implication is that the bond between spouses exceeds the bond between parents and their offspring. Your own father’s affection is divided among six mer-daughters and will likely be shattered by your voluntary exile and the rejection of your entire species. In contrast, the prince is an only child who will never leave home and was groomed for the throne, no doubt, before his parents’ grandparents chose the wine for their wedding. How likely is it that you could compete with the royal, ancestral, genetic, territorial, political, church-backed bond between the prince and his parents? Do you think that three seconds after he has asked “What neighborhood are you from?” and “What does your father do?” he could even consider you—a cute, mute pagan—for a bride?
Silent Torment and Stunning Loss of Agency
This, Ms. Mermaid, brings us to a truly grave complication of the procedure you contemplate: the loss of your voice. First, please know that elective glossectomy is not covered by your policy, and we advise you to avoid Sea Witch or any other provider who would accept or demand your tongue as payment for a service. Second, we urge you to consider that without a tongue, you will not be able to convince the human prince that it was you who rescued him from drowning when his ship was destroyed in a storm and he was rendered unconscious. Also, exactly how much betrothal appeal do you think you will have if you cannot hold mutually stimulating conversations with him? Even your intimate moments would be bereft of audible sighs, whispered endearments, grateful sobs and unbridled pleasure yawps. Verbal role-play would be limited. Further, you would be unable to discuss race relations or education issues (think Eleanor Roosevelt) with your husband/future king; unable to soothe, amuse and redeem him with deftly orated tales (think Scheherazade); unable to charm and disarm foreign invaders with fluency in multiple languages (think Cleopatra); and unable to recite poetry (think Veronica Franco) to the nobility.
We understand that you are frustrated with what you view as the lack of an immortal soul, but might your willingness to sacrifice your voice also betray some personal insecurity about your conversational agility with men? Do you find that you are vibrant and inquisitive with your grandmother and sisters, but about as dynamic as hairdryer hum in the presence of him who prompts a dopamine surge? Does your verbal reserve embarrass you to the extent that you seek relief of the pressure to be witty and articulate, when by nature you are contemplative, curious, and possibly indifferent to repartee? If so, you would not be the first teen girl to cherish a prince with a heroic jawline and the taut torso of a marble nude while finding conversation with him elusive.
Nor would you be the first to see her self-esteem plummet; to feel herself surrounded by tedious, incompetent adults oblivious to her exceptional gifts; to enjoy the pains and pleasures that prompt a preoccupation with one’s appearance; to suffer an increasingly relational nature by which human interaction is both crucial and untenable with little in between; to feel, at times, awkward, inauthentic, insignificant and, of course, unheard.
We at Deep Water Insurance strive to mitigate the difficulties of this well-documented stage in female development by covering an array of anti-depressant medications. For information, please refer to the Deep Water Drug Formulary, numerous available television commercials, mass-transit posters, and family entertainment sites.
Additionally, we are concerned about the loss of the singing voice you cultivated for so many years and for which you are widely admired in your present mer-community. What is to become of the part of you that feels music? Is this capacity not sufficiently soulful in your present form? Sure, as a tongueless human you could play a string or percussive instrument, attend concerts or move about with pods in your ears. But give up your singing voice? Really?
Lest you think Deep Water Insurance a collective duncery for addressing the loss of voice in a solely literal manner, please know that we are aware of its metaphorical resonance, along with your wish to rise up and make conscious what is presently submerged. Your undersea garden features a weeping willow. Your flowers are blood red and delicately petaled. We get it.
Thank you for placing your trust in Deep Water Insurance.
If you choose to have this unauthorized procedure, we hope that you and the prince fall in love, enjoy a rich, fulfilling, erotically-charged marriage, and find the eternal salvation you seek. It is possible, however, that he could meet and greet and send you on your way. Or perhaps he may adore you as his delightful little pet and have you sleep on a velvet cushion outside his door. He might even make you his companion for horseback riding or aristocratic gardening. Or take you for beachy strolls and impress you with his dreamy musings about the tides, and the cliffs and what the earth must have looked like during the Pleistocene Epoch. Perhaps, one afternoon, the two of you will remove excess outerwear, kneel in the golden granules and sculpt a replica of his regal home. Soon after, he will brush the sand from your body; you will brush the sand from his. Then, on the mulberry-silk picnic blanket, you will strike a pose with your costly legs; he will toss his blond hair devastatingly aside and unfurl a moist, muscular tongue in eager reception of a plump grape from your fingers. He will look at you; you will look at him, and the sun’s fate-ordained warmth will pull the two of you closer with a cosmic gravity. You will be holding your breath in wait for the shining moment in which he is sure to declare his eternal, life-saving love. But he, perhaps, will be thinking of something else entirely, such as your excellent listening skills and the assurance (O Friend!) that you can keep a secret. Indeed, he just might just pour the rum and confide in you about his imminent marriage proposal to the girl next door, the one who (he thinks) rescued him from drowning, the one he can repay only by forgetting father and mother and vowing eternal marital devotion—this last, Little Mermaid, mumbled while he’s lazing in your soft, salty, freckle-free arms.
And that’s if he’s a nice guy.
Suppose instead the prince is a spoiled rake who ravishes you on the palatial steps where he finds you helpless, naked, and paralyzed with pain. Or suppose the affectionate newlywed becomes a thrill-hungry Bluebeard or halitosian ogre or prince-charmed-by-woman’s-love-into-hideous-fanged-beast?
Worse even still, Ms. Mermaid, given what you will have sacrificed, the prince might just be a breezy guy who smells too much of soap, one who calendars his way through life, achieving goals, fattening his contact lists, following tennis tournaments and exclaiming “Fantastic!” Suppose conversations about media subtext bore him. He’s a poor sport at chess, but quick with a joke and makes a mean Sidecar Fizz. Rembrandt is “depressing” and Scarlatti is a curly pasta. A chilly, candlelit, Romanesque cathedral is “Fantastic!” for about three minutes. He’s a competent kisser who flosses daily and leaves sentimental verse on your pillow. People call him a mensch, but marriage to him is a soul-eroding slog; the promise of immortality, an extended test of endurance.
We appreciate your high opinion of the human species. We’re puzzled, however, by your certainty of the aforementioned immortality—a question that has absorbed human minds for millennia. Indeed, we worry that you may be more enchanted with a noble, transcendent death than with the mundane feat of putting together a good week. While we at Deep Water Insurance remain committed to providing you with access to high-quality healthcare, please note that if a subscriber moves out of Deep Water Kingdom or turns into sea foam, whichever comes first, coverage under this Agreement will terminate.
Lastly, you may want to consider the procedure’s long-term risks to your reputation. One unfortunate possibility is that your example will be used to frighten girls into obedience or inspire them to pursue self-mutilation as an acceptable means to beauty or belonging. You might inadvertently trigger a mass martyrdom that, particularly in young people, could be exploited for nefarious purposes. In addition, critics will say that it was your man-catching siren song that caused the prince’s ship to crash on the rocks, that your upward swim was a metaphor for social climbing, that the sculpted bust in your undersea garden indicates a quest for a trophy husband. Worst of all, however, is that your story could be trivialized by an insipid cartoon in which you wear a seashell bra over a pro-ana waist, frolic about with brightly-colored animals, and have your solemn, silent yearnings replaced with a petulant snark. Your likeness may even be commodified on beach towels and water bottles and a singing (yes, singing!) doll to be marketed as a slumber-party status point. We realize this scenario seems nightmarish and extreme, but we have to mention the possibility.
Still, it is our hope that posterity will commend your similarity to Eve, who also eschewed permanent virginity, pursued forbidden knowledge, and sacrificed much to leave an exclusive paradise that was perhaps lonely in its luxury. Supporters will posit that you became bored with the perpetual merriment of balls and banquets and might have been happier at a college-town coffeehouse where, in jeans and glasses, you could enjoy a beet-avocado sandwich and a spirited discussion about the environmental impact of overfishing in the tropics or industrial pollution in the Ganges or the latest oil spill off the Gulf of Mexico. It’s entirely possible that your quest for eternity will be remembered as indicating a love of life—though, admittedly, such a finding is not suggested by your claim file with us.
We regret to inform you that these sunnier scenarios are more likely if, instead of marrying the fair-haired prince, you end up suffering the aforementioned risks and complications. We at Deep Water Insurance are mindful that mortality is never far away, though, ironically, Little Mermaid, if you really want to be human, you’ll have to die with the mystery on your lips.