This lovely fish lady looks happy, but actually she’s had a rough life. Pammy was a friend of my godmother, Regina, who also worked at Marineland, not as a mermaid but as a dolphin feeder. Pam’s struggle to keep her weight low enough to slither into her costume, month after month, year after year, was common knowledge among the other Marineland employees. The diet pills she lived on made her jittery and short-tempered, sometimes causing dramatic confrontations that would bring Regina to tears, even though they were truly the best of friends. Pam once accused my godmother of feeding the dolphins putrid pompano innards, an accusation that I’m sure was simply not true. Regina loved her dolphins and only served them the best.
Pammy’s head was full of noise, and it was the noise deep in her brain, the anxious whooshing of the ocean, the constant chattering of seagulls, commotion that couldn’t be tamped down by shots of the best scotch, that was the worst side-effect of all the medication. Her head was full of the sea, preventing sleep, destroying her smile. Poor Pam was becoming the Judy Garland of the marine world.
Pammy often spoke with Regina about her weight problem. Why, Pam wondered, couldn’t they just give her a slightly bigger fish tail, something with a little breathing room? Ask the boss, Regina urged, but when she finally got enough courage to face down the big man, he told her, “That, Pam, would be defeating the purpose.” She understood, sort of, and she struggled, holding on to her sometimes humiliating but lucrative job for too long.
As the years went by, Regina watched helpless as her friend turned into a bitter and exhausted, but still svelte, older mermaid. Pammy was clearly spent. But she carried on, until one sultry day, right after New Year’s, when she just disappeared. Regina suspected she had been knocked up by a dolphin trainer she’d lately been drinking Kahlua with, but if anyone knew for sure, no one was saying. Her five fishtail outfits were missing. Strange. Where would she need a wardrobe like that, except at Marineland, my godmother wondered. Several months went by. Detectives showed up, long lost cousins called, and her tiny cottage in the Las Olas Riverfront section of Fort Lauderdale was turned upside down; nothing. Regina was distressed. Could she be gone?
Then in the middle of the dull month of March, Regina got a surprise phone call. It was Pammy. She was, as Regina initially thought, pregnant with the Kahlua man’s child, and she had a new job. Pam now held a position at Sea World in San Diego, working as a mermaid. Regina couldn’t believe she had left for the same damn job. But, as Pammy pointed out, “here they’ll let me keep my child,” and, she proudly added, ” they don’t care that I’m getting fat. I might even give up on diet pills”. Well, my godmother thought, that is more or less some pretty decent news.