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    I Graduated From Mermaid School And It Was Really Hard

    I thought I was fulfilling my own dream, but the real magic was in making children's dreams come true.

    Zoë Burnett / Buzzfeed

    Hi God, it's me, Claire. I'm just your average, awkward 24-year-old who is obsessed with mermaids.*

    For those who don't know, mermaiding is a thing.

    Donning a fin and living your best merlife is more than a lifestyle: It's also a profession, whether you work in a bar, as entertainment for events, or to help promote ocean conservation.

    In addition to being swimming, posing, and diving experts, professional mermaids have to:

    * Have the stamina to withstand children's parties

    * Dodge invasive questions that would "break" mercharacter

    * Wear a constricting, silicone tail for (potentially) hours on end

    * Have escape maneuvers when children try to "drown" you (to see if you're real)

    * Be vastly knowledgeable about the ocean and it's creatures

    * And finally, to have the charm, improv, and acting abilities to captivate and entertain small hordes of children and adults

    And I, with a fiery burning passion, have made it my mission in life to become a real-life, bona fide mermaid.

    So I enlisted the help of Virginia, who is basically a real-life mermaid. She owns and operates Sheroes, a fantasy character service, and wanted to make all my merdreams come true.

    I didn't have six months to transform myself into the mermaid I always dreamed I could be, so Virginia created a special program for me.

    My curated class schedule combined the most important aspects from both the regular and professional mermaid schools.

    First, I had to take an in-tail swim and posing practice class. Second, I would take a mermaid accessories class, where I'd meet the other mermaids and create my mermaid bra. Third, I would have to create a fully fleshed mermaid character to debut. And finally, I would work a charity event as my mermaid character to put my skills to the test.

    Zoë Burnett / Buzzfeed

    This was going to be the best day of my life, I could tell.*

    Erika Gonzalez

    *It was.

    So I donned the super glitzy bra Virginia handed me (mermaids LOVE sparkle) and was ready for my class.

    Erika Gonzalez

    (Here's me, trying to pose while also hiding the fact that I hadn't waxed in months.)

    The keys to swimming like a mermaid are 1) keeping your legs locked together and 2) NO KNEE MOVEMENT.

    Claire de Louraille for BuzzFeed

    It is not easy. I repeat, NOT EASY. I mean, look at me: I'm already breaking the two most important rules. Most of your swimming comes from using your core, so it feels almost like you're humping the water. Almost.

    Once Virginia was confident I wouldn't drown, she had me put on my fabric tail, which felt very much like I was rolling a full-body condom on myself.

    Erika Gonzalez

    I imagine that this is what sausages feel like as they're being cased.

    But then we were free to live our best mermaid lives! I MEAN JUST LOOK AT ME. I'M A MERMAID FOR CHRIST'S SAKE.

    Erika Gonzalez

    Do you hear that? That's the sound of all my dreams coming true. The swimming is a bit trickier because the tail is really buoyant, but you can also swim faster because of the fin. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    Once we had enough swimming practice, it was time for me to learn how to pose in a tail.

    At first, I had no idea what I was doing. Keeping track of my tail, arms, flipper, face, and accessories was crazy hard, so Virginia had mermaid-In-training and posing expert Odette work her magic on me.

    But after Odette taught be how to work my arms and fin, I was posing like a mermaid in no time.

    Erika Gonzalez
    Zoë Burnett / Buzzfeed

    After learning how to swim like a mermaid, it was time to learn how to dress like one!

    One of Virginia's mermaids was getting a fancy new tail and needed to make a new bra top. She likes to use these opportunities to call her mers together for a ~mermaid accessories~ night.

    Which means I got to go to Michaels Crafts, my most and least favorite place on earth.

    Claire de Louraille for BuzzFeed
    Claire de Louraille for BuzzFeed
    Claire de Louraille for BuzzFeed

    Michaels is a wonderland and also a fiery, burning, crafting hellscape where innocent crafters go to die. Like everyone who goes to Michaels, I had a moment of despair that turned into an existential crisis. What kinds of things should I buy? Who was my mermaid and what would she wear?

    After arriving and talking to the other mermaids, they calmed my anxiety and gave me some advice on making a mermaid top.

    Claire de Louraille for BuzzFeed
    Claire de Louraille for BuzzFeed

    Rule #1 is support and safety. You want to give your bra a zero percent chance of falling off your body.

    Rule #2 is not being overly cleavage-y. (Think of the children...and their parents!)

    Rule #3 is to glue everything down with E6000 (a really strong craft glue).

    And rule #4 is make your mermaid bra YOU.

    I opted for a natural mermaid look, with lots of netting and foliage.

    Claire de Louraille for BuzzFeed
    Claire de Louraille for BuzzFeed

    BUT MY GOD did I underestimate how long it would take to sew the netting on the bra. I spent hours with the other mermaids crafting my bra and I didn't pass the first step! Before we left, they had me model what I had so far, and oohs and aahs filled the room. They made me feel like I had everything under control, which I totally did.*

    *That is a lie.

    Once I got home, I did what every scumbag procrastinator does: I shoved everything into a closet and didn't look at it again.

    That is, until I had only a couple days before my big day. (Yes, yes, I know I'm a garbage person.)

    The next few nights ended in a similar fashion, mainly me staying up until 3 a.m., gluing my mermaid bra until I passed out from the fumes and/or exhaustion.

    The bra became a metaphor for my life.

    And by the power of Neptune, I finished it.

    Claire de Louraille for BuzzFeed

    Even though I was on a high from completing my mermaid bra, I still had to figure out my mermaid character.

    Claire de Louraille for BuzzFeed

    I knew I wanted my mercharacter to be more fierce, more mysterious, more glamorous, and more bold than I was in real life. I decided to name my mermaid Mariana, after the Mariana Trench, where she also lived. (I'm just creative like that.) Thus, like Aphrodite rising from the foam, Mermaid Mariana was born.

    Zoë Burnett / Buzzfeed

    Today was the day.

    This was it: the day of my big mermaid reveal. I had waited 24 years for this moment — 24 years to fulfill a dream and live my best life.

    When I arrived, Virginia wasted no time in getting me into the mermaid tail.

    Evi T'Bolt

    This wasn't the fabric tail from swimming class — oh no, these silicone tails cost THOUSANDS of dollars and can be extremely delicate. (This one was over three grand.)

    After what seemed like an entire bottle of baby oil, lots of grunting, and me clenching my buttcheeks with the force of the Titans trying not to fart, I finally, FINALLY, got the tail on.

    I was officially a mermaid! I could no longer move on my own but my god, I was a mermaid.

    Evi T'Bolt

    I wasn't just any mermaid: I was Mermaid Mariana, and I was beautiful and glorious and I've never felt better in my entire life.

    At this point, the merwrangler, Pirate John, showed up looking like an A+ swashbuckler. He and Virginia hoisted me into my shell throne, the curtain opened, and there I was. Ready to put my mermaid character and knowledge to the test.

    Now, I can't really post any photos of all the children I made happy because I couldn't hand their parents release forms for a couple of reasons.

    Evi T'Bolt
    Evi T'Bolt

    1) I literally could not reach the parents or move closer to them, and 2) handing a parent a photo contract definitely constitutes breaking mermaid character, which is the ONE RULE I could not break.

    Even from the back of their heads I'm pretty sure you can see how excited they are, and if you can't, just look at my face because I was just as ecstatic as they were.

    And then the photo ops started rolling in, like police officers and women from BACA, Bikers Against Child Abuse.
    Evi T'Bolt

    I was put on some barrels.

    Johnny Stix / @johnnystix53

    (FYI Pirate John carried me everywhere in his strong, capable arms and it was an A+ experience.)

    On a pirate ship.

    Johnny Stix / @johnnystix53

    And on a very pretty bike.

    Johnny Stix / @johnnystix53

    I had never been so happy, and it was all because I got to make other people happy.

    Don't be fooled by my smile: My knees are dying in this picture.

    Evi T'Bolt

    By hour three and a half I wasn't sure I'd even be able to walk back to my car because my knees and ankles were pounding with pain. That silicone tail is beautiful but it's heavy, and most of that weight is right on your ankles. Seriously, it feels like you have the weight of a thousand suns just waiting to snap your ankles off.

    Then finally, Virginia looked at me, nodded, and I knew it was over. I was done. I had lived my dream. She helped me onto the ground and we rolled the mermaid tail off with as much care as we took putting it on.

    When I stood up I felt like Ariel when she first got her legs, but I was surprised at how quickly the pain in my ankles disappeared.

    Disney / Via

    But. Boy. Did. My. Legs. Look. And. Feel. AMAZING. The thing about sitting for a half day covered in baby oil, in essentially a rubber tube, is that your skin absorbs all that baby oil and becomes GLORIOUSLY SOFT.

    After I changed into human clothes and took off my wig, I scampered away, praying that no one would recognize me as the mermaid.

    And Virginia was right — literally no one did. It was incredibly surreal, and I would have dwelled on that thought a bit longer but I was really excited to go home and eat everything in sight before passing out from exhaustion.

    Zoë Burnett / Buzzfeed

    * Professional mermaids are bona fide badasses. They can save drowning children, hold their breath for long periods of time, and survive hours of children's parties while being in a very constricting silicone tail.

    * Baby oil will become your best friend.

    * That tail is beautiful and you will look like a real mermaid but dear god your ankles and knees will feel pain.

    * Your legs will never look better then after being in a mermaid tail and soaking up baby oil for hours.

    * The magic of being a mermaid wasn't about me living my dream, it was about making children's dreams come to life.

    Wig was provided by Powder Room D and mermaid classes were provided at a discount.

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