She was Real

It’s the little things that weigh on my heart.

Not the thought of how we met, with me hanging onto the side of my capsized fishing boat far out to sea, too late at night, in a dark storm with twenty-foot waves, and how she swam up to me, completely out of the blue, tail splashing, confidently, smoothly, and pulled me safely to a deserted island, where I awoke in the morning with wet sand on my face, coughing salt water out of my lungs, to see her in coconut shells and a grass skirt, somehow with legs.

It’s rather the simple memory of us holding hands along the shore during the tropical sunrises, small tides of water marching up to our toes before retreating, listening to her talk about the kindness of whales, the meanness of sharks, and the annoying narcissism of Parrot fish, which seem to never stop talking, apparently. What did I know, being a landlubber by comparison?

Not the bamboo hut that we built together, which consisted of hours of chopping, tying, working in silence, sweat dripping down our backs, until we raced to the beach, puffs of sand spraying from our feet, and dived into the cool ocean waves, popping our heads out of the water, laughing.

It’s rather the times we swung in a hammock between two tall palm trees, with our young son snuggled between us, listening to her tell stories of sea kings and sea monsters, watching his eyes widen with each word, while I just smiled a closed-mouth smile, soaking in the radiant energy of innocence.

Not the trip that she took us on to the city of Atlantis, somehow making it so that we could magically breathe underwater, even though the coral reefs, colorful sea creatures, and seafood were thoroughly and unforgettably amazing, a time that will always give me pause when thinking of my good fortune.

It’s rather the words of her worry when I left again out to sea in order to catch fish, to make my living and provide food for my family, as well as when my son became a man by jumping off of a cliff into the water below to swim with seals and catch crab, having the same magic as his mother, allowing him to explore the hidden worlds beneath the ocean breeze, where he met a sea princess, only returning now and again during a blue moon. “Be safe, I love you,” she had told us, adventure pulling us in separate directions, while giving each of us a good-luck shell.

Squeezing that shell now in the palm of my hand, I wish I would have spent more time gently brushing the hair over her ear and holding her close to my chest, rather than leaving the magic behind.

Because the fact that I caught a Great White all by myself, fighting it for days, reeling it in as it roared with its massive teeth, almost capsizing my boat again as it tugged from one side of the ocean to the other, its jaw now hanging on my wall back home, means nothing—nothing—to me, an experience gone, no one else to tell.

It’s rather the walking stick she had carved for me when I turned 70, so intricate, so beautiful, which helped me hobble along the shore with her, seeing how her braided hair had turned grey and her back had taken on a hunched-over form, but her hand had remained soft in my hand, under the same orange, setting sun—flattering the waning of two old lovers.

Then, one night, she kissed me softly, as I lied in the hammock, gazing at the bright stars above, and said to me, “I must return home now.” She walked into the ocean and swam out to sea. I jumped up, of course, only in time to see her tail give one last flap on the water as if she were waving goodbye. I swam and swam after her, yelling, “No, don’t go, stay with me, I love you,” yet to no avail.

That is why, dear Captain, I am out here alone in the middle of the ocean in a rowboat with my white beard tickling my knees and my bones protruding beneath my skin. This spot is where she saved me so long ago and I must find her again. She was real, so real, more real than anything else. My heart cannot bear to be without her. So, do not take me away. I must stay here. I must find her. I have but only a few years left. Have mercy, dear Captain. My life is nothing without her.


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